Don’t Worry Be Happy
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Matthew 6: 24 – 34. Focus on why we cannot serve God and money. Check out Kelly Crandell & Choir as they sing – “Open The Eyes of My Heart”
Never title a sermon before going away on vacation, because the experience of vacation will change what you thought you were going to say. Before my vacation I thought I would talk about the value you would place on your life today. How much would you pay for a day in your life especially if you knew it was your last day on earth?
But having spent a week in Florida going to the beach every day, eating excellent sea food, listening to great music and enjoying colorful drinks by the pool I thought the title of this sermon should be titled after the Bobby McFerrin song – Don’t Worry Be Happy. The song has a laid back feel to it, makes you want to kick off your shoes and feel the sun, sand and surf on your skin.
Anyway as soon as I had that thought the words of Ulrich Luz, who posted his take on Matthew 6 sprang to mind. “This statement (by Jesus) on worry could have only been written by any single guy living a carefree life on the beach in sunny Galilee.
But it wasn’t written by just any single guy living a carefree life on a beach. It was written by Jesus. And if there’s one obvious point to be made here it’s that this passage doesn’t stand on it’s own. It’s connected to what comes before and after our text this morning. Consider these worries which precede and follow our passage for a moment:
“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” (Mt 5:13) “If you love those who love you what reward do you have?” (Mt 5:46) “If you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?” (Mt 5:47) “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Mt 6:27) “What will it profit you to gain the whole world and forfeit your life? (Mt 16:26)
In this short passage alone, I am being pushed to give up one of my most cherished occupations – worring, in favor of trusting God for the basics of daily life. I am being pushed to consider that my other loyalties are in conflict with my loyalty to God (6:24). Jesus’ teachings undercut the foundation that I’ve been building my whole life.
My life’s project has been to build a comfortable present and a secure future for my family. It seems like Jesus wants to undermine my life’s project in order to replace it with something like with radical, risky trust in God and the mission he’s shown me for building his kingdom with the promise that all of the other mattters I worry about will somehow simply fall into place.
But if you are like me you want to resist this passage. I still want to make a case for being able to serve two masters, for the need for anxiety, for the integrity of security as the project of my life. And if I were to add up all the tasks that Jesus calls us to, things like loving my enemies and turning the other cheek to those who would strike me. If I add up all those tasks that Jesus calls me to do, then quite simply the size of my panic attack would be enormous. Almost as enormous as it is when I have to fly. But Jesus says, “Chill.”
And I don’t think it’s just me. I think we live in an incredibly anxious culture. Our politics is driven by fear. If you want to get elected, scare people. News depends upon my worries to attract me to watch what I am told I should worry about both at home and abroad.
More and more houses in my neighborhood seem to sport home security signs on the front lawns in a town that doesn’t have a significant crime problem. My daughter posts Amber Alerts and it seems everywhere you turn, everywhere you look there are reasons to worry.
So how in the world, then, can Jesus possibly ask us, command us, really, not to worry?
But take a second look at our passage. It doesn’t start off by telling us not to worry. It starts off with the assertion that we cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve both God and money. And if we try, Jesus says, we’ll end up loving one and hating the other.
So, what’s the connection? Notice that Jesus doesn’t say money is evil, or even bad, just that it makes a poor master. The word in Greek is kurios, often translated “lord.” The lord is the one who demands and deserves our loyalty, allegiance, and worship.
So why can’t we give our allegiance and worship to money? Because to do so is to fall prey to the larger worldview that crowns money as lord because when we make money our master we also make scarcity our master. I have yet to see anyone talk about money without also talking about its scarcity. Once we believe that money can satisfy our deepest needs then we suddenly discover that we never have enough of it.
Money after all is a finite resource. And once we decide that money brings us security, then we have also ushered into our world notions of counting it, tracking it, stockpiling it. No wonder we worry. In a world of money there simply is never enough. Money breeds scarcity.
Now the alternative that Jesus invites us to consider is entering into a relationship with God, the God who is infinite and whose love for the entire creation is infinite as well. Love operates from a different economy than money. When my daughters were born, I didn’t believe I could love anyone more than them, but when I met and married Dotty and I included her daughters into my family I didn’t have to divide up my love and give each daughter a quarter share of my love. What happened was I suddenly had more love to give them all.
Maybe you’ve noticed the same thing in your lives. How the more love you give away, the more you seem to get back. Love, especially God’s love cannot be counted, tracked or stockpiled. And when we live in this kind of relationship of love and trust, we enter into the realm of abundance, the world of possibility, the world of contentment. A world that Jesus calls the “Kingdom of God.” And suddenly in his kingdom under his Lordship – not having to worry becomes a real option.
I know, I know, it’s hard to believe in this world of abundance, this kingdom that Jesus proclaims, because he is inviting us to trust God’s faithfulness like a flower trusts in the coming spring or the way a bird trusts the air currents to keep it aloft. And that is why in the end Jesus dies not to pay for our sins because that simply leads us back to a tracking and counting and stockpiling of all our sins.
He died because those in power were so invested in the scarcity of money that abundance was frightening, even threatening to them. Scarcity, after all, creates fear, and fear creates devotion to those who tell you that they will protect you. Abundance, on the other hand, produces freedom. But the Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees were lovers of money. They loved it because they had it and others did not and this made them think they were more important and more deserving of God’s favor and to serve this master of scarcity they also had to put God’s son to death.
But God doesn’t operate from scarcity. God operates out of abundance. So, in response to the crucifixion of God’s Son, God does not, in fact, keep track, or look for payment, or hoard power with which to destroy the offenders; instead, God resurrects his son which, when you think about it, is the ultimate act of abundance: creating something, once again, out of nothing, drawing light from darkness, giving life to the dead.
This is the world Jesus invites us into: a world of abundance, generosity, and new life. But it is also a world of fragility, trust, and vulnerability. Lilies and birds, after all, can’t defend themselves but must trust God’s providence and love.
Again, I know this is hard. We are, after all, surrounded by countless images of scarcity and fear that seek to cause us to worry. But maybe this is exactly where we start. If we are surrounded by images of scarcity, worry, and fear, then perhaps our task this week and in the weeks to come is to capture thousands of pictures of their opposites: abundance, courage, and trust.
Well I’m getting worried that I’ve gone on to long. Oh well, “Don’t worry be happy!” Amen