Sermon, Year A Epiphany 8, February 27, 2011
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber, 2011
Focus Scripture: Isaiah 49:8-16a, Matthew 6:24-34
The enemy of faith is not – as you might imagine – it is not doubt. The enemy of faith is fear. Faith needs some doubt, or else it becomes doctrinaire, unmovable, rigid, even faithless. Without doubt, it’s not faith, because it’s absolutely sure. If you’re absolutely sure about something, you’re not taking it on faith, and you certainly don’t need faith. So faith needs some doubt, but faith cannot stand up against fear. Fear is the true enemy of faith.
“Do not worry about tomorrow,” Jesus said, “for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
Fear shows a lack of trust, lack of hope, lack of imagination. Or possibly too much imagination, run amok, envisioning all the awful things that might happen. What horrible places does your imagination take you? About your dentist or doctor, your spouse, children, or your financial future or financial present?
Those financial fears seem to be the big fear in our culture. The fear that maybe we don’t have enough, or not as much as our neighbor. And some of that, let’s be honest with ourselves, some of it is born out of greed and a lack of faith, or a fear-based outlook. But certainly in these financially anxious times, some of those are very real fears: What if I lose my health insurance? What if I can’t afford to retire? What if my pay gets cut?
Some of these are things that in Jesus’ time people didn’t worry about. No one had health insurance, except Pharoahs and Caesars, maybe some of the merchant class. Retirement? There was no retirement. You stopped working because you died, or because you became infirm and then you hoped that your family or the temple took care of you, or you became a beggar. But Jesus’ listeners, at least the peasants – who would be the greater part of his audience – had the very real fear of living day-to-day. We say now, “living paycheck to paycheck,” but back then one usually was paid at the end of each day, wondering if there’d be work tomorrow. Not everyone lived that way: the craftsmen, merchants, soldiers, politicians, professionals — they weren’t wondering day to day if they would have work, and unlike the peasants, they probably did worry about whether they’d have something to pass on to their children, or if they’d lose their home due to illness, or invasion, or random seizure by the Roman Empire, or imprisonment if they accidentally say the wrong thing in public or if a neighbor simply lies about them to the Empire. So the financial worries and fears might have been different, but Jesus’ crowd most likely had them.
In a lot of ways, it hasn’t changed much since then, has it? Oh, the names of the empires and world powers change, the names of the leaders change, what we call our currency and what we make it out of changes, boundaries change, names of professions and types of them change — not many people any more who make bricks out of mud and straw, and no Facebook pioneers back then. (Imagine Jesus with a Facebook page or Twitter. “Delivering sermon on mount at 5 pm; come hear.” “Going to lay out a plan for a whole new way of life based on love, not fear; abundance, not scarcity. You ought to hear it.”) But so much is still the same. We worry about our children, our future, our finances, our boundaries both national and personal, our safety, retirement, or whether a neighbor might have more than I do, that a loved one might die or surprise you with a betrayal or a request for a divorce...
We’re still the same people as Jesus’ crowd. We look and speak differently, but our humanness is no different. That’s why these words are still relevant. Because we haven’t lived fully into the Kingdom yet, so we need these words. Sure, the people back then could probably read the weather by sight and smell which we have mostly lost, and we can type with our thumbs; they wore sandals and togas, we drive to Yellowstone in homes on wheels. But the needs and wants are still the same: to eat, to communicate, to have a relationship, to be clothed, sheltered, and have some control over our lives. And to have as much control as we can, so we don’t have to suffer at the whims of someone else. And I think loss of control is at the heart of most — maybe all — fear.
We like being in control, or even thinking we’re in control. And money is certainly one path to having control. So we strive for control in our lives, to be the god of ourselves, forgetting who is the ultimate, who is really in control, which is the God of Jesus Christ.
“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” Jesus said. Do not seek for what is merely illusion and temporal, but for that which is eternal and real. Your heavenly father knows what you need, so ask not what shall I wear? or what shall I drink? or what shall I eat? Do not worry. The grass that was thrown into the oven, the lilies that flower for a little while, were clothed more splendidly even than Solomon, that great king of Israel who loved his expensive clothing and jewels and housing. “If God dresses even these flowers, and if they grow even though they do not spin or toil, will not God provide for you even more? So why worry about clothing? Can you add a single day to your life by worrying?” They didn’t have medical studies back then like we do now, but we’ve definitely shown in the past few decades that worry, in fact, takes days away. It’s not healthy. Not physically healthy, and absolutely not spiritually healthy.
“The birds do not sow or reap; they do not store their food in barns, and yet God provides for them. And are you not more important than they are? Life is more than food, the body is more than clothing. So do not worry about what you will eat or drink, or what you will wear. Strive first for the kingdom of God, because you cannot serve God and something that is not God.” Jesus said wealth, but it could be worries, or a desire for attention, our family, work, ego, likability, or fear. You will love one and hate the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. No one can serve God and something that isn’t God. Good stuff.
But, what I want to ask Jesus is, How do you say this with a straight face to someone who’s losing their house? or facing bankruptcy because of an illness? or is forced to choose each month between buying food or medicine? or someone who’s looking at massive pay cuts or possible layoff? It’s ludicrous.
And it’s not easy. I wish I had an easy 9-step process to living a fear-free life, something I could line out and you could write in your bulletin to do in a week, and you all come back next Sunday full of woo-hoo! and we rewrite our newspaper ad: “Plymouth UCC — Eau Claire’s only worry-free church!”
But there is no plan. It’s a journey, something to do a bit each day. “Do not worry about tomorrow” is a good start.
Remember that much which we fear never comes to pass, and when it does, it’s rarely as awful as we imagined it. And trust that God, who has carried you since birth, is still there walking with you through adversity, never abandoning always loving through the hard times, difficult times, dark times.
If Jesus can say these words to people 2000 years ago, people basically the same as us, he can say these words to us in our here and now, not as a “this you must do to prove your faithfulness,” but a “your faith can make this life possible.” And we can have faith that Jesus’ words are true, even if we doubt them sometimes, and can live accordingly, buoyed by his undying love through times of doubt, and so avoid the temptation to enter times of fear, the true enemy of faith, and enemy of life.
Let us pray:
God of hope, we hear your words and we want to believe, but sometimes life makes belief difficult. We see that not all birds are fed, that not all flowers live out their life: we see the homeless on our street corners holding cardboard signs looking for help, and our friends and family suffer ravages of health and financial hardship. Your words about not worrying seem hollow and impossible. Help us believe. Help us to put our hope in you. Do not let our fears and worries master us, but let our only master be you, as we strive for your kingdom. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.Tweet
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