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Plymouth United Church of Christ
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Eau Claire, WI 54703
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“Don’t Worry – God Loves You!”
Sermon, Year A Epiphany 8, March 2, 2014
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Matthew 6:24-34

This is the last week that we will be reading from the Sermon on the Mount and we’re only about halfway through. Jesus is giving many ethical ideas about life here. One thing that Jesus is laying out throughout the whole Sermon on the Mount is this vision of what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like. Or call it the Kingdom of God, the Realm of Heaven, the Commonwealth of God (that’s a term I like), the the Realm of God... whichever term you prefer. He’s talking about a vision of that and what it looks like. This concept of Commonwealth of God is what we will be exploring in our Soup and Scripture on Wednesdays during Lent. We’ll discuss a) what do we want to call it from that list I offered? and b) What does it mean? What does it look like? What does it mean to us, today, as followers of Jesus?

One thing that Jesus is laying out in this sermon is this vision of a new Way of living. And in this sermon, in Matthew’s version, it covers chapters 5, 6, and 7. So it happens early in the Gospel. Early in Jesus’ career. In Matthew’s Gospel, this is really the first time we hear Jesus teaching and preaching. There has been mention of Jesus going out and teaching, and Matthew records him saying to “repent”, but this is the first record of what Jesus’ actually said. And what Jesus is doing is laying out is what the Commonwealth of God looks like. He’s saying, “If we live this way, then it (the Commonwealth) will be more fully present and we will be more fully in it by living this way.” And by it being more present, and us being more fully in it, we and God will be more and more in alignment. More and more going the same direction, working toward the same goal, the same end. We will be closer and closer to God.

From last week’s reading to this week’s reading we skipped part of chapter 5, which includes the parts where Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer, talks about not being an obnoxiously public pray-er that draws attention to one’s faithfulness (Jesus says, “Don’t be that guy!”), don’t store up treasures on earth but store up treasures in heaven. Then we get to the passage we read today that begins, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” That can be hard for us to hear sometimes as capitalist Americans. You cannot serve God and wealth. Money is a god that is never satisfied. It is a god that you will never really truly make happy. You can’t make that god fully happy and satisfied, and trying to do so can lead to worry. Wanting to hoard, to keep, to hold on, afraid that you might lose it. You have to lock it up, protect it.

Oddly enough, as a percentage of income, it is the people at the bottom of the economic ladder that give a greater percentage of their income than the wealthy. The wealthy give more in absolute dollars, but as a percentage of income it is the people at the bottom who give more. They do not so tightly hold on to that. Jesus continues to speak, and he doesn’t talk about money after that, but he is talking about the sense of wanting to hoard, keep things for ourselves, to hold on to things, as related to worry about tomorrow, worry about the future. Some of that worry is legitimate: I think of people who went through the Depression or other economic hard times, they know the very real fear of trying to live through hard times and want to protect themselves to their best ability. So I don’t think Jesus is speaking against taking some precautions and being sensible in preparing for the future.

But he is talking about not getting so fixated on that. Not so worried about it that we forget that we live in God’s world.

Today we are celebrating Communion. The last couple days I have been thinking of these two things together. Jesus’ words about “ Don’t worry about tomorrow, look at how God clothes the lilies! Look at how God feeds the birds! They don’t store up, they don’t toil, the food is just there for them.” And if we think of Communion as a ritual of Divine self-sharing – “This is my body, this is my blood, given for you” – God sharing part of God with us. But it is also an act of sharing with one another. We serve one another the bread and the cup. We pass around the trays of bread and wine. Or as we will do on Ash Wednesday, we come up and circle the table and truly serve one another the bread and cup.

It is a sacrament to nourish us for our spiritual journey, but it is also a model of how Jesus imagines that we ought to be living together. Living together in a way in which everyone is invited, everyone is fed. We will be talking about some of the parables of the Commonwealth of God during our Wednesday Lent Soup and Scripture gatherings at noon and 6 pm. Parables that Jesus spoke. But Jesus also gave us physical parables. We can think of what Jesus did at the Last Supper as a parable. Gathered with his disciples at the end to say, in a sense, “This is what it should look like. Feeding one another. This, too, is a parable. Contemplate and meditate on this.”

I don’t think Jesus is talking here so much about God just magically providing bread and clothing for all of us. Though I have heard and read sermons and people talking that way, that say, “Well, if you just have enough faith, God will make sure you have plenty of food and plenty of clothing.” I think all one needs to do is look around or read a newspaper, or go out with us some night on our street ministry, to know that this simply is not true. It is not because they lack faith, it is just the way it is. God is not a magical vending machine and if you have enough faith everything will be provided. I think what Jesus is saying is, “I invite you into this new way that I am imagining. A way in which your brothers and sisters, your neighbors or community, your fellowship, us, will so embody my message of love that they will make sure you don’t go without. They will embody my message and will share. And you, too, will provide for those in need when you have an abundance. So stop fighting each other for resources. Don’t worry about not having enough. There is enough for everyone.”

God does provide in the sense that God makes the plants and animals grow. For all of our wonderful technology, for as powerful as we are, we can’t make food. That comes only from God, through the earth. God provides by making plants and animals grow. Then it is up to us as God’s hands and feet to be the generous ones making sure it goes where it needs to go. So Jesus’ words could be, “Don’t worry so much that you hoard your abundance.” We have an abundance. God has provided an abundance. More than enough food is grown every year to feed the world. The problem is that too few have too much of it. It’s a problem of distribution and sharing, not a problem of production.

So what if Jesus’ words aren’t just a kind of feel-good platitudes to say and then go home to a nice family dinner knowing that most of us don’t worry about whether we will eat tomorrow, but worry more about what we are going to eat.

Some of you know Bryan Sirchio, a musician and minister here in the Wisconsin Conference. He does a lot of mission work in Haiti, and he tells a story of having a conversation with a man there. The man asked Bryan, “Are you rich?” Bryan wasn’t sure how to respond to that question. The man then asked him, “Do you eat every day?” Bryan said that yes, he does eat every day. To which the man said, “Then you are rich.” His definition of being rich was being in a position of not having to worry if you will eat tomorrow.

We come as equals in God’s eyes to enjoy a table that is laden with bread and wine, sufficient for all, equally available to all. Imagine this table encompassing the world, enough for all. If we can feed the clothe, then we can clothe the world, heal the world, and fill the world with Christ’s light and love and be the salt of the earth. We don’t need to worry or fear or be anxious about such things.

Jesus is also saying these words to a people who likely were anxious and worried, and is saying it today to a people who are anxious and who worry. He’s saying it to us. Across two millennia, things have not changed a whole lot. We still worry. We’re still anxious. We are in troubled economic times, there are still wars and poverty and disasters. Jesus is saying to us, “Worrying gains you nothing. You cannot add a day to your life by worrying. In fact, it will cost you some of your life energy. It is not healthy, and it is not helpful. Don’t worry. Don’t worry.”

So let us get our minds off worrisome things and play some tunes. I have a song that I want to play for you, which you may recognize. Perhaps all of you know it already, it’s been played in commercials and shows up every now and again. It is Bobby McFerrin “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. I invite you to close your eyes if you want, listen to the words, enjoy the music. It is a nice toe-tapper to lift the spirits, especially when it’s 30 below outside. A nice way to pretend your somewhere else for a few minutes. Listen to these words.

[We then played “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. Lyrics here.]

Don’t worry. I love that line in there, “Here is my phone number, if you worry, give me a call.” Jesus says that to us. If you get worried, give Jesus a call: pray. Offer it up in prayer. Offer it to Jesus, who listens. Don’t worry.

I admit, it is much easier to say “Don’t worry” than to live it. But one way to start is to trust in Jesus. That no matter what happens – and we have no guarantees that nothing bad will ever happen to us – but whatever is happening, whatever is going on, you don’t need to worry about God’s love for you. Whatever happens, we are loved. We are freed from guilt and shame. We are accepted. We are known. We are called “Beloved”. If nothing else, we have that. And in that sense we have nothing to worry about.

Let’s pray: Thank you, God, for providing in this world an abundance and for being with us. For inscribing our names on your palms. For loving us. Accepting us. Knowing us. Inviting us to your table to be fed and nourished. May we always have trust and faith in you and in your providence. That whatever happens in our lives, you are always, always with us. Always present. Always available to listen and to comfort and to love. Amen.

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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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