A Life of Thanks – Nov. 18, 2018
A Life of Thanks
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
November 18, 2018
Main Idea: We are called to trust God.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Every three years the Gospel reading for Thanksgiving Sunday is this text from Matthew. And every time I read it, it startles me. “Don’t worry about it” seems like a dismissal of very real and legitimate concerns. I sometimes complain that if others would be a bit more worried then I could worry less! I have heard among our congregation worries that it seems our average age is going up and our average attendance is going down, [although we look around today and see the reverse]. We worry that things we once took for granted are changing faster than we can respond. The whole world seems gripped by worry, anxiety, and fear and this taxes our time, our energy, our communities, and our resources. It is exhausting, yes? But Jesus calls us away from fear and anxiety and toward peace and thankfulness. In all things and at all times Jesus calls us to trust God.
Today’s text from the Gospel of Matthew comes from the Sermon on the Mount which starts in chapter 5 and goes until chapter 7 v. 27. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus lays out what life in the Kingdom of God looks like. There are the beatitudes; blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. Jesus then goes on to explain Jewish law from his understanding. He says “You have heard it said love your friends and hate your enemies but I say to you love your enemies too” (5:43-44). He teaches how to pray and warns about the dangers of storing up treasures on earth. He says, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” (6:24)
After all this, he then says “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life.” Don’t worry about what you will drink and eat, and what you will wear. “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” This text for today deals specifically with worry getting in the way of serving God. This worry focuses all of one’s energy on oneself rather than on others. Worry then becomes an excuse to ignore the needs of others. Jesus uses the examples of birds and flowers to illustrate life lived without worry. Birds and flowers can not defend themselves or store up much reserves. They must trust in God’s providence and care that the seasons of the year will move forward from Winter to Spring.
Jesus says “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?” (v. 30)
Letting go of worry is difficult. We live in a very anxious culture, increasingly driven by worry and fear. We worry about illness or financial troubles. The media bombards us with hair-raising outrage and danger. But the problem with worry is that it can paralyze us, rendering us incapable of making decisions. Worry steals joy from life, and causes us to isolate ourselves from others. Even worse, worry can lead to fear and to greed as we scramble to take care of ourselves at the expense of others. This is what we saw in the inflammatory rhetoric regarding those seeking to cross our southern border, “ah the caravan!”. This has fueled the rise of isolationism and nationalism here and around the world. Because we are worried about ourselves and our families, it becomes hard for us to see the needs of other vulnerable families. Worry leads us to see the world in terms of danger and scarcity. “We better hit them before they hit us!” Money exacerbates worry because by design there is a finite amount and there is never enough. We either spend money or save money to make ourselves feel more secure but it doesn’t help. The sad irony of this, of course, is that in reality, there is no lack of wealth or resources in our world, there is only a lack of sharing.
Our God is not a God of scarcity but a God of Abundance. Just like love grows as a family grows, God’s blessings and grace to us are unlimited. We don’t have to compete with others for God’s care. [Remember, we don’t live on the vertical axis. We live on the horizontal axis.] We don’t need to worry that we must earn God’s love. We can’t earn God’s love, we can only receive it. God loves us all no matter what. Not just us, but “those people” too. Jesus calls us to let go of our personal and corporate worries so that we can focus on serving God, on bringing about the Kingdom of God. Jesus says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you as well.” (v. 33). The word that our Bible translates as “righteousness” can also be translated as “justice”. This means that if we are working together to build God’s kingdom of justice, equality and peace, then together we will all have all that we need. If we care for those in our community then we will receive care as well. This is something we must remind ourselves as we refine our church budget and plans for next year. Worry does not help! It does not motivate others to join us nor encourage others to give. God calls us to serve and grow in faith, not to worry.
Letting go of worry does not ensure a trouble-free life. Faith in God and in Jesus will not keep bad things from happening. In fact, Jesus tells us that sometimes we will suffer because of our faith. Not everybody will agree with what we choose to do. Not everything we try will be a rousing success. But to strive for God’s kingdom is to align our lives to God’s purpose, God’s values, and God’s priorities. “It is giving up our trust in our own resources and opening ourselves to the community of men and women who are willing to embrace a new way of living. Faith is trusting Christ’s message and Christ’s life enough to truly seek first God’s kingdom and justice. Because if we do this, all things will be added to us, worry will be a thing of the past, and we will know the freedom of strong and secure networks of mutual care and support.” (John van de Laar, “The Way to Worry-Free Living”)
Can we live out this vision? Can we leave worry behind as we strive for God’s kingdom? This morning we have made a good start. We have worshiped together across political, cultural, and language barriers; sharing the gospel and fellowship of Christ together. We have gathered food for families who are in need so they won’t have to worry about their Thanksgiving Day dinner. Can we see and point out the abundance that surrounds us? During this week of Thanksgiving can we truly stop and be thankful for all of our blessings while resisting the lure of Black Friday sales? Can we speak out for and welcome those who feel under attack so that they won’t have to worry about safety and acceptance? Can we be a model and a beacon of peace and thankfulness in the midst of an anxious world?
On this Thanksgiving Sunday let us be deeply thankful for our God who cares for us and who is with us always.
Let us pray,
Abundant God, we thank you for all that we have and all that we are. We thank you for the blessings which surround us at all times. Empower us to live with faith and boldness, leaving worry and fear behind. May we serve to lessen the fear and worry that is in the world by our joyful love and service. Amen.