8th Sunday after Epiphany
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Thoughts on the Word:
‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But 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? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Who here remembers the song by Bobby McFerrin – Don’t Worry Be Happy? I would sing some for you, but I fear the replacement costs for the stained glass windows would be prohibitive!
Brothers and sisters in todays Gospel passage Jesus is almost reciting those words to us – Don’t worry be happy – he is telling us that God is in control. That God is faithful and He calls us to be a people of faith.
The Gospels brim with examples of how “faith” is fundamentally a matter of trusting God, leaning on God—not so much believing that God exists as believing that God actually is an intimate, caring parent and a trustworthy deliverer, and moreover, that this care and deliverance is for me, for you, for us, for all. God feeds and clothes the world’s creatures, Jesus insists, even the birds of the air and the grass of the field are fed and clothed by the divine hand; if God cares for them, then surely God cares for us as well.
When it comes to our own basic well-being, however, there is an apparent competitor for our trust in this regard, another means of material provision that Jesus sums up using the Greek word mamonas (“mammon,” “wealth”). But what Jesus has in mind in using this term is not great sums of money, or even mere money at all, but rather a money-centred approach to life’s basic needs: a strictly material outlook.
We cannot, Jesus says, have it both ways. That is, we cannot at the same time (1) trust ultimately in our own economic striving as the foundation of our basic well-being and (2) trust ultimately in God as that same foundation. There can be only one ultimate foundation, only one ultimate trust. So we must continually, and mindfully choose which of these we take to be the true bedrock of our lives, our own economic self-care or God’s care for us. Our choice will determine the ground on which we stand. Jesus put it as “No one can serve two masters”
This does not mean, of course, that Christians should stop looking to provide for ourselves. If our ultimate trust is properly directed toward God’s care for us, there is no reason to rule out the idea that God will graciously provide us a job and a salary. However, something else is ruled out, namely, “worry about your life.” If we truly are under God’s loving, personal care, if God truly does and will provide, then though we may and should work and “strive,” in the end our own efforts are not the source of our well-being. In truth, God is taking care of that, no matter what circumstances may come and go - Look at the birds. Consider the lilies. They do not worry, and neither should we.
Jesus taps into our human nature in this Gospel passage — into our desire for control and comfort. We want to believe that we are in control of our lives and that we make choices and decisions from a place of objectivity and rationality. When things get out of control, we feel overwhelmed and frustrated. These feelings lead to behaviours that are unhealthy and destructive— it can lead to such things as manipulation, self-medication, greed, possessiveness, and depression, among others.
Jesus, as usual, offers an alternative to the destructive way we ourselves so often choose. If we are committed solely to obtaining wealth, we will worry: Will we get what we seek? How can we keep what we have? When is enough, enough? These are the questions we ask ourselves when we are concerned with material things and fret over them.
Lets be clear Jesus is not preaching a prosperity gospel here; nor is he preaching that we should be passive observers waiting for God’s blessings to shower down.
Jesus offers a choice: Mammon or God. If we choose wealth as our priority, we can expect great highs and devastating lows. If we choose God, in good times and bad we have no reason to worry. The point is that God will provide for us – God is faithful.
“Don’t worry, be happy” can sound shallow, frivolous, and unrealistic. Jesus tells us that the life of faith is not without its issues, concerns, and challenges. There are setbacks, delays, detours, failures, frustrations as well as joys, triumphs, and accomplishments. Jesus condones neither wanton greed nor personal irresponsibility. The point is that when we are about God’s business and operating out of God’s vision for us, we have no room or need for worry. All is in God’s hands, and we are assured that we can handle whatever happens, because God is in control.
Brothers and sisters few of us are exempt from worry and anxiety. Most of us live with chronic worry, and we are scared of everything—losing our homes, losing our jobs, not having enough for retirement; caring for our children until they reach adulthood; worrying about them more when they are adults. We as Anglican Christians in this diocese have found ourselves worrying and fretting over the diocesan finances and our ability to survive and thrive as a diocese into the future.
Those who have little, fret over having adequate shelter, food, and water; finding a decent job; taking care of their families; having enough money to survive. All of us—rich and poor, privileged and exploited—have legitimate reasons to fret and worry, even though we know such actions do not change the realities we face.
Jesus understands this; his call to worry-free living is not based on unrealistic views of the world. His words tell us that God will not leave us without support, they tell us that God is faithful and that in times of struggle and fear and doubt we can lean on our heavenly father. We can face life with all its uncertainties with the assurance that we are not alone—that God hears, sees, and cares about us and our situations. Brothers and sisters “Don’t worry, be happy,” because God is in control.
***Disclaimer - this week I have blatantly plagiarised large portions of this sermon from the book Feasting on The Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A Volume 1 (2010, Westminster John Knox Press) and if the publisher wishes me to remove any portion I will do so cheerfully.