I started this sermon sitting in my priest seat on Friday afternoon. I was waiting for the first of 7 funeral/thanksgiving/ashes interments/cremation services that populate my diary over the next 3 weeks to start. I looked at the beautiful flowers by the altar, the 6 candle stands that would surround the coffin.
As I enjoyed a few minutes of quiet, I thought about the words that would be spoken, the tears that would be shed, the memories and thoughts of those gathered here. I also thought about the deceased and wondered about their worries and how they had now all come to an end.
Then I thought a little bit wider to the earthquake victims in Turkey & Syria. Can we even begin to fathom their worries? My thoughts then came back to this country and the worries that so many are burdened with. Next the Church of England and the General Synod meeting of this past week that discussed the blessing of same sex civil marriages. This will be of great worry to many people on both sides of the argument.
Today is also ‘racial justice Sunday’ which marks the 30-year anniversary of the racially-motivated murder of Black teenager Stephen Lawrence in Eltham, south-east London. This is to be a time for all churches to remember, reflect and respond to the importance of racial justice, and an opportunity to give thanks for the gift of human diversity and commit to ending racial discrimination. I am worried I haven’t done anything about this and have not paid very much attention.
How many of you worry about things that don’t ever happen? I think a lot of people tend to worry about things that won’t ever happen! Couldn’t possibly happen! But it might – so worry about it! Let’s throw that on the pile too!
Rather aptly these days, Matthew 6 comes to soothe our worried souls. This is part of the wider Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is addressing a crowd of people for whom worry was evidently a part of life too. Jesus is speaking to the practical needs of food, drink, clothing and housing. Very real issues to an impoverished crowd. Very real issues to many people today.
Jesus is trying to give his listeners some perspective on their worries by giving them a bigger picture of life. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? We are of value to God; more than the birds are and he looks after them. Can you add any hours to your life by worrying?
If we can believe in our great value to God, it frees us from much worry. I’m not sure many things compare to the challenge of ceasing to worry. Maybe one reason why it is hard to stop worrying is because we have so many prime opportunities to practise. Yet we will never overcome worry by eliminating reasons to worry.
One of my Grandmothers was of Mennonite German descent and she had a saying that loosely and more politely translated from low-German to English was: ‘don’t wee before the water comes.’ What she meant is that we are not to get anxious before there is something to get anxious about.
Jesus would tell us that when these situations arise, and they will, we are to go to him. Jesus sums up the futility of worry in verses 25 & 26; we can’t add a minute to our life by worrying. The paradox is that there will always be something to worry about.
Simply put, worry is not particularly helpful. Even when we seem to worry about ‘important things’; even when we worry in the name of love it will accomplish nothing.
Well then, what are we supposed to do?! It seems that we need to change our perspective by seeking the kingdom of God. How do you do that? A starting point may be to learn to turn our worry effort into prayer. Have a conversation with God; that is what prayer effectively is. He already knows what we need. Prayer is the way to access those needs, to build a relationship with the one who created us.
The second perspective changer is thinking about creation. The Old Testament reading for today is Genesis chapter 1 & 2 which tells the story of creation.
Whatever we make of the Genesis account of creation, we are given a view of God that is huge. God the creator of everything who made something out of nothing, brought order to chaos, called things into being and they were. God saw that everything he did was good. The big things like the wind and water, light and darkness, sea and sky right down to the seeds to birds to the things that creep along the ground. God took his time to do all these things.
Seven times in the creation story we are told we come from a God who sees. God steps back from his work and he looks, he notices each tiny piece. We also come from a God who creates new things. On each of the six days in creation, God made something new.
He still does today! We wake up every day and there are new things in the world. The snowdrops and daffodils, the tiny buds on the trees. Nothing goes unnoticed. God’s mercies are new every morning. God is also big enough to take on our worries, our cares. Cast your cares on him.
As Christians we need to continually learn and re-learn to trust in the providence of God. Jesus uses the birds of the air and the lilies of the field as an example. Birds and lilies can’t provide for themselves. Birds neither sow nor reap. Lilies can’t toil nor spin but are beautifully made. We are of more value to God than these.
St Paul in Romans urges us to look at creation too as it longs for revelation and freedom that comes from God. Yes there is suffering now and there is glory to come. Everything will be set free from destruction and decay but we have to wait.
Paul is calling us to hope; it is in hope we were saved. Hope that is unseen means learning to be patient. God is patient with us; not wanting anyone to perish.
Is it possible to reframe our worries into hopeful waiting by seeking the kingdom of God? I hope so! There are endless things to worry about, no question. Worrying will not eliminate the things we worry about. It will not add any hours to our lives. Seeking God and his kingdom, remembering we are part of something bigger that also waits to be free gives hope. This will add eternity to our lives and that is well worth waiting for.
I am going to end with a poem that we used at Friday Prayers in Fawley this week…
Forget about Enlightenment
by John Welwood.
Forget about enlightenment.
Sit down wherever you are
And listen to the wind signing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
Not who you would like to be,
Not the saint you are striving to become,
But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.
All of you is holy.
You are already more and less than whatever you can know.
Breathe out, Touch in, Let go.
2nd Sunday Before Lent: Worry less?!