~ A sermon by The Rev. Keenan Kelsey
Matthew 6: Do Not Worry
25 “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? 26 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? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 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? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s trouble, it takes away today’s peace. Anxiety is that little darkroom where negatives are developed.
It’s like two young Texas boys whose mother asked them to chase a chicken snake out of the henhouse. They looked everywhere for that snake but couldn’t find it. Finally, they stood up on their tiptoes to look on the top nesting shelf and came nose to nose with the snake. They fell all over themselves and one another running out of the chicken house. “Don’t you know a chicken snake won’t hurt you?” their mother asked. “Yes, ma’am,” one of the boys answered, “but there are some things that will scare you so bad you’ll hurt yourself.”
Worrying is what we are doing these days, mostly because we don’t know what else to do. In the face of coronavirus, we are given differing directives and information daily. One the one hand, the world seems to be getting a handle on this novel virus—the news this morning said that China, who built 14 new hospitals two months ago, has just closed their last temporary hospital after a dramatic fall in cases. But then, in the middle of the very next encouraging article, a bright red disclaimer appears: “this type of content is not supported by Apple News .” I read a very informative and solid article from Stanford Research Center, but then I was told it is a hoax. What? Stay home, stay away, but don’t isolate; wear masks, don’t wear masks; use sanitizer, but washing is better; eat more, but fasting is good for immune system. In truth, I don’t know if it is the right thing to meet here today. But for now, not meeting seems unacceptable.
So let’s consider our worry. The late Erma Bombeck puts a spin on worry that we might all relate to. She writes:
“I’ve always worried a lot, and frankly I’m good at it. I worry about introducing people and going blank when I get to my mother. I worry about a shortage of ball bearings; a snake coming up through the kitchen drain. I worry about the world ending at midnight and getting stuck with three hours on a twenty-four-hour cold capsule. I worry about getting into the Guinness World Book of Records under “Pregnancy: Oldest Recorded Birth.” I worry what the dog thinks when he sees me coming out of the shower; that one of my children will marry an Eskimo who will set me adrift on an iceberg when I can no longer feed myself. I worry about sales- ladies following me into the fitting room, oil slicks, and Cindy Crawford going bald. I worry about scientists discovering someday that lettuce has been fattening all along…”
Kind of Annie Lamott-ish, right? Here’s what she said this morning on Twitter about the world’s status: “There are going to be a lot more babies and a lot more divorces this Christmas.”
Humor. Humor helps in holding ourselves lightly. I don’t mean not taking things seriously. I mean perspective. I mean that there is a God, and it is not you – or me. We are not in control.
When pandemics strike, we see the reality of the human situation. Sure, we have some volition. But control? Nooo. One reaction is panic, projection, and unabashed self-preservation. (This can be observed at your local grocery store right now.)
The perspective of truth, rooted in our fervent faith in God, tells us that we humans do what we can and how we can; but ultimately, all outcomes are up to God. There is a 12-step saying: I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him/her. With God, we can and do handle anything.
Realizing how little control we have allows us to move through the world in a more restful manner (even though we’re still freaking out and making irrational decisions, which is absolutely fine and normal). It allows us to receive the grace that’s on hand all the time but that becomes so apparent during times of crisis. It is in that space, that we find something bigger — something more — shining through and leading the way
As long as we keep firmly in mind that our lives are in God’s hands, we don’t need to worry about what will come next in our lives. Wonder, maybe; plan for contingencies, probably. But worry, not helpful.
Remember all the pandemics and end-of-the-world crises this human race has weathered. God hasn’t dropped us yet.
Worry is like a rocking chair – it gives us something to do, but it doesn’t get us anywhere. Worrying fragments lives. It causes us to be “all over the place,” but seldom at home. The many things to do, to think about, to plan for, the many people to remember to visit, or to talk with, the many causes to attack or defend, all these pull us apart and make us lose our center. Worriers die sooner than the non-worriers, that is a fact.
Occupied and preoccupied with many things, worriers are, at the same time, bored, resentful, depressed, and perhaps very lonely. Even without coronavirus, in our highly technological and competitive world, there are myriad forces that fill up our inner and outer space and disconnect us from our innermost selves, our fellow human beings, and our God.
Another critical perspective is gratitude. Diana Butler Bass, in her book on this subject, talks about the importance of really seeing the abundance rather than the scarcity in this world of all the things that are needed for the life and well-being of all people and all creation. She echoes my own cry, which says we live with the idea of scarcity, fear of not having enough for ourselves, and an ethic of hoarding the necessities of life for ourselves rather than sharing them with others. It’s what we’ve been taught, it’s hard to see things differently and imagine another way, and it’s killing us and the world with us. It seems we’re on a dead-end journey, and closer than ever to the end.
But, she says, this is what gives her hope. What she sees is that the way the world works has of late become so bad, so dark and doom-filled, that more and more people are now more ready than before to be opened to another way – another way of seeing what’s really there and been there all along, and another way of being together as world. In the darkness and fear, at the end of ourselves and our resources and what we think the answers are, comes the turning point.
I wonder if the COVID-19 pandemic has much the same potential in it. “Pandemic” sounds fearful, like all may be lost. People are scared and are doing some scared and scary things. On one level it seems the world is only falling more apart. But on another level, “pandemic” only means that we’re all in this together – that we are all together in our vulnerability to receiving and transmitting, and suffering and most likely recovering from the effects of the virus, and that we do best to care about and look out for another, to pool our resources and share what we know about the virus and how we can all help to minimize its impact, and help one another out as the best way for any of us to be well.
To that, all I can say is, May it be so! Amen