The text for this sermon is Matthew 6:33, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Pastor Jim Kniseley preached this sermon at Resurrection on February 27, 2011, the Eighth Sunday after Epiphany.
A key word for today is “worry”. We’re going to be hearing Jesus talk about how to stop worrying so much. I need your help in figuring out what these sayings mean:
a. “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives us something to do, but it goes nowhere.” (Glen Turner)
b. “It ain’t no use putting up your umbrella till it rains.” (Alice Caldwell Rice)
c. “If worry were an Olympic sport, you’d get the gold for sure.” (Stephanie Geist)
Isaiah 49:16 “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” God knows what we need and will take care of us.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
You already know that the key word for today is “worry”. I have a story about worry that tickled my funny-bone:
Two men were shipwrecked on an island. The minute they got to the island, one of them started screaming, “We’re going to die! We’re going to die! There’s no food. NO water. We’re going to die.”
The second man adopted a relaxed manner, sat down and propped himself up against a palm tree. He was so calm that it made the first man crazy, “Don’t you understand? We’re going to die?”
The second man calmly said, “You don’t understand. I make $100,000 a week.”
At this the first man was dumbfounded and asked, “What difference does that make? We’re on a deserted island with no food and no water. We’re going to DIE!”
The second man, with great serenity answered, “ You just don’t get it. I make $100,000 a week, and I tithe 10 percent of this $100,000 to the church, and I have no worry whatsoever. My pastor will find me!”
“Worry” is our human response if we don’t acknowledge how God works. Jesus tells us, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
What does that mean for us today? What is the connection between not worrying and striving for the kingdom of God and his righteousness? In a nutshell: worry is the opposite of trust. Jesus calls his followers to trust in God to provide all that we need. When we worry, we are giving in to the temptation to distrust God. Often times that distrust leads to either debilitating fear or trusting in anything but God. Jesus compares worry and fear to two masters who want to control our lives. He says, “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.” I think a better translation is: You cannot serve God and things in this life.
How do we counteract worry and fear? Our congregations’ Guiding Principle #2 says it well: We trust in the Lord – Through God all things are possible. We realize that our limitations are not God’s limitations. We trust his promises!
Here’s a story about a worrier: Kais Rayes writes that he and his wife found their whole life turned upside down when their first child was born. Every night, the baby seemed to be fussy, and many nights, it seemed that their baby cried far more than he slept. Says Rayes, “My wife would wake me up, saying, ‘Get up, honey! Go see why the baby is crying!’” As a result, Rayes found himself suffering from severe sleep deprivation.
While complaining to his coworkers about his problems one day, one of his colleagues suggested a book on infant massage. Rayes immediately went in search of the book and that night, he tried the technique, gently rubbing his baby’s back, arms, head, and legs until the baby was completely relaxed and obviously had fallen into a deep sleep. Quietly tiptoeing from the darkened room so as not to disturb the rhythmic breathing of the baby, he made his way directly to his own bed in hopes of enjoying a well-deserved full night of sleep.
No such luck. In the middle of the night, his wife awoke him in a panic. “Get up, honey!” she said as she jostled him awake. “Go see why the baby is not crying!”
Do you know anybody like that? Some people are just worriers. Even when things go well, they fret, they fume. They worry that something bad will happen.
That’s what we’re talking about today. How do we go from worrying to trusting? Some years ago a business magazine had an article about “time spent on worrying”. Stress management experts say that only two percent of our “worrying time” is spent on things that might actually be helped by worrying. What about the other 98%? Here’s their breakdown in how worriers’ time is spent:
· 40% on things that never happen
· 35% on things that can’t be changed
· 15% on things that turn out better than expected
· 8% on useless, petty worries
Here’s the truth: Worry immobilizes us, but trust in God moves us to action. We work for our money to supply food and clothing, but we must always remember that these ultimately come from God’s hands. Jesus makes it clear that our security is not in what we’ve accumulated. A big temptation we have today is to think that our security and our future are dependent on our bank accounts and our retirement funds. It is Jesus’ message today that our security and peace is rooted in God’s promise of provision.
Look for a moment at our bulletin cover. We see a bird nestled on a tree branch. Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barn, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
What Jesus is asking of us today and all his followers is this: get your priorities straight. Seek first his kingdom and righteousness. In other words, put your trust in God and strive to live according to his plan for our salvation. Don’t give in to the temptation to put anything else before God. That includes people and things and goals and money and pleasure.
As the hymn puts it: Seek ye first first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Alleluia, alleluia. Ask and it shall be given unto you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be opened to you. Alleluia, alleluia.