Message for February 26, 2023

Matthew 6:24-34

Therefore, I tell you,” Jesus says, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body or what you will wear.”

Seriously, Jesus? Don’t worry? Who are you kidding?

The average adult in the Western world spends about ninety minutes a day worrying. That’s a little over ten hours per week. That’s somewhat more than five hundred twenty hours per year. So, the average adult in the Western world spends more than sixty eight-hour days each year worrying.

We worry most often about our health, our money, and our jobs. After that we worry about our relationships, our families, our communities, and the state of the world. When we worry, our physical health suffers. Our relationships suffer. Our productivity suffers. Our mental health suffers.

When we worry, we suffer.

Seriously, Jesus says, don’t worry. Worry is bad for us. Thanks, Jesus. Tell us something we don’t know.

Before I go on, I want to make a clear distinction. Jesus is not talking about real and serious psychological conditions and ailments. Many of us suffer from various levels of depression and anxiety. Those conditions are real illnesses. They can be identified, diagnosed, and treated.

Depression and anxiety are not moral failings. Depression and anxiety are not purely spiritual conditions that can be prayed away. At least one in twelve Americans lives a depressive condition. At least three in ten Americans has experienced a diagnosable anxiety condition at some time in our lives.

People don’t decide to be depressed or anxious in these ways. Those of us who deal with such conditions would be happy to decide our way out of them. But we can’t. Instead, we rely on a variety of self-care and treatment options to live full and productive lives.

I can’t say this strongly enough. Jesus is not judging or condemning any of us who live with various levels of mental health. That’s not what this is about.

But still, Jesus says, don’t worry. All right. What isit about?

The word here for “worry” combines two words. The first half means “to be divided.” The second half means “to bring to mind.” Worry is the experience of being separated from the present by images of the past or future.

That’s what Jesus describes here. Jesus is talking about the five hundred hours we spend each year someplace other than the here and now. Worry splits me into pieces. Worry pulls me into an imagined future. Worry paralyzes me with painful possibilities.

When we worry, we suffer. I can guarantee that during the last few minutes our collective blood pressure has increased. You probably feel more anxious. Some of you are squinting and squirming. I’m sorry I did that to you. But that’s what happens when we worry.

Jesus has a particular variety of worry in mind here. He focuses on worrying about wealth – about our stuff. Verse twenty-five has a “therefore” in it. Therefore, we need to go to the previous verse to see what’s up.

No one can serve two masters,” Jesus says in Matthew six, verse twenty-four, “for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot,” Jesus concludes, “serve God and wealth.”

Jesus worries about where we put our trust. That’s the real issue in our text, so let me repeat it. Jesus worries about where we put our trust. In fact, Jesus says, our stuff can easily end up as our god.

Jesus uses an odd word in verse twenty-four. That word is often translated as “wealth” or “money.” But the word is actually “Mammon.” That’s a name for a pagan god. Mammon is the god of certainty and security. Mammon promises us we can buy our way out of worry. Mammon promises us that stuff is the source of our security.

Mammon makes promises, Jesus says. But Mammon can’t deliver. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal,” Jesus says in Matthew six, verse nineteen.

No matter how much we invest in preventive maintenance, in preservatives, and in planning, that all fails in the end. Moth and rust and thieves are relentless. Nothing lasts forever.

Mammon makes promises. But Mammon can’t deliver. God can and does. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” Jesus says in Matthew six, verse twenty, “where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.

This isn’t about buying a better security system. This is about where we put our trust.For where your treasure is,” Jesus says in Matthew six, verse twenty-one, “there your heart will be also.

Where will your heart be safe? With Mammon? Or with God?

When we trust in our stuff, we surrender to worry. We put ourselves in prison. We sacrifice genuine freedom for false security. We become less than human.

The opposite of worry is trust. That’s worth repeating. The opposite of worry is trust. The question Jesus raises is this. Where do we put our trust?

Let’s remember who’s talking here. The opposite of worry is trust. But that trust is not blind. Jesus is God with us. Jesus is God’s beloved Son. Jesus is the one who feeds and heals and holds us. Jesus is the one who brings the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the one who defeats sin, death, and the devil.

Jesus is the one who holds our hearts. Jesus is the assurance that we can trust God. Jesus is the proof that God keeps God’s promises. Jesus overcomes moth and rust and thieves. Jesus invites us to live in the trust that overwhelms our worries.

What is released in us when we aren’t worrying? The worry Jesus describes makes us less human. This worry makes us ruminate on the past. This worry gives us tunnel vision. This worry leads us to see others as threats, competitors, objects, resources to be exploited. This worry makes society a war of all against all.

Just think how much imagination and creativity are sucked down the drain of worry, It takes effort to worry. It takes imagination to craft the nightmares and catastrophes that clamor for our attention. It’s no wonder worry is exhausting.

Therefore, disciples, don’t’ worry about what you will eat, drink or wear. But you can worry about what others will eat, drink, and wear. Since we know that God provides for us, we can focus on providing for others. That’s real freedom. That’s the kingdom of God.

That’s how Martin Luther, for example, understood the power of the Gospel. We are freed from the power of sin, death and the devil. We are freed from the need to worry. We are also freed for loving service to our neighbor. Since we don’t have to guarantee our own lives, we are freed to work for the well-being of others.

The real antidote to worry is a larger purpose for life. “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” Jesus says in Matthew six, verse thirty-three, “and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Think about those times when you focus on something beyond yourself. Do you have any space for worry? Can you think of any purpose bigger than living out the Kingdom of God? I can’t.

Of course, we will still worry. But let’s stay focused, Jesus says, on the here and now. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own,” he says in Matthew six, thirty-four, “Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Can I get an “amen” for that?

Resisting this worry is profoundly counter-cultural. Advertisers amplify our worries. Political forces count on them. Authoritarian rulers exploit them. Racists rely on them. Ideologues manipulate them.

Jesus says, “Don’t cooperate.” How will you resist those forces this week?

Let’s pray…

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