A message from Matthew 6:24-34
My lovely wife has been worried a lot the past couple of weeks because she couldn’t get the classes she needs to graduate next summer. But on Wednesday she received an email from the chair of her department who pulled some strings to get her in them.
Later that night, before bed, she thanked me for believing in her, and pushing her to reach out for help. All I remember saying was, “Don’t worry.” But like most Americans, Kathleen doesn’t like to ask for help. Instead, she prefers to worry.
Watching Kathleen’s struggle with getting her classes inspired me to share something that happened to me when I decided to leave a long and prosperous career to go to grad school.
It was only few weeks after I had been accepted to Fuller Seminary, when I awoke at the crack of dawn with a massive, crushing pain in my chest. I was sweating and having trouble breathing, which caused me to freak out even more. My gut told me it wasn’t a heart attack, but an attack nonetheless. As I struggled for air, a voice in my head kept repeating, “How will I put shoes on their feet? How will I put shoes on their feet?” My heart was crushing like a beer can, and all I could focus on was raising three young kids on a minister’s measly salary.
Instead of waking my wife up to get me to the emergency room, you know what I did? I picked a fight with God – using a vocabulary that was more suited for a seaman than a seminarian. Have you ever been so angry with God that you just unleashed a torrent of rage and profanity? This was my moment. And I let God have it. No matter what I said, though, or how I screamed it, the only response I got was that voice in my heads that kept repeating, “How will I put shoes on their feet? How will I put shoes on their feet?” Again, it’s amazing what we worry about, especially in dire situations.
I’m not sure if it was money issues that caused me to have the worst panic attack of life, or the fact that maybe I didn’t really believe I was doing the right thing. Now, I knew my call to ministry was real. I’ve known it since I was 13. God had made it very clear to me in many different ways.
Yet here I am, paralyzed by my own uncertainty, demanding God to prove to me that I wasn’t nuts. After all, I wasn’t about to give up my financial security to pursuit something that could have easily been a delusion. I needed to know. And only God could prove it to me. But this time, it was going to be on my terms. You know, because “How will I put shoes on their feet?”
Now, I’d come to learn the unofficial term of what I did is called Bible Roulette. This is when someone, often a seminarian having a panic attack, challenges God to prove God’s self by opening the bible and randomly slamming their finger down on verse. That verse, of course, will be the answer they are looking for.
At the time I had no idea this was a real thing. I thought I had found a way to trick God. So I picked up the bible next to my bed, and as my head screamed one last time “How will I put shoes on their feet?”my finger hit the page, and this is what I read. “And why do you worry about clothing?”
To ensure I got the message loud and clear, God directed my eyes to the title at the top of this passage from Matthew’s gospel, “A cure for anxiety.” That was it. God won. I fell on my knees and started to sob into my pillow. I just didn’t have the fight in me anymore. Once I surrendered, that tight grip on my heart was released. The stress that I had carried for decades melted away. And my life has never been the same since.
“Why do you worry about clothing?” Jesus said these words in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. And they come on the heels of what we talked about last week - how a healthy eye brings light into your entire being. Picking up from where left off, Jesus says this from Matthew 6:24-34.
One of the most repeated phrases in the entire bible is “Do not be afraid,” or a variation like, “Do not fear,” or “Do not worry,” which Jesus says four times in these few verses. It’s a phrase that is both familiar and foreign, and it hits us at a time when the world has given us so much worry about. Another COVID variant, wars and civil unrest, fires on the west coast, hurricanes on the east coast, earthquakes, famines. It’s hard not have a little worry rattling about inside your head.
When Jesus says “Don’t worry,” it could come off a little cliché, like something one says when they don’t think someone’s problem is worth getting worked up over. As Fiona was moving herself back to college I told her, “Don’t worry, you’ve got this.” When Colleen was nervous about returning to campus after a year and a half of school at home, I said “Don’t worry, you know where things are and what to expect.” And this past Friday, when Sean began his freshman year at a prestigious catholic high school, you know what I said to him? “Don’t get yourself kicked you out. They don’t give refunds.”
Saying don’t worry is one of my go to phrases. But sometimes saying it can do more harm than good. I mean, how do you tell a young woman who is fleeing from the Taliban not to worry? Or my friend who called me for some marriage advice, if I told her not to worry she would have known I wasn’t invested in her o pain.
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is calling us into an alternative way of living in the world. A way that is focused on God’s righteousness and provision. He begins by saying you can’t serve two masters. It’s either God or money. He’s saying if our heart is focused on obtaining wealth, we will constantly be worrying about how much we have, or getting more of it. This is how the world invites us to live.
Jesus said If our heart is on God’s righteousness, in good times and bad, then we have no reason to worry. Sounds easy, unless a single mom who has to choose between paying rent or feeding her kids. Here’s the thing. This parable isn’t about what money can buy. It’s about what God can provide.
The question for us is simply: do you believe God is an intimated, caring, and a trustworthy parent who provides for all of us?
All Jesus has to do is look at the birds flying around him, and the flowers and the grass on the mountainside, for the answer. He sees how everything is constantly under God's delicate, loving care. And tells his followers not to worry about what they will eat and wear because if this good God takes care of the least of these, then surely God will do the same for them.
I know what you’re probably thinking. “This is just a little out of touch with reality.” Doesn’t Jesus know that our world runs on money and consumerism. I have the credit card bills to prove it.
Jesus knows we need things like food and clothing in order to get by in this world. He also knows we need air, and water, and gravity, and sunshine as well. Where do those things come from? God. The creator of it all: you, me, and everything. Jesus points our attention towards the birds and the flowers because they are like us. They too are made by God’s divine hand. And they, like us, rely on God’s hand to provide for them without work or worry.
If I have learned anything in my faith, it’s that worry always takes my focus off what I’m supposed to do. It causes me to think about what’s next, or what I did, instead of being present, right here and right now, so that the presence of God can shine through me.
Jesus calls us into Anamesa, that space between heaven and earth, us and them, me and you, the space where life is unfolding with every second because “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” When you are worrying about the past or what tomorrow will bring, then you’re not focusing on God’s kingdom and all its righteousness that is happening all around you.
Jesus says, “Don’t worry,” because where you are is where you need to be; where heaven comes alive here on earth. It’s here, in Anamesa, God comes to meet us. And we come to meet God in one another. Jesus invites us to open our eyes and our hearts to see God among us in every living thing - birds, trees, babies and even in our enemies. Once we wrap our head around this reality, there’s no need to worry.
If our hearts are on God, then we know that we are under God's loving personal care. God will not leave us without resources or support, just as God has not abandoned the forest and oceans that we are destroying at a rapid pace. But as Jesus’ life and death taught us, God is in control. Out of death, God brings new life.
This is good news for us because we can face life today with all its uncertainties and contingencies with the same assurance that was given to us with Christ’s empty tomb. God not only hears, sees, and cares about our us and our situation, but God also moves to help alleviate the stress it causes.
After my first quarter of school, I put God to the test one more time. It happened while I was signing up for more classes, which meant more money. My severance from my old job was gone, and my unemployment had run out. I needed to come up with $4,000 to cover tuition. Instead of anger or using colorful words, I simply prayed “God, you promised me.”
I had just uploaded up my tuition on the credit card when our doorbell rang. It was our mailman Rick, who loved to hang out and talk. After about 15 minutes or so, Rick hands me a stack of mail and leaves. In my hands were numerous envelops from churches around the country. In those envelops were different scholarship checks. Those checks totaled, $3,750.
And you know what I said to God? “You’re $250 short. But don’t worry. I got it.” Yes, once again I tried to pull one over on God.
That Sunday I had been invited to preach at our church. And wouldn’t you know it, when I got to the pulpit there was an envelope with my name on it. Inside was another check - for $250. Talk about divine provision. Now, I wished this happen all the time. But it does happen enough so I will never lose sight of where to keep my heart focused, on the One who put shoes on their feet.
Jesus calls us to imagine the world differently, to see life through God’s eyes and to value the things that Jesus values, which includes you and me.
He knows that we’ll face challenges and circumstance that will overwhelm us and cause us to worry and maybe have a panic attack or two. Thus, he encourages us to keep our eyes and hearts on God who looks out for the transient life of grass with such beauty and care.
Just as God looks out for the least of these, so too does God look out for us who are faithful in the kingdom, standing up for what is right and just, and sharing all that we’ve been given knowing with our eyes and believing with our hearts that there is always enough of God’s love to go around.
So let's go out into the world taking Jesus’s advice. Let’s not worry about tomorrow, today’s trouble is enough for today.” Instead, let's keep our focus on the Kingdom of God and all its righteousness. Because if Jesus means what he says, and if his word is true, then all things will be given to you.
Let us pray:
Almighty and Heavenly Creator, As we set our eyes upon you and your glory, we open our hearts to receive your providence. You sent us your Son to free us from the bonds of this world, and to show us a way to live into your righteousness. Through him we are drawn closer to you and to one another. And so it is in his name we offer to you our whole selves. Amen.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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