“So,” says Jesus, “don’t worry about your life; what you will eat, what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? And can any of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your span of life? Strive for the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
A friend, reflecting on this rather pointed passage of Scripture, said, “And that sounds great! Appealing! Peaceful! Unless, of course, you can’t do it.”
I remember a time during my last year of seminary when worry, more specifically worry about money, consumed me. Sitting at a table in my one room apartment I had two things in front of me: the bill for my last semester’s tuition—overdue. And all the money I had in the world—a small jar of quarters reserved for doing the laundry.
Working two jobs and carrying a full class schedule, I could not imagine how I would manage to pay my tuition to finish school. Worry, in all honesty, robbed me of my deep prayer. All I could manage was a constant pleading; born of panic and desperation—“O God, O God, O God.” The kind of anxiety that squeezes the resilience and breath and hope right out of a person had taken hold of me.
My friend Alice had an easier path in seminary, financially speaking. Her parents paid her tuition, provided for her housing, and financed her car. They gave her an allowance and, every now and then, a little something extra. Sensing my rising panic, Alice proposed a solution.
Some years before, a couple in her home church had established a scholarship fund for seminary students; the only restrictions being that the students should be United Methodist and committed to ministry in the local church. The couple had come to the church in their retirement. Finding their newly established affluent and leisurely life in Florida lonely, empty, and frivolous somehow, they began to look around for something with more substance, something more life-giving, something more.
They found First United Methodist Church; and the possibilities of God embodied in the church’s vibrant worship and its sacrificial mission. The grace-filled gospel that shaped the church’s life together and its ministry in the world moved them.
The pastor of the church took time with the couple: guided them individually and together to explore the nature of their emptiness; to name the desire of their hearts; and gently encouraged them to give themselves away following the guidance of John Wesley—to do ho harm, to do good, and to stay in love with God.
Immersing themselves in Bible study and worship, joining with others to serve children in the neighborhood school; traveling to one of the state’s prison to pray with prisoners; the couple rejoiced as God’s presence in their lives grew strong and joy returned to their hearts. In gratitude for the workings of God through the guidance of the pastor, the companionship of the congregation, through the life of service, the couple made their gift of money to support the education of new pastors in Christ’s holy church. I would benefit from their grateful hearts.
Anxiety diminishes gratitude. It has a way of taking our eyes off God and focusing them on ourselves. Jesus invites us to consider our choices when confronted with the worries that arise in us and in the world around us.
Jesus knows that living brings worry. And he assures us that God knows it, too. For just as God knows that the birds of the air need to be fed and that the grass of the field grows more beautiful when clothed with fleeting blooms of lilies; God know our need. Do we believe that? And knowing our need, God makes abundant provision for us. Do we believe that as well?
In the presence of worry, we have decisions to make. Jesus draws our attention to the life-limiting, life-destroying nature of excessive worry. Worry robs us of energy for compassion. Anxiety eats away at our stamina for hope; our courage for love.
Anxious, we find we cannot live with fullness in the present; in the days we have. Instead, we find ourselves dwelling in an imagined future; a future we fear. Jesus suggests another way to look at things.
“Give you entire attention to what God is doing right now; and don’t get all worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up, when the time comes.”
Tonight, we express our thanks to the Cathedral Founder’s Society who see signs of God’s ongoing, inbreaking kingdom life; right here, right now. And who, in gratitude, have made a financial commitment to the ongoing life of God’s holy church.
Others make their gifts here weekly, monthly, annually—as a sign they do believe that God knows our need, and that God provides for us. We need not worry. We need not be anxious.
Thirty-four years ago, God worked through an elderly couple whom I never met to lead me out of anxiety into faith; to give me a heart of hope; to turn my prayers from desperation—“O God, O God, O God”—to gratitude. Blessed are you, good and gracious God, from whom every blessing flows.