Scripture: Matthew 6:19-34
Like a lot of people, I think we’ve been paying attention to what’s been happening along the eastern seaboard of the United States as Hurricane Florence spent the last few days pummeling the Carolinas.
We see, once again, the power of nature as it acts in ways which are not considered “normal.” And once again, we see how it’s power cannot be managed or controlled human efforts. Hundreds of thousands of people without power, and for some it may be weeks before they get it back. Cars floating down streets. Homes destroyed. Lives changed forever, and sadly even lives lost.
It’s amazing when you think about it. We like to think we’re in such great control of our world, and then there’s some wind and rain, and everything changes.
In this massive storm, people have lost everything they have. They’ve lost their homes, their possessions; they’ve lost family heirlooms, old photos, treasures we all have buried away in our house. Everything they’ve amassed in their lifetime, lost.
It’s rather heartbreaking to see it happen. We know it can happen. We see it all the time. Fires. Earthquakes. Floods. Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Accidents and storms happen all the time in life. And when it happens to you, it can create a whole lot of stress and worry.
The good news, of course, is that there are people who are already on the ground helping. They are helping with clean up. They are helping rescue people. They are offering food and shelter. They are comforting those who are suffering with great losses. Wonderful, generous people all helping out, doing whatever they can.
There’s no doubt there has been a great deal of worry for the people in the affected states for the last week as soon as they knew this storm was moving in their direction. They have to make the incredibly difficult decision about what things they are going to pack into their car, and what will they leave behind. And through it all, they worry about what it is they are going to come home to.
Worry is a crippling emotion. When we worry about something, whether it’s what’s going to happen in the midst of a big storm, or what the results of a medical test might be, or even as seemingly small as what are you going to eat today.
Worry takes it’s toll on our bodies. We get tense. Our blood pressure rises. We can’t sleep. Often we can’t see anything else going on except what we are worrying about.
Over the next couple of weeks we are going to be looking at those strong emotions which impact our lives, and how these emotions impact our relationship with God, but also impact our generosity; our ability to respond to God’s blessing and also to the needs of others.
Today Jesus challenges us on our allegiance. What is your allegiance? He wants to know what the source of your life is. And he compares earthly treasures and heavenly treasures.
When we moved into the new house, we brought too much stuff. We struggled to find room for things, since the new house is a little smaller than the old one. Have you ever looked around your house and asked, “Why do I even have this?”
We all have too much stuff. Can we agree on this point? There’s a whole industry that exists because we all have too much stuff. It’s called “storage lockers.” Storage lockers exist because we can’t fit all of our stuff in our house, and need somewhere else to put it. Now sure, there are legitimate reasons why we might need temporary storage for our belongings, we could be moving and need an in-between location to hold our stuff before we can move into our new place. But when you read about some of the stories behind storage lockers, you have to wonder… why do we have so much stuff?
Today Jesus asks what it is we are worshiping. Are we worshiping stuff or are we worshiping God? We need to pick because it’s really hard to worship both. Because when you look at what Jesus teaches, he teaches a simple life, and if we spend that life accumulating wealth, then we can’t be truly worshiping Jesus.
I’m not saying all rich people are not Christian. Certainly there are examples of people with great wealth who are Christian and are doing great things with their money. But I feel confident in saying they are very careful about this relationship with their wealth and strive to maintain their generosity. Their hearts are not in their treasures, their hearts are with God.
Jesus, here in the middle of his sermon on the mount, tells us not to worry. He knows the power worry has on us. Don’t worry about your stuff he says. Let God take care of you.
There’s a saying by Noah benShea which says, “Either the key to a man’s wallet is in his heart, or the key to a man’s heart is in his wallet. So, unless you express your charity, you are locked inside your greed.”
Jesus knows that to focus on treasures we can buy means we are focusing our hearts on earthly materials, which is not God’s intention. And when we don’t focus on the blessings of God, and instead choose to focus on earthly treasures, it can lead to worry.
This is the tension Jesus is dealing with here. We like to worry about things. We worry about our belongings. We worry about our family. We worry about our health. We worry about lots and lots of things. And this worry can separate us from God. I’m not saying all worry is bad, not at all. If we have family or friends in the Carolinas, it is ok to worry about them. But excessive worry on the wrong things can and will separate us from God.
Jesus challenges us in the midst of his teaching. He says “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30)
He calls the worries of people a little faith. He is essentially saying, “Where is your trust?” When we put our trust in ourselves, or anything else, instead of God, then we are not acting as people of faith, we are not relying on God.
So what are we supposed to do if we’re not worrying about stuff?
Jesus says we are to seek first the kingdom of God. He says to seek God’s righteousness before anything else. These are the things we are to strive for in this world. When we strive for these things, instead of building up our own riches which will lead to worry and stress, then Jesus tells us God will provide for our needs. It’s not that striving is a bad thing, it’s what we’re striving for which makes the difference.
I had a friend tell me once that one of the biggest challenges he had to face as a Christian was whether or not to tithe to the church. He was a young professional not long out of college, he was starting a family, so you know finances were tight. And yet, in the midst of this he felt like he needed to give 10% of his meager income to the church. It was a big struggle to make the final commitment to do it.
He worried about his ability to provide for his family. He worried about whether they could afford their apartment, their car, all kinds of things came to mind which he was worrying about. But he did it. He made the commitment to give 10% to the church.
And he never looked back. He kept giving 10%, every week, to the church. Occasionally, he and his family would face a tight financial period, and when they looked over their monthly budget, they picked what it was they were going to cut back on, and it was never their givings to the church.
And as they faced those challenges, and they would start to worry, many times there was some sort of financial relief to help them through. He would get a bonus at work. A bill would be much smaller than they anticipated.
For my friend, when he put his faith in God and chose not to worry about the worldly things around him, God provided.
My friend became a successful accountant. Yet he remained humble. He drives a reasonable car. He still continues to give to his church, and if I remember correctly he actually started giving more than 10% when life became easier to manage. He even gives hours and hours of volunteer time to the church and other ministries he’s become involved in.
All because he chose not to worry about earthly things and chose to put his trust in God. And God has blessed him abundantly.
If my friend had instead chosen to worry about his finances when he was younger and withheld his offering, he might have missed out on a lot of things in his life. He would have missed out on the chance to be close to God, and an enthusiasm for going to, and being involved in, the church. And I know I would have never met him and enjoyed the ministry he provides to me through his work and his friendship.
Psalm 51:6-9 is a part of a prayer we might find helpful in this context. It says,
“Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.”
If God clothes the flowers and gardens, forests and mountains, if he feeds the birds and animals, can we trust that God will also provide for us?
Worry is not helpful. Worry keeps us from making a step in faith which God is asking us to take.
God asks us to be generous. Generous in our time. Generous in sharing our love with others. Generous in our giving to his work. And it’s hard to be generous when we’re stuck in worry. Worry chokes our ability to be generous and separates us from God.
Jesus says, “Do not worry…” because when we put our trust in God he will provide.
In showing generosity, we are living as God asks us to live. If we struggle to be generous, then we are separating our self from God. We are not striving for his kingdom and righteousness, we are striving for our own personal gain.
Hurricane Florence has left a huge hole in the lives of the people affected by the storm. Yet, there are still signs of generosity as people respond to the needs of people in the area. There are still people reaching out to offer love and care. They are still acting as God would have us act.
If you are struggling with that kind of worry in your life that we’ve been talking about this morning, a worry which limits your ability to live as God wants you to live, then I ask you to consider where your trust is. It’s not an easy question to answer, and it may cause you to make drastic changes in your life. But it’s a change which bring you much closer to our Father who loves all his children, and will provide.
I know this is a big challenge, it’s a big question to ask. But it also speaks to who we are as followers of Jesus when we consider where we place our trust. It impacts our relationship with God in a big way.
If we choose to trust in ourselves, then there will be struggles, because unless you are a perfect person, you will fail yourself. Is anyone here perfect?
But if we choose to put our trust in God, then we will know we are putting our trust in the only one who was ever perfect, and the only one who will ever be perfect. It doesn’t mean everything will be perfect for us, but following Jesus, following God’s plan for our lives, will be much better than trusting in our ourselves, who are often far from perfect.
Let’s not worry about things beyond our control anymore. Let’s not let worry separate us from a full, loving relationship with God. Let’s put our trust in the one who gives us life, and let him lead the way. And through trusting in him, let’s let those things in our life, our money, our time, our gifts and skills, let’s let those be used by God to make this world a better place. Let’s let God use us, and our possessions to do his work, to bring his kingdom and his righteousness to this world.
Let’s be honest, wouldn’t we all love to have less worry in our lives? Why don’t we give all those worries to God, and let him take care of them, and in turn, let him take care of us.
Let us pray,
Your words challenge us. Your words make us uncomfortable. Yet, in doing so, they also give us hope. Hope for a better life. Hope for a healthier life.
As we examine the parts of our lives which cause us worry, help us to see how you would remove, or heal, or bless these things. Help us to see how we can turn them over to our Father in heaven and receive the blessings he wishes to bestow upon us.
Jesus, we can’t do this without your help. We often can’t even see the benefits you will provide when we give these things up, for they are a block in our vision of the future you have for us.
So we ask, give us strength, give us hope, help us to put our full trust in your promise of abundant life as we hand these worries over to you.
We ask this in your most powerful name. Amen and amen.