Sermon for the Twenty second Sunday after Pentecost 
Thanksgiving Festival

Text: Matthew 6:25-27, 33-34
"This is why I tell you: do not be worried about the food and drink you need in order to stay alive, or about clothes for your body. After all, isn't life worth more than food? And isn't the body worth more than clothes? Look at the birds: they do not plant seeds, gather a harvest and put it in barns; yet your Father in heaven takes care of them! Aren't you worth much more than birds? Can any of you live a bit longer by worrying about it? Ö Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings."

Dealing with worry

There was a man who was a chronic worrier. He would worry about anything and everything. Then one day his friends saw him whistling.
"Can that be our friend? No it canít be. Yes it is."
They asked him, "Whatís happened?"
He said, "Iím paying a man to do my worrying for me."
"You mean you arenít worrying anymore?"
"No whenever Iím inclined to worry, I just let him do it."
"How much do you pay him?"
"Two thousand dollars a week."
"Wow! How can you afford that?"
"I canít. But thatís his worry."

Wouldnít it be great if we could pay someone to do all of our worrying for us? Saying that, I presume that you are worriers like me (Iím especially preaching to myself today). It seems to be part of our human nature. As bold and as confident as some people might appear, every person is a victim of worry at some time. Even for the Christian who trusts God worry creeps in and becomes a part of everyday life.

A Mental Health Committee reported a few years ago - half of all the people in our hospital beds are there because of the effects of worry. Mental distress can lead to all kinds of health problems - headaches, arthritis, heart trouble, cystitis, colitis, backaches, ulcers, depression, digestive disorders and yes, even death. When we add to that list the mental fatigue of nights without sleep and days without peace, then we get a glimpse of the havoc worry plays in destroying the quality and quantity of life. Worry is bad for us. Worry has no nutritional value for the body or for the soul.

A little poem -
The worried cow would have lived till now,
If she had saved her breath;
But she feared her hay wouldn't last all day,
So she mooed herself to death!

The word "worry" comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning to strangle or to choke. While we need to be attentive to life's concerns, worrying about them "chokes" the joy out of life. Worrying is like driving a car with one foot on the accelerator and the other foot on the brake. The wheels are spinning, a lot of rubber is being burnt, but you are going nowhere.

Or as someone has said:
Worry is like a rocking chair. It will give you something to do but it won't get you anywhere!

God didn't intend that the people whom he created and saved should hang between certainty and doubt, to be filled with anxiety over so many things. In fact, some people have made worry an art form. We feel uneasy if everything is going too smoothly and we donít have something to worry about.

In his sermon the mount, Jesus tells us not to worry. He reminds us that animals and flowers get along fine without worrying. They don't have to worry because God provides for them. Then Jesus goes on to say that since God provides for them, what have we got to worry about? We are worth much more to God than they are, so God will look after us infinitely better. So Jesus concludes: Don't worry!

As we all know, that's easier said than done. Someone saying to me on a bus crowded with coughing, sneezing, panting, nose blowing passengers, "Don't worry. You won't catch a cold," does nothing to ease the anxiety Iím feeling. Now that the situation has been pointed out to me, that makes me worry even more.

And isnít it true that we often worry about things that happened in the past, and we canít do anything to change that? On the other hand, we worry about things that might happen in the future most of which never become a reality. And when we do achieve that moment when we donít have anything to worry about, we worry because we arenít worrying.

We know from what we read in the Bible that God understands our deepest needs. He understands us better than we understand ourselves most of the time. Jesus spoke with understanding to those who were anxious about the ordinary problems of working and living, preoccupied with anxieties about food, clothing and shelter.

Jesus first points out that God has been and will continue to be extremely generous toward us. We acknowledge this today as we celebrate this Thanksgiving Festival. In his typically down to earth way, Jesus tells us to look at the birds. They neither sow nor reap, yet God doesnít let them starve. If God feeds the most insignificant bird, don't you think he will provide for us who are his very special dearly loved children?

The flowers donít fuss and worry over what they will wear. God clothes the wild flowers which are here one day and gone the next with the finest and most beautiful colours. If God does that for something growing in the wild surely he will care for those whom he has created "a little lower than God" and crowned us "with glory and honour" as the psalm says (8:5).

We have come here today with a song of praise on our lips for the graciousness and goodness of our God. We are reminded again that all things come from his loving hand.
Every discovery of humanity in science and technology,
every seed we have sown,
every article that has been manufactured,
every piece of clothing,
every morsel of food we have placed in our mouths
every dollar we have had in our hands,
- all have come to us through the generosity of God. We praise God for seedtime and harvest, for the time and abilities he has given us to carry out our daily tasks.

We have the resources of the God of the universe to take care of every need that we have. With God and all his resources and power caring for our welfare, there is little room for worrying.

Can you see what Jesus is doing here? He is setting up a powerful argument against worrying, getting stressed and uptight. He is reminding us that when we worry and become anxious we become blinded to the God who cares for birds, plants and us. We lose our focus as our worries take control and consume all of our energy.

When we are overcome with anxiety we forget the one who has the greatest concern for you and me, for our families, for our nation. Our heavenly Father. Worry has a distracting effect. It takes our eyes off our heavenly Father, and focuses our attention on ourselves, our problems, and our inability to handle things.
We focus on our problems,
we let our anxiety take control,
we get to the point where we canít think straight anymore,
we churn things over and over again in our minds,
we get stressed and depressed;
we canít see any way of getting out from under the weight we are carrying.

It has been said, "Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained."

Worry blocks out any thoughts of what God is able to do for us. We are worried about how we are going to handle the situation.

So when Jesus talks about worry he just doesnít say "Donít worry", he tells us how to prevent worry from talking control. "Be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things."

That's simply saying: put first things first. What we need to do more than anything else is to realise that God can be trusted, we can depend on him, that he will take care of us, if only we would have faith in him as our loving God. Let God be God, as the saying goes, and let him take charge of your life.
First and foremost,
as a member of God's Kingdom, realise that you are dearly loved by your heavenly Father who is always watching out for you, as is seen in what he has done for us through his Son Jesus.
Get to know what great things God can and will do for you.
Learn to trust him.
Learn to focus not so much on yourself but on your loving God.
Come to God in prayer and
"leave all your worries with him, because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

The question that remains is this:
Can you and I change?
Can we put a stop to our worrying,
the anxious hand-wringing,
the stress and the subsequent depression?
Can we bring about a change in the way we deal with the problems that arise.

Maybe we won't change over night, but as God feeds the birds which do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and as God beautifies the wild flowers which do not labour or spin, so God can feed and beautify our lives.

Why not try it out? "Be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and see what happens. For instance:
Give time to God first.
Find time for prayer and worship and notice how this decreases your hectic anxiety.
When getting into serious worry mode, pull yourself up and let God take control. Hand your worries over to him and take note how fewer catastrophes happen.
Change your attitude to the place that God has in your life.

If our heart is in tune with God, if our heart seeks God and his will, we have nothing to worry about. This doesn't mean that we will be free of trouble. Rather it means that God will be with us in the middle of our trouble to uphold us and to drive away our fear. For many of us the struggle with worry will be an ongoing battle, but we can be assured that this is not one that we fight alone.

Let me finish with some words from the prophet Isaiah:
You Lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm, and put their trust in you.
And a little later he says:
Israel why do complain that the Lord doesn't know your troubles or care if you suffer injustice? Don't you know? Haven't you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God... Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed (Isaiah 26.3; 40.27,28a,31a).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
9th November, 2003
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com 

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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