What? Me Worry? (Apologies to Alfred E. Neuman)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 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? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

–Matthew 6.25-34 (NIV)

In today’s lesson, is Jesus telling us to adopt a care-free, nonchalant attitude (don’t worry, be happy, man)? Not exactly. What our Lord is telling us to do is to not have excessive anxiety about the things that can only bring nominal or marginal value to life. This is clearly not the same as taking care of business so that we do our part to make sure our needs are met. For example, it won’t do to pray to God to provide food for us and then sit home on our duff and not work or seek work. It doesn’t work that way. God has created humans to be stewards of his creation and I’ve yet to meet a steward who sits back and does nothing at all.

What Jesus is reminding us about is God’s ability to provide for our real needs and what those real needs are. God does indeed do that but the trouble is many of us don’t believe that or trust God to do so, in part, because we haven’t got a clue about what constitutes a real human need. We get locked into certain ideas about what we really need and that usually involves having lots of material stuff. Yes, we all have material needs (food, water, clothing, shelter, etc.). But we also have spiritual and emotional needs. Trouble is many of us discount those needs and what we need to do to secure them so that we focus almost exclusively on our material needs. When that happens, you can be confident that excessive anxiety is sure to follow. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the stock market’s behavior. It runs on fear and anxiety as much as anything and is therefore about as fickle as it comes. Give stock brokers an inch to worry about and they will take a mile. Unfortunately, it’s just the nature of the business.

But our Lord will have none of that. He reminds us today what constitutes real life is our relationship with God, a relationship in which we love him first above everything (and everyone) else, and in which we serve others as a way of showing God we really do love him. In other words, if we are going to have a relationship with God, we had best be prepared to be his agents of healing and New Creation that he calls us to be. That means we have to focus on setting right priorities and trusting God to help us meet our needs.

Again, we have to do our part. We have to work and put forth the appropriate effort on projects. But the key is to pick appropriate projects, and spending undo energy and anxiety on things that cannot provide life or help make us more human are not worth our time and effort. We remember Jesus’ parable about the rich man who thought he had it made, only to be told by God on the day of the man’s retirement that his life would come to an end that very night. I haven’t met too many people on their deathbed who have lamented that they should have worked harder or spent less time with family and friends or made more money or screwed more people to secure their own selfish needs. I doubt you have either.

All this requires great faith and trust on our part, and we will not likely be willing to give that to God if we do not know him or what he is capable of producing. We humans have the unfortunate tendency to want to bring God down to our level, in part, because we want to play God ourselves. When we do that, we perforce limit our ability to trust God because in the back of our mind we realize that humans are fallible and prone to error. If we make God into our own image, we really will never be able to trust God or believe he has the power to provide for our real needs because we know the human condition only too well. That is a real shame because we rob ourselves of real meaning, purpose, and joy in life.

If you don’t believe that, take a look at the prison letters Paul wrote to the churches he founded in his day. Start with Philippians and keep in the front of your mind that Paul wrote what he did while he was in chains and unsure if he would ever see the light of day again. Despite Paul’s condition, you cannot help but see the trust and joy that exudes from that letter. It is a letter of encouragement and hope, and it was written by a prisoner who was unjustly imprisoned for Jesus’ sake. Yet Paul knew that he was in God’s care and he considered his situation a privilege. Not many of us are where Paul was, either in terms of his faith or his physical location when he wrote the prison letters. But Paul knew the secret of real life and would surely have agreed with what Jesus tells us in today’s lesson.

What about you? What are you worried about today? I am not talking about the daily worries and burdens we all must bear because we live in a broken and sin-marred world. As Jesus reminds us, those worries and cares will come whether we are faithful or not because we all have responsibilities in this life. Instead, what I am talking about are the worries and cares that we add needlessly to our plate. Are you worried more about how to accumulate for yourself things that cannot possibly enrich you and bring you life or are you worried (i.e., focused) more about how to live your life with meaning, purpose, joy, hope, and power? If the latter concerns you more than the former, then pay attention to what Jesus is telling you here and about how Paul and countless other great saints lived (and live) their lives. Sooner or later, you will be able to join with that great poster boy from Mad magazine, Alfred E. Neuman, and say, “What? Me Worry?” Of course you aren’t anxious about the stuff that doesn’t matter. You are in God’s good care and you have learned the secret of real living, despite that fact that each day brings its own legitimate worries and cares. And if you listen carefully, you will be able to hear Paul clanking his chains in approval.