Sermon: January 21, 2018 – “Anxiety, Allowing and Surrender”

“Anxiety, Allowing and Surrender”

Text: Matthew 6: 25-34

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

There are a lot of different directions that one could follow with regard to this text. Personally, I have always struggled a little bit with this one because it seems on the surface to paint a rather utopian picture that doesn’t really exist in real life. So I have decided to confront my struggles and offer what I can in terms of scholarship and personal insight about what we are to take away from this saying of Jesus.

One of the things which makes this text even more difficult to deal with is that I believe this saying also probably appeared in the document we call “Q”. If you are already familiar with the “Q” concept, you will know what I’m talking about, if you are not familiar, let me just offer a brief explanation. Most Bible scholars I think now agree that the authors of Matthew and Luke used two documents as source material for their own Gospels; those two sources were the Gospel of Mark and “Q”. We do not have an authentic copy of “Q”, although it has been reconstructed and published as a close facsimilia to what scholars believe it might have been.

The reason I think this text becomes more difficult because it appears in “Q” is because I have always considered “Q” to be a fairly reliable source for the actual teachings of Jesus. It has always been my belief that the “Q” document contained a greater accuracy of the actual words of Jesus than say the Gospel of John for example, or even Matthew or Luke on their own. This saying of Jesus, however, appears in “Q” and in Matthew and in Luke, so it is a reliable assumption to think that Jesus actually spoke these words or something very close to these words.

Which brings me back around to some of the problems with the text. Jesus tells us not to worry about food or clothing because God will provide those things for us. For most of us here in Lewiston and for most of us for most of our lives this has been true. I don’t think there are very many of us here who have actually had to worry about their next meal. I think most of us have been sheltered from those kinds of hardships.

But that doesn’t mean that we are not aware that the hardships do exist. We collect food every week for the food bank here in Lewiston. There is significant poverty right in our own backyard. But this pales in scope to the kind of poverty that is present on a global basis. The facts are that God does not provide food and clothing for a significant percentage of the world’s population. So I struggle with what to do about this statement of Jesus. It is pretty clear that Jesus states God will provide and it’s also very clear when we observe the world around us that this simply is not true. There are millions in need of food and shelter and clothing. How do we reconcile what Jesus said with what reality seems to be?

There are a couple of explanations which you might find in a commentary if you looked; the most common seems to be that Jesus did not intend for this instruction to be for general public consumption. In other words, some scholars believe that Jesus was telling these things to his disciples about how they should be as followers of Jesus. Specifically, Jesus wanted his disciples to focus on the ministry and not the logistics of how they would provide for themselves.  This makes some sense and I can accept this line of reasoning to some degree.

But even in that limited context, it seems there are still potential problems with the text, so I feel like we need to dig a little deeper.

As I read the text and really study what is there a couple of things stand out for me. First, I don’t think this text is about God providing; the text is about not worrying. There is a big difference. In the 11 verses of this text, we are told not to worry at least five times. That means that every other verse contains instructions for us not to worry. This text is not about the idea that everything will always be OK, it is about not worrying about everything not being OK.

As a matter of fact, the last verse admits this, saying don’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will have plenty of trouble all by itself. You don’t need to add any trouble to tomorrow by worrying, there will be plenty when tomorrow gets here. As the text states; “Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Some of the commentaries that I looked at treated this text in a very superficial manner. No one suggested that it is a difficult text; no one suggested that at first blush is might seem like Jesus was speaking untruthfully; no one seemed eager to engage the rather obvious downside of this text. Rather the commentaries wanted to talk about faith and trust. Just trust God and everything will be great. Well, sorry, but that just doesn’t cut it; at least not for me.

If we shift the focus of the text away from God always meeting every physical need for every person, which God does not do, and rather focus on the main idea of not worrying, I think we begin to move closer to what Jesus may have intended. The short lesson here is that worrying doesn’t help, it only gets in the way.

So as we dig deeper into this particular text, what comes up for me as a question is how do we not worry? What is the secret to not worrying? Anxiety seems to plague a lot of people, some cases are much more severe than others, but I think all of us have struggled at one time or another with anxiety. Jesus tells us this is futile, anxiety is a waste of energy, we should not worry about tomorrow.

What is missing from this text, and is perhaps implied in one verse in particular is the mental awareness of how receive information about our current situation. Now that is a complicated sentence, so I want to break it apart a little for you. The one verse I mentioned is verse 25b; Jesus asks a question that I think is often overlooked. Jesus asks “Is life not more than food and is the body not more than clothing?”

What do you suppose he meant by this statement? The answer I think is obviously there are more important things in life than what we eat; there may be even more important things in life than if we eat. In other words our connection to the universe, our connection to the Divine, our connection to God is more critical to life than even food. If we worry about material things, it leaves no room for us to contemplate spiritual things. Let me say that again, if we worry about material things, it leaves no room for us to contemplate spiritual things.

This simple idea has taken me decades to even begin to work out in my own mind. The first experience was learning to not judge or worry about things I could not change. In other words, the weather is going to be the weather and no amount of worry will change it. Some people get upset with traffic or when someone cuts them off or when they are late for a meeting. Why? Nothing can change “what is” at that moment and worry or frustration does nothing to help.

What enlightenment comes slower and is more difficult to understand and work with is our own place in the universe and our ability to receive the information about our own circumstances without judgment and without worry. The last step in the process is to receive all that information, not only without any judgment, but with thanksgiving as well.

I think this is the heart of what Jesus was getting at in this text. It isn’t about everything always being okay or at least being judged by you as OK. What it is about is knowing that whatever comes is part of the universal whole and you have a part to play in that unfolding. With a secure knowledge of God and a great connection to the Divine, what happens in the material world is really of little consequence.

One way to look at this is to realize that we are all spiritual beings. We are and always have been and will always be spiritual beings. At this brief moment in time, we are spiritual beings having a human experience; what can we take from this human experience? What can we learn, what can we accomplish, what can we change in this human experience? These are the questions of a higher existence. Most of us consider ourselves as human beings who occasionally search for a spiritual experience. In reality, we are spiritual beings in the midst of a human experience.

Let me leave you with just one more thought. I have read that in some of the eastern faith traditions like Buddhism or Taoism this concept is explained in this way. Pay attention to the emphasis I place on particular words. Before enlightenment one may ask “Why is this happening to me?  After enlightenment one may ask the very same question, but ask it in this way; “Why is this happening to me?” The difference in these two sentences if the focus. One question asks why in the sense of physical and material consequences. The second question, which uses the same words, focuses on the spiritual in the sense that the question asks what can I learn, what experience can I have, how might I help others?

To overcome anxiety and worry means to foster acceptance of what is and to surrender to your current circumstances. I don’t use the words acceptance or surrender to imply resignation or to give up on change. I use the words acceptance and surrender to mean that we don’t waste any more time or energy asking why, but rather focus on what we might accomplish. Food for thought. Amen.

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