Monday, August 09, 2010

Sermon on Luke 12:22-34, for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, "Seek His Kingdom"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Has endless worrying ever gotten you anywhere? Has being anxious about something accomplished anything? Has the pursuit of food, clothing, and material possessions ever left you satisfied? It’s questions like these that Jesus addresses today, as He teaches us to seek His kingdom, and all these things will be added to us. For where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

We’ve been experimenting with some gardening at home. Trying to grow a few cherry tomato plants and herbs in pots and planter boxes on our lanai. Several of our cherry tomatoes are getting large and green and juicy. I’ve been anxiously watching their progress for months now, to the point of being a little ridiculous about it, as my wife can attest. I’m so anxious to see them grow, that I sometimes check on them two, three or more times per day. Examining the tomatoes….did they get larger? Is there enough water in the pot? How can I get more of the flowers to bear fruit? How come there’s not enough little tomatoes forming? Fortunately this “worry” and “anxiety” is fairly harmless, and is motivated by my excitement to see things grow. But it’s become our joke that if I don’t check on the tomatoes enough times during the day, that they’ll stop growing. I have to laugh at myself at how foolish it is. But this is an important lesson that is also seen in our reading today.

Anxiety and worry don’t accomplish anything. Jesus asks: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Of course the answer is you can’t. You can’t make tomatoes grow faster or more plentifully by watching them or worrying about them. You can’t make your situation in life change by worrying. You can’t make your finances improve by worrying. We are surrounded on all sides with proof that worry accomplishes us nothing, and yet against all reality, we continue to worry about all sorts of things. Actually, not only can worrying not add a single hour to the length of your life, but it can probably do a good deal toward shortening it, by adding unnecessary stress. Worry and anxiety are so often more than just “non-productive”—they are counterproductive. They actually can interfere with or make the problem worse. They can diminish our health and well-being. They can lead us to irrational actions that make a situation worse—like panicking when calm is needed.

Who doesn’t have a list of things to worry about? Who doesn’t have responsibilities or deadlines? Who doesn’t have expectations placed on them by their work, their family, or their school? You know who doesn’t? The ravens of the air and the lilies of the field. The birds of the air don’t sow or reap, yet God feeds them. The lilies of the field don’t work or worry, but they are dressed more beautifully than King Solomon with his riches. If God cares and provides for these, which are so much lesser in comparison to us, how much more will He provide for all the things that we need!

Seeing how great a glory God has given to the lilies of the field, how could we doubt that God has much greater glory in store for us? He clothes us with eternal righteousness, the pure innocence of Christ. How much greater is the value and purpose of our life than these! We’re unique in that we’ve the ability to see and understand our purpose, unlike the ravens and the flowers, but we also have the negative ability to doubt our purpose! We can so easily fall into despair and doubt about our life and its purpose and meaning. We wonder if our lives will have any meaning or significance, or if we’ll just be here today and gone tomorrow like the grass of the field. This doubt and the worry is a sign of weak faith, Jesus says. To all of us who fret, worry, are filled with anxiety—Jesus calls: “O you of little faith! Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”

It’s quite a blow to our pride to hear Jesus address us “worriers” as having little faith. There’s a sting in the realization that worry and doubt expose our lack of full trust in God. Anxiety over our possessions shows we don’t have full faith that God will provide our daily bread. So what to do? How do we stop worrying? Just telling yourself not to worry doesn’t often help. “If I don’t worry about it, who will? If things don’t work out how I planned, what am I going to do?” We can know the truth that worrying doesn’t help, but still find ourselves stuck in that old habit. But God has an answer and He has a better way. Instead of worrying about our problems, God has given us prayer! A short quote from Luther that I saw in Jeremy Staub’s classroom hits the nail on the head: “Pray; let God worry.” Of course God doesn’t actually worry, because He’s in control of everything, right? That’s exactly the point then—why should we worry when we’re not the one’s in control? Instead we should be praying to the one who is!

And Jesus’ correction to our problem of worry supplies a positive thing for us to focus on: “Don’t worry…your Father knows what you need…instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” The best solution to stop worrying is to seek God’s kingdom. Focus more and more on God, learn of His love for you, be enriched by His grace. Problems will seem smaller as we draw God into our central focus. On the other hand, if we focus on our problems, they will grow larger and larger in our view, and we’ll continue to worry against all advice. God is bigger than our problems, and He is the solution. It’s hard to just remove a negative habit, without putting something positive in its place. But when we seek God and His kingdom, then we will have less and less to worry about. This is what it means to become rich in our heart, rich toward God. As we talked about in last week’s sermon, which came from the reading immediately before today’s—the rich man was rich in possessions, and rich toward himself—but he wasn’t rich toward God.

Seeking God and His kingdom is the way to become rich toward God. The good treasure that makes us rich is to have Christ fill our heart. Having this richness toward God replaces and takes up all the space that we’ve filled with worry. Worrying about possessions and having doubt toward God is like having emptiness in our heart. You can’t “take out the emptiness”—you can only fix the emptiness by getting filled. Sometimes we’re more empty, sometimes we’re less empty—but the solution is to be filled up with God. By seeking His kingdom, that emptiness is filled, and God “adds all these things” to us also. God gives our daily bread and makes His kingdom come even though we don’t always ask for it. But we pray for it to come to us also, and that we realize it, so that we may be filled with thanksgiving for it.

And it’s almost funny that this whole passage that talks about our worries about food and clothing and material things—that Jesus says if you’re worried about that, then sell your possessions and give to the poor! If you are worried about not having enough, try giving some of it away! What?! Give the very object of my worry away? YES! In 2 Corinthians 9:7, it says that “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Don’t give grudgingly or because you feel forced to—but give willingly as you have decided in your heart. Did you know that the word “cheerful” is hilaros in Greek? As in hilarious? Did you know that God encourages the “hilarity of giving?” Why would God do such a thing? Are we expecting something in return? Do we give so that God can repay us an even bigger amount? No, we give out of cheerfulness and joy, with no expectation of reward, because of the sheer blessedness of giving. The return that we get is not material, but the spiritual gain of learning the joy of giving. This is how we acquire what Jesus describes as “moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Have you ever given someone something completely unexpected? Did you see the joy and delight on their face? In that moment, did you know the hilarity, the joy of giving?

Finally the reason we can give so joyfully, the reason we can live without fear or worry or anxiety is because it is God who calls us tenderly: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Do not be afraid. Fill your heart with God. Come to His table with hunger and be filled. Come to the wellspring of His Word with thirst, and be quenched. Come with fear and be filled with courage. Come with anxiety and worry, and be filled with a peace that the world and circumstances cannot take away. God’s good pleasure is to give us the kingdom—and if it weren’t His good pleasure to do it, we couldn’t have it. But God so earnestly desires and wants to bring us this very courage, peace, contentment, and wealth of heart. God desires it with the fullest goodness that words cannot express. The goodness that is expressed in the sacrificial giving of His Son Jesus for our sins on the cross. The goodness that is expressed in the daily outpouring of our needs of food and clothing. The goodness that is expressed in God filling up our empty hearts with the treasure of Jesus Christ.

God is filling you up with an eternal store of forgiveness that you can freely and cheerfully give to others, as Christ has forgiven you. God is filling you up with a strength and courage you never knew, that you can boldly give to others in fear and weakness. God is filling you with a peace that spills over from your life into the lives of others, as they see what it means to live as a redeemed child of God. Truly if we seek God’s kingdom, all these things will be added to us, for it is our Father’s good pleasure. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. Recount at length all the times when worrying actually got you somewhere or helped solve a problem.  Why doesn’t worrying help? List examples where worry or anxiety was actually harmful or counterproductive to you or the situation. Cf. Matt. 14:22-33.

2. Who doesn’t worry or need to worry? Who (or what) doesn’t have responsibilities? Reread Luke 12:24, 27. How can we learn from these examples?

3. If the lilies of the fields are clothed in splendor, how are we clothed? Rev. 7:9-14; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 3:1-17

4. What should we do if we have weak faith? Luke 17:5; Mark 9:24. What replaces doubt, fear, and worry?

5. What’s Jesus advice for getting rid of worry over possessions and material things? See again Luke 12:33-34; 2 Corinthians 9:7;

6. How have you experienced the “hilarity” or joy of giving? What is an opportunity for you to do it now? How does giving produce joy and cheerfulness, and help drive worry away?
7. How can we share in such an abundance, that we can give away joyfully? Reflect on the phrase: “It is the Father’s good pleasure”.

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