Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, March 24, 2019
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Anxiety

Matthew 6:25-34

First things first: What is God actually telling us not to do? He’s telling us not to worry, not to be filled with anxiety. If you’re familiar with the King James translation of the Bible, you might know that it translates this phrase as, “Take no thought,” which really isn’t a good translation of the Greek word. God is not telling us that we should not think or care about the future. There are plenty of places in Scripture, such as the Proverbs, where we are encouraged to be wise about the future and take prudent steps in the present to prepare for it.

This also doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work for our daily needs. Jesus tells us to consider the birds. Birds “work” for their food, don’t they? Every time I see birds, they’re pretty much looking for food. Except for the lazy ones that come to our bird feeders, of course. But they are not anxious. Or at least if they are, I can’t tell.

If God gives us life, which is a gift beyond value, to say nothing of God giving us Jesus, then can we not trust that he will also give us lesser things? Food, water, clothing shelter? What are those compared to life?

If God takes care of all creation, will he not also take care of us? Psalm 104 says, “O Lord, what a variety of things you have made… The earth is full of your creatures… They all depend on you to give them food as they need it. When you supply it, they gather it. You open your hand to feed them, and they are richly satisfied.” Are we not more valuable to God than the animals? Then will he not certainly take care of us?

This is what was called a QAL VAHOMER argument, which was a common method of proving a point in 1st century Hebrew thought. QAL VAHOMER means “How much more.” “If ____ is true, then how much more is _____ true.” If God cares for animals and flowers, then how much more will he care for you.

Can worry do us any good? No, on the contrary, it does us harm. I’m sure they understood that in Jesus’ day, and we probably know it better today. Worry and anxiety can cause us physical problems.

“Consider the flowers of the field.” The flowers in question were probably poppies and anemones, scarlet and purple colored flowers. Those were the colors of royalty, hence the reference to King Solomon. They were short-lived. In the Mediterranean climate of Israel, these flowers would bloom and cover every hillside in

color in the spring. But within weeks, they would die in the heat of summer. And then they would be gathered to burn in the ovens. If God clothes them in splendor, then how much more will he do for us?

“Don’t be like the pagans.” We know God to be good, generous, and loving. In pagan thought, the gods were jealous, capricious, deceptive, and unpredictable. If you’re familiar with those old Greek and Roman mythologies, the gods were not the type of folks you’d want to trust. They had reason to be anxious, but we do not, since we know the true nature of God. God knows your needs, and he will supply them.

Jesus offers us two antidotes to anxiety. The first is to focus on God. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be given to you.” Seek first is about priorities. It doesn’t mean seek God and then go after all the rest of it. Jesus is encouraging us to be so focused on God that we give little thought to ordinary things. Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you.” Are our thoughts fixed on God?

Jesus’ second antidote is to focus on today. “Tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough.” So much of our anxiety is focused on the future. We should give thought to the future, but we cannot and should not try to live in the future. Anxiety about the future robs us of our appreciation for what we have and only offers us fear in exchange. Take each day as it comes, certain that you are in the hands of a loving Father.

These are pretty bold words of Jesus. We might hear them and think, “Yeah, that’s easy for you to say, Jesus!” Was it? Let’s remember to whom Jesus was speaking. Most of those in his audience were poor, peasant farmers. They only owned one set of clothing. They had nothing that we would call “discretionary income.” They were dependent for their livelihood on seasonal rains, which could, and sometimes did, fail. There was very little in the way of a “social safety net” in their society. If Jesus could tell them not to be anxious, then what would he say to us?

And, obviously, this isn’t easy. Anxiety is pervasive in our society and in our lives. Even if we aren’t anxious about food, clothing, shelter, and such, then we find a million other things to be anxious about. It’s a whole lot easier to say, “Yes, it’s true. We should not be anxious,” than it is to live like it’s true.

And finally, let’s stop to remember one more thing. If we look around our world, we see that there are many who do lack the necessities of life: Clean drinking water, sufficient food, clothing and shelter, and necessary medical care. Jesus may have told us not to be anxious about our own needs, but he never told us not to be concerned about the needs of others. In fact, he said quite the opposite!

Perhaps that’s part of the solution, as well. Instead of fixating on our own anxieties, we should see how many there are in our world who have genuine needs. What does God want us to do for them? Often, the most effective antidote to our own anxieties is to get out of our own little shell and do something for others.

Thanksgiving is a time to express our gratitude for all we have. It’s also a good time to think what we can and should be doing for others.


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