OK, Confession time. Who is a worrywart? I’m a worrywart. That’s right, I fret over stuff, lots of stuff. Ask me about the church budget. OK, don’t ask me…
I come by it naturally. My mother once gave herself a heart attack, literally, fretting over back surgery the next day.
Of all the living things God created, human beings are the only ones that worry. And we worry about everything: gas prices, the stock market, taxes, marriages, jobs, parents worry about children, children worry about parents. You name it, someone is worrying about it.
In our text today, Jesus says we ought not to worry. As usual, what he says, makes sense. We do worry too much, especially those of us in this affluent society who really have less to worry about than so many others in the world. The result is a spate of problems that we constantly bring upon ourselves.
The movie star David Niven was a famous worrier and habitual nail-biter. Once he received a postcard from his friend Noel Coward. The card showed a picture of the Venus de Milo and said, “You see what will happen if you keep on biting your nails.”
Fifty years ago a book came out titled How to Win over Worry. It quoted some statistics that are just about as valid today as the late 60’s. The book pointed out that more people die in America as a result of suicide (the consummation of stress, duress, anxiety, PTSD and worry) than die from the five most common contagious diseases combined. Two and a half times more than homicides.
Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the U.S. Forty million people suffer from them and they are highly treatable. Yet only 33% of sufferers seek treatment. This adds to our issues.
Worry causes heart trouble, high blood pressure, some forms of asthma, rheumatism, ulcers, colds, thyroid malfunction, arthritis, migraine headaches, blindness, a host of stomach disorders, forms of Alzheimer’s, obesity and diabetes.
We’ve known this stuff for a long time. Couple this with those who self-medicate and find themselves in the spiral of addiction and it is no wonder that doctors candidly admit that more than half of the patients in hospitals are there as much because of the accumulated effects of stress related issues as anything else.
The pressure of modern life, and the worries those pressures bring, have had a devastating effect on every one of us. Billions and billions of dollars are tied up every year in the losses incurred and the cost of treatment for those driven to mental illness brought on by anxiety and worry that so characterizes our society. Thousands go into eternity every year because they, quite literally “worried themselves to death.” Worry is a huge problem.
While the scale may be new in recent generations, the problem is not. The crowd that sat listening to Jesus on that Judean hillside could identify with it. Otherwise, he never would have brought it up. But, as was typical of his teaching, Jesus put the problem into perspective by pointing out some things that all could understand.
Jesus pointed up at the sky and said, “Look at the birds of the air (those little insignificant sparrows); 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?”
It has always been true that the God who has provided life also provides the necessities to keep that life going. The point, of course, is not that the birds and animals are taken care of without work; that is obviously not true – it has been said that no one works harder than the average sparrow to make a living. No the message is that they do not worry about that living. And if they, who are so much lower than we in God’s scheme of creation, do not have to worry, why should we?
Surveys indicate that 30% of things we worry about can’t be changed, 40% will never happen, 12% is needless worry over our health, 10% is petty, miscellaneous worry. Only 8% are real things to worry about. 92% wasted anxiety!
Jesus knew this instinctively. He asks: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” Had Jesus been speaking today, he might have pointed out that, this excessive worrying has precisely the opposite effect: not only will worry not add to your length of years, it will probably subtract from them considerably…not to mention affect their quality.
To that issue of quality of life, Jesus addresses attention to plant life. “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 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.”
No one would ever deny that proper clothing is important to people. In first-century Judea, no less than twenty-first century America, that old adage “Clothes make the person” holds true. The clothes people wear reflect a certain position in society as well as offer protection and comfort. But some are terribly concerned about their clothes, so much so that they spend inordinate amounts of time and money making sure that they have nothing but the “best.” Jesus says, “Don’t.”
To be sure, he is not saying that everyone will be provided with the latest designer fashions, or that we should all go around in John’s coarse camel hair outfit. What he is saying, is that they do not make any difference. As far as God is concerned, clothes do not make the woman, or the man, because if they did, the flowers and the grass would be higher up on the scale of things than we are!
The necessities of life, the length of life, the quality of life – are all things that tend to worry us a great deal. But Jesus’ message is clear: None of them should particularly concern us because the God who gives life in the first place will most assuredly be in control of all the rest. Jesus sums up the problem of worry in one little phrase: “you of little faith.” This is what he has been driving at all along. He has not been trying to tell us that we should not be careful; he has not been trying to say that we should be totally unconcerned about what kind of life we and our families have. He just does not want us to come to the place where we begin to think that we are in this all by ourselves.
There is a very practical side to this whole question of worry: if we spend too much time at it, we will not have time for anything else. And that is the thrust of what Jesus says about seeking “first (God’s) kingdom and (God’s) righteousness, and all these things (food, clothing, and so on) will be given to you as well.”
Near the end of his life, Mark Twain said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
Worry? Who needs it? Not God’s people. Paul says it this way: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let you requests be made known to God. This week Jesus invites us to set aside worry, that we may be fully and truly Thankful.