Change: Worry

Change: Worry
A Message on Matthew 6:25-34
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 24, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

Matthew 6:25-34 (NRSV)

“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.

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Way back in 1988 an American singer released a song that shot to the top of the charts, becoming the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and displacing the previous number one song, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns and Roses. It was unusual in a couple of ways. First, it was the first acapella (no musical instruments) song to make it to number one. It is also a song that features whistling. Yep, whistling. What is even more amazing is that all the acapella parts, including the whistling, were sung by the same person.

The song won a lot of awards and at the 1989 Grammy Awards won Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

The song, if you haven’t guessed it by now, was titled “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and was performed by Bobby McFerrin.

The lyrics went something like this:

Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry, be happy

In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy
Don’t worry, be happy now

The chorus was simply “Ooh, ooh ooh ooh oo-ooh ooh oo-ooh,” and the words “don’t worry, be happy.” It is a very simple song!

While the song has great advice for us, it is advice that is easy to say but much, much harder to do. “Don’t worry. Be happy.”

Do you worry? Are you a worrier? We are going to talk about worrying today as we continue our sermon series on “Change” by looking at the topic of “Worry.”

Now I should probably start off by confessing that I am a worrier. I worry about things… a lot of things. I try not to but it’s something I really struggle with. Here lately I’ve been worrying about COVID-19 in terms of when and how we should start back in-person services at this church. But that’s just one topic in a whole list of things I worry about.

Now I try not to worry. I really do. And I might go for a while without worrying about a particular thing, but then I find myself worrying about it yet once again.

And yet in the scripture we read today from the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus explaining that we are not to worry, but to put our trust in God.

Listen to this paraphrase of part of that scripture from The Message Bible: “What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Years ago there was a contemporary Christian Group with the unique sounding name “Sixpence None the Richer” that performed a song with the simple title of “Trust.” The words of the chorus were:

Trust in the lord with all your heart
Lean not on your own understanding
In all of your ways acknowledge him
And he will make you paths straight

Don’t worry about tomorrow
He’s got it under control
Just trust in the lord with all of your heart
And he will carry you through

If the first part of that chorus sounds familiar, it should. It is almost word for word from Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

I think the second part, the “Don’t worry about tomorrow” part, comes from the scripture we read today from Matthew’s Gospel. (It is also found in Luke 12:22-34)

We find scriptures that deal with the topic of worry throughout the Bible. Here are just a few of them:

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

“…do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“Anxiety weighs down the human heart, but a good word cheers it up.” Proverbs 12:25

“Cast all your anxiety on him [God], because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:27

With so many scriptures telling us not to worry, then why do we still do it?

I think a lot of it has to do with control. As humans we have a desire to be in control of things that affect our lives. We think that if we have control over things then we will feel secure and comfortable. We fear the unknown, so if we stick with what is known then we won’t worry, right?

Uh, no. If this pandemic we are living through now has taught us anything, it has been that life is unpredictable, that there are so many things that are beyond our control.

While this may be the first pandemic any of us have lived through, there are things that other generations have gone through that have been extremely disruptive in other ways.

Pam and Emily drove out to Pam’s dad’s house this past week, so it was just me and the dog at home the past few days. Knowing that Memorial Day is tomorrow I started watching a series about World War II called WWII in HD. They took color film, which was just beginning to be used, and digitized and improved it to high resolution.

I’m kind of a WWII history buff of sorts, not nearly on the same level as Brett Eckles, though, and have read lots of books and seen movies and documentaries about the war, but in watching this series I was again amazed at what the men and women of our country–and other countries–sacrificed in that war.

The series interviews men and women who served in the war and gave their personal recollections of the things they experienced. One of the people they interviewed was Jack Werner, a Jew who escaped Austria soon after Hitler came to power by walking over the Alps into Switzerland. Jack traveled to the United States and once here he volunteered for the US Army to help fight against what he fled from.

Jack enlists prior to Pearl Harbor, but instead of being sent to Europe he gets assigned to the 7th Infantry and is sent to the Pacific theater. There he fights in battles in Attu, Kwajalein, Leyte Gulf, and Okinawa, where he is seriously wounded.

In the series he talks about the brutal conditions the soldiers fought and how high the death toll was. He talks of how worried the soldiers were, especially at night when the Japanese would often attack.

Once Jack and four other soldiers went on a patrol. They got lost and suddenly found themselves surrounded by the Japanese. He and one other soldier were the only ones of the five that made it back alive.

As they served their country they worried. They worried about living through the battles, about their loved ones and families back home, and they worried about their country. But those worries didn’t keep them from charging into harm’s way, even if it cost them their lives.

This Memorial Day we acknowledge those who served our country and paid the ultimate price with their lives. As the saying reminds us, “All gave some, and some gave all.” May we always remember those who gave all.

In watching the film footage and hearing Jack and the other men and women’s stories, I realized that I really don’t have anything to worry about compared to them. Their experiences give me a different perspective about worrying.

John Wesley knew the value of perspective when it comes to worrying. One day John was traveling with a man who was very worried. He said, “I do not know what I shall do with all this worry and trouble.”

As they walked by a pasture John noticed a cow looking over a stone wall. He pointed it out to his traveling companion and said, “Do you know why that cow is looking over the wall?”

“No,” the man replied.

Wesley said, “The cow is looking over the wall because she cannot see through it. That is what you must do with your wall of trouble—look over it and avoid it.” [Source: Knight’s Master Book of New Illustrations, Walter B. Knight]

The English clergyman and abolitionist John Newton, who just also happened to write “Amazing Grace,” gives us another perspective from which we can view worry.

“I compare the troubles which we have to undergo in the course of the year to a great bundle of [sticks], far too large for us to lift. But God does not require us to carry the whole at once. He mercifully unties the bundle, and gives us first one stick, which we are to carry today, and then another, which we are to carry tomorrow, and so on. This we might easily manage, if we would only take the burden appointed for us each day; but we choose to increase our troubles by carrying yesterday’s stick over again today, and adding tomorrow’s burden to our load, before we are required to bear it.”

Years ago when we lived in Kilgore we had a neighbor in her 90s who lived by herself. “Miss Alta,” as we called her, was quite the character. One time I asked her if she ever got worried living all alone. She responded, “Young man, let me tell you something. When you go to bed at night, turn all your troubles over to God. He’s going to be up all night anyway and there’s no use both of you losing sleep.”

Of course the best perspective we can have on worry is from Jesus Christ. Worrying really is counterproductive. We can’t live longer by worrying, and in fact worrying has serious physical and emotional effects that actually shorten our lives!

So my challenge to you for this week is to join me in turning your worries over to God. Whenever we find myself worrying about something, let us make a conscious effort to turn those worries into a prayer and turn them over to God. Let us remember that because of the Grace of God given to me and to all of us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that we can truly sing, “Don’t worry. Be happy”!

And when we lay my heads down on the pillow at night, let us take Ms. Alta’s advice and turn all our troubles over to God. After all, you know, he’s going to be up all night anyway.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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