The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
“Is Your Worry Schedule Packed?”
Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
St. Matthew 6.24-34
20 September 2020
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
Two weeks ago the Sunday comic strip Pearls Before Swine captivated me. There are two characters, Rat and Pig. Rat says to Pig:
“Are you worried about being able to pay your rent?”
“What day is this?”
“Sundays I worry about getting the virus.
Mondays I worry about the economy failing.
Tuesdays I worry about racism. Wednesdays I worry about the planet.
Thursdays I worry about losing my healthcare
And Fridays I just started saving for Murder Hornets. Those giant hornets that are coming to kill us all.”
Pig now looks at a sheet of paper in his hand and exclaims: “Oh, wait. Saturdays I worry about losing my job. So sure. I can fit that in on Saturday.”
Rat replies: “Quite the era.”
Pig, still looking at his sheet, says, “My worry schedule’s PACKED.” [Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis for September 06, 2020]
Pig never got to aches and pains, grief, and loneliness, but I’ll cut him some slack. His list is quite impressive. Your schedule and mine no doubt are as impressive, maybe more so.
μαμωνᾶς is an Aramaic word which our ESV translates as “money” with a footnote offering “possessions” as an alternative. The KJV simply transliterates and uses “mammon.” Originally, it simply meant material things in a neutral way, but it took on religious dimensions. It became a term for what one worshiped as of utmost importance.
The worship of God must be the only thing that concerns us. Jesus makes it clear that we cannot worship more than one God. Possessions are the only alternative. Our attachment to things causes us anxiety because we lose God. In the Our Father Jesus calls these items “daily bread” and Luther defines them quite succinctly as “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body.” It includes material as well as non-material things, such as family, devout friends and rulers, good government, weather, and the like. We may not worship any of these things as we worship God.
We worry that we won’t have what we want, or lose what we have. I see it played out in our ungodly attachment to our mobile phones. People are constantly checking them. Psychologists warn about an unhealthy attachment to this electronic device. Young people especially worry about not checking their phones every minute or so. They are anxious that they will miss something or be missed. Sadly, far too many people allow this unhealthy attachment to cloud their judgment while driving. Indiana passed a law requiring hands-free mobile usage. It took effect in July, yet I have seen many people still looking at their phones while driving. They don’t hold them up but hide them against their chests, glancing down, just in case the police might spot them. Mothers who worry that their children might get the virus still drive looking at their phones, placing them in danger of a fatal accident! The object of their desire is to be in touch with someone, putting themselves before their children! It has become an electronic god for some.
But this is merely a symptom of a far deeper problem. People have always worried. We speak our “what ifs” while contemplating uncertainty. We don’t need to rehearse the anxieties that grip our nation these days. I really wish we’d stop reading the headlines or listening to the talking heads as they give us the daily body count and what it means for countless situations. It really is a denial of God to play on these fears. “You cannot serve God and mammon,” Jesus reminds us.
In the 2015 movie Bridge of Spies, Tom Hanks plays Lawyer James B. Donovan who is entrusted with negotiating the release of U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. It was in the days of the Cold War. Our government wanted to exchange him for the Soviet KGB spy Rudolf Ivanovich Abel who had been arrested in the United States for espionage and was serving a 30 year sentence for his crimes. When Donovan first met with Abel, Abel was very calm and reserved. Donovan said to him, “You should be worried.” Mark Rylance, who played to part of Abel, looked at Donovan and calmly replied, “Why? Will it do any good?”
That line, whether actually spoken by Abel or just dramatic license, struck me and made me think of this text. Abel’s answer was a serious answer! Worrying was not going to help his situation! He calmly accepted his fate for getting caught.
In the 1950s and 60s a magazine was published that most males my age read voraciously, Mad Magazine. It was completely satirical and lampooned our culture. The icon for this magazine was a gap-toothed red head with protruding ears and a stupid smile on his face. His name was Alfred E. Newman. I believe the only thing Alfred E. Newman ever uttered was the phrase that was the trademark of the magazine: “What? Me Worry?” Alfred E. Newman was simply too stupid to worry.
You and I wouldn’t put ourselves into that category! We know things! We claim to know science, and that gives us credence in the worry Olympics. Donovan’s remark comes back again: “You should be worried.” And Abel’s response as well: “Will it do any good?”
On a basic level we must admit that it will NOT do any good, but that doesn’t relieve us of our worries. According to a statewide hotline instituted because of the pandemic, 31% of callers asked help for “anxiety and fearfulness.” Worries. Fear. [Tribune-Star on September 5, 2020] Some people have said that what they worried about never happened, so worry must work! Really?!
In spite of the angel’s first words to the shepherds on the plain over Bethlehem, “Fear not!” [Luke 2.10], our lives are full of fear about the unknown. Over and over again God tells us to “fear not,” but we cannot give up our fears! Call them “concerns,” as my mother used to say when I told her that worry is a sin. It matters not. They are fears or anxieties. And we have little faith to trust our heavenly Father.
I won’t dismiss the legitimacy of your worries. Many things do make you worry! Making ends meet is a real thing, not an unreasonable care. So, too, some immaterial situations occupy our thoughts, such as a failing marriage or broken family relationships. Worry is not usually classified with worse sins like murder, theft, or adultery, but no sin is more crippling than worry.
It does no good to say, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.” The Scriptures don’t say that! Everything may not be fine. You might be like Job whose situation went from bad to worst, not worse, WORST! The doctor’s diagnosis might be spot on. Your health might get worse. Your financial situation might deteriorate even further. Some years ago I sat with one of our members who had gotten the worst news possible about his health. He was terminal. I was there to help him deal with it, to prepare for death, but he kept saying, “I’m getting better.” I suspect that in his dying moments he might have realized that his optimism was not realistic. Such things do not tell us to take a pessimistic view of our worries. God doesn’t tell us to become Alfred E. Newmans either, having an idiotic optimism about what lies ahead.
Fear comes about as a result of sin. When Adam and Eve sinned and were confronted by God, Adam replied, “I was afraid” [Gen. 3.10]. Sin makes us afraid of God’s judgment. Sin makes us afraid that God will condemn us and not deliver us. Sin makes us worry.
You who sit in the pews probably gaze at our altar painting every week. When Jesus was walking on the sea Peter asked Jesus to let him come to him on the water. Matthew records:
30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” (Mt 14:30).
Even with the Lord Christ in front of him he was afraid, worried because he thought Jesus would let him drown. Of course, the big worry is death.
Therefore, Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” The one who conquers is the one who holds on tightly to Christ’s righteousness knowing that Christ’s death is eternally effective for his salvation. So, if you have the forgiveness of sins—Christ’s righteousness—you have the promise of the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. Then why are you worrying? Christ’s righteousness is all you need.
“Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” First things first! Your heavenly Father knows your most important need. Your forgiveness and eternal life have already been secured by Christ.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” (Jn 10:27–30).
Death, the last enemy, as Paul writes [1 Cor. 15.26], has been destroyed by Christ’s resurrection. All things are under Christ’s feet. We forget that. We lose sight of the reality of eternal life when we worry.
Take all your anxieties, worries, cares, concerns—whatever you wish to call them—and pack them on Christ as St. Peter exhorts us. . . .casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.(1 Pe 5:7). Packing them on Christ is like loading up a pack animal with all of your belongings. Come to Christ in his Supper where he forgives your sins of worry and promises you strength for your pilgrim way. He will not leave you nor forsake you.
So, unpack your worry schedule because all things lie in the hands of your heavenly Father. Put those worries on Christ. He knows perfectly what you need and he will provide. After all, he has already provided what you need most, forgiveness and eternal life.
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.