Treasuring What Matters Most, Part 2

Do you strive for food and drink and clothing? God has greater things in store for you.

Full Text: 

Matthew 6:22-34

Three weeks ago, I was in my home congregation, St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, in Ames.  Sylvia and I were on our way back from spending a week in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  We came home via Ames.  We spend the night with my brother and sister-in-law.  Then on Sunday morning we took my mother to church.

It’s been 40 years since I regularly attended church at St. Andrew’s.  The congregation has gone through quite a bit of change since then.  But I was surprised at the number of older members I still recognized and who still recognized me.  And St. Andrew’s still has a strong choir.  Except on a rare occasion, I never really sang in the adult choir.  But I did sing in the junior choir.  We probably sang about once-a-month. 

It was on one such Sunday that I was seated in the choir loft.  The choir loft at St. Andrew’s sits along one side of the sanctuary.  The pulpit is up front, of course, on the other side of the sanctuary.  Our pastor was the Rev. William Benbow.  Bill Benbow confirmed me and preached at my eventual ordination.  During one of his sermons when I was in the fifth grade (I have no recollection what he was talking about!), I received my first inkling that I might want to be a pastor.  I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat to stand up in front of people and talk – and they would listen to what you said!”  Not exactly a call to ministry that you might expect!  But sometimes God even works through the desires of the ego to achieve greater ends!

It was a year after that, though, that I had a deeper inkling.  I was at home.  I thought to myself, “If I’m going to be a pastor, I should read the Bible.”  So, I picked up a Bible.  It was the old “Good News for Modern Man,” now called the Contemporary English Version.”  Somehow I knew not to tackle the Old Testament right away.  I turned to the Gospel of Matthew and began to read. 

I got to the sixth chapter.  Here is what I read:

I tell you not to worry about your life.  Don’t worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear.  Isn’t life more than food or clothing?  Look at the birds in the sky!  They don’t plant or harvest.  They don’t even store grain in barns.  Yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren’t you worth more than birds?

Can worry make you live longer?  Why worry about clothes?  Look how the wild flowers grow.  They don’t work hard to make their clothes.  But I tell you that Solomon with all his wealth wasn’t as well clothed as one of them.  God gives such beauty to everything that grows in the fields, even though it is here today and thrown into a fire tomorrow.  He will surely do even more for you!  Why do you have such little faith?

Don’t worry and ask yourselves, “Will we have anything to eat?  Will we have any clothes to wear?”  Only people who don’t know God are always worrying about such things.  Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these.  But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants.  Then the other things will be yours as well.

Don’t worry about tomorrow.  It will take care of itself.  You have enough to worry about today.

These words spoke to me.  I thought, “That’s what I want.  I want to live without worry.”

Now when I think of it, I really had very little to worry about.  My parents provided for me.  I didn’t get everything I wanted, but I did get everything I needed.  I always had something to eat.  I always had something to drink.  I always had something to wear.  I always had a roof over my head – a safe place to be.  My parents may have worried about those things, as parents sometimes do, but I really had no cause to worry.

Yet, I still had this fear that I might be deprived of something I needed, something essential.  And Jesus spoke to that fear.

Jesus spoke in a very common sense way.  “What do you have to worry about – really?” he seemed to say.  “Food?  Clothing?  Life is so much more than these things.”  

And Jesus used examples that were down-to-earth.  “Look at the birds.  Look at the wildflowers.  See how God cares for them.  Even more than these precious things, God cares for you.”

I’m not sure what struck me most – the common sense advice, the images from nature, the attendant joy and freedom, or simply the acknowledgement – Life is more than these things and for that I have what I need.

I didn’t make it any farther in the New Testament.  Maybe I didn’t need to.  Even if I had made it through the gospels, Romans would have stopped me – but for other reasons.  I don’t know that there are many eleven year-olds who can read the entire book of Romans.

But if by some miracle I had, I would have eventually come to the book of Philippians.  Jesus is not the only one to say, “Do not worry,” in the New Testament.  Paul says it as well.  

Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything.  With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.  Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand.  And this peace will control the way you think and feel.  (4:6-7, CEV)

Paul not only counsels the Philippians to live without worry.  He does it himself.  A few verses later, he tells them:

I am not complaining about having too little.  I have learned to be satisfied with whatever I have. I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty and I have lived under all kinds of conditions.  I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little.  Christ gives me the strength to face anything. (4:11-13, CEV)

Paul’s secret is trust in God.  Christ gives me the strength to face anything.  This is Jesus secret, too.  Only people who don’t know God are always worrying about such things.  Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these.  But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants.  Then the other things will be yours as well.

And it is the secret of the saints.  In The Divine Conspiracy Dallas Willard says something surprising.  He says that saints burn up far more grace than sinners ever do.  Grace, he says, is the power of God to do what we cannot do by ourselves.  Sinners use grace only for forgiveness.  Saints use it for everything – not just for forgiveness, but for everything.

This is what Jesus is teaching us to treasure what matters most – not to worry about reputation, but about a real relationship with God – not to worry about food and drink and clothing, but let God take care of those things.  Instead, to live by God’s grace, seeking things that last, seeking to live the way God wants us to live – in love toward one another and in service to the stranger.