Keep calm and follow Jesus

Jesus says, "Don't worry!"  That's easy enough to say.  How do we do it?

Full Text: 

Keep calm and follow Jesus

November 2, 2014 – Matthew 6:24-34

 

            When Jesus says, “Do not worry…” I hear him speaking to three different audiences.

            The first audience are all those who came to him for healing from every kind of sickness and every kind of disease.  These are the great crowds gathered around him on this mountain.

            They have come to him for healing, but they have also come to him for consolation.  Even without disease and illness, life in first century Palestine was a precarious business.  Although some made their living by fishing, of course, most did so by farming.  It was subsistence farming.  They lived on their own land.  They produced enough food to feed themselves.  And they made their own clothing.

            For generations, people worked the same land their families had always worked.  But as the Romans moved in and took control, however, the land was owned more and more, not by families who had lived there for generations, but by those who lived in the cities.  So, a portion of what the farmers produced had to go to the landowners to support their life in the cities.

            The profit margin, if you could call it that, was very small.

            But note – Jesus doesn’t say, “Do not work.”  He says, “Do not worry.”  Those little birds he points to may not sew or reap or gather into barns (they are not farmers, after all!), but they work harder than about anyone else, building their nests, gathering their food, being on the lookout for predators.  They work, but they don’t worry.

            To these people, Jesus says, “Be like them.  God cares for them.  How much more does God care for you?”

 

            The second audience to whom I hear Jesus speaking are the disciples, those who have gathered at his feet. 

            These disciples, for the most part, make their living by fishing.  They have left their boats, however, and taken up with Jesus.  They don’t know it yet, but Jesus is going to tell them to go far beyond Palestine, far beyond the Sea of Galilee that they have known all their lives, the place that is home to their families and the work by which they secure their daily bread.

            At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus will tell them to go into all nations, to baptize and to teach them to follow the teachings of Jesus.  This sounds like a grand and glorious adventure.  And it is!  But it is also scary.

            Not once, but twice, in obedience to Jesus, the disciples get into a boat to sail to the other side – the Gentile side – of the Sea of Galilee.  In both stories, a storm rises up.  In the first (which happens in Matthew 8), Jesus is with them, but he is asleep.  In a panic, they rouse him.  They say, “Lord, we’re dying out here!”  Jesus says, “Why don’t you have more faith?”  Then he calmly gets up and calms the storm.

            In the second (which happens in Matthew 14), Jesus sends them out alone while he goes off the pray.  After the storm comes up, Jesus goes to them on the water.  But the disciples don’t recognize him.  They think a ghost is coming toward them.  They cry out in fear.  And Jesus says, “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.”  And, after Peter’s faulty attempt to walk on water himself, Jesus calms the storm.

            And near the end of his ministry, Jesus tells them the Parable of the Last Judgment, the sheep and the goats.  The concluding line is, “Whatever you do to the least of these my brothers, you do also to me.”   Jesus is saying to the disciples, “Yes, I’m sending you on a grand adventure.  It may seem scary at times.  It may seem as though I am not around to care for you.  But there will be people out there who do not know you, who do not even know me, and they will care for you.”

            So, when Jesus says, “Do not worry,” it is not merely an exhortation not to be anxious.  It is an invitation to faith.  It is an invitation to trust God and not to allow fear and anxiety to keep them from action.  “Keep calm,” he seems to say, “and follow me.”

            So, when Jesus says, “Do not worry …” I hear him speaking to his disciples.

 

            Finally, when Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life,” I hear him speaking to us.

            Now mostly we do not live a precarious existence.  We are not subsistence farmers living day to day.  Nor do we feel as though we have been sent by Jesus on an exciting but risky adventure, in which we are dependent on others for food and shelter.

            Our problem is not that we have too little stuff, but too much stuff.   We tend to think that the more stuff we have the better, the more stuff we have the less anxious we will feel.  But we may discover that that is not true, that the opposite is true.  We may discover that there is an unexpected downside to having lots of stuff.

            Jesus was not the first to recognize this, of course.  In Proverbs 30 we read: There are two things, Lord, I want you to do for me before I die: Make me absolutely honest and don’t let me be too poor or too rich.  Give me just what I need. If I have too much to eat, I might forget about you; if I don’t have enough, I might steal and disgrace your name.

            Now I don’t think it’s that, if we have too much stuff, we won’t think about God anymore.  It is that we will begin to depend on our stuff rather than depending on God.  So, when our closet fills up with clothes.  We have a good time picking out what to wear each day and we take delight in choosing different clothes and wearing just the right outfit for just the right occasion.

            The trouble is, the more we get, the more we are consumed with what we have, or with getting more.  We want to hold on to what we have, we want to preserve the way things are, or, failing that, we want to buy new stuff that will delight us as much or more.

            Or maybe simply we have the experience of standing in front of our closet full of clothes for what seems like hours and think – I don’t have a thing to wear!

 

            One woman has sought to address this issue by starting Project 333.  Her name is Courtney and she started the minimalist fashion challenge.  The aim is that for three months you wear only 33 different pieces of clothing.

            A friend told me about this.  She has adapted it so that, for 15 days, she is wearing only 15 different pieces of clothing.  She doesn’t count underwear or socks or shoes.  She has five tops, five sweaters, two pairs of pants, two skirts and one pair of jeans.  She has coordinated it so that every piece of clothing goes with every other piece of clothing.  That means she has over 100 different combinations of what to wear.

            And this has been very freeing for her.  She doesn’t worry so much about what she is wearing.  Because she has limited options and fewer choices, she spends less time in her closet wondering what she would wear.

            I went to the Project 333 website.  She has lots of helpful hints, including a list of 33 things you can get rid of from your closet.  The first 15 are:


  1. Anything with shoulder pads, even if they are making a comeback.

  2. Your high school jeans that haven’t buttoned since high school.

  3. That formal outfit you bought for one occasion.

  4. Your ex-anyone’s anything.

  5. Christmas sweaters.

  6. Things that are ripped or have holes that aren’t supposed to be there.

  7. Pieces you can see through unintentionally.

  8. Those super cute shoes that you can’t walk in.

  9. Sentimental items that make you sad.

  10. The warm coat you don’t wear. Someone needs it more than you.

  11. Sentimental items that don’t fit. Take a picture.

  12. Clothes you are saving for your children.

  13. Pieces that need to go to the tailor that never get to the tailor.

  14. A bridesmaid’s dress they said you could wear again, and you know you won’t.

  15. Hats you don’t wear even though everyone says you look good in hats.

 

Now I haven’t taken the Project 333 vow.  I haven’t even done what my friend did.  But I did go through my closet not long ago and took out pants and shirts I’m not wearing.  The good ones I put in a pile to take to Good Will and the not so good ones in a pile for Sylvia to use in her rug weaving.  I did the same with two boxes of old t-shirts, some of which I haven’t worn since we lived in Appleton.  I can’t say I’ve stopped worrying about clothes (I’m not sure I’ve ever worried about clothes!), but I do feel lighter.

Maybe you want to do this, or maybe you don’t.  Maybe you worry about clothes or maybe you worry about food or maybe you worry about something else.  If Project 333 or any other move to simplify your life doesn’t interest you, then try this.  It’s Paul’s advice:

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

Pray about everything.  Offer your concerns to God.  Even more, offer your thanks to God, no matter if you feel like you have a little or you feel like you have a lot.  That will connect you with God.  And it will open your eyes to all the ways that God is already caring for you today.

Do not worry.  Pray.  Keep calm.  And follow Jesus.