As Emmalee, my girlfriend’s daughter would say, “you cre, cre Jesus,” which I think is whippersnapper slang for, “you are crazy Jesus.” Don’t worry about what I will eat, or what I will drink, or what I will wear? Isn’t that like the Holy Trinity of stuff we have a legitimate reason to worry about? And telling me not to worry just sort of makes me worry more. It is like Jesus is leading us into a false sense of security. It is like Jesus doesn’t know what he is talking about. It’s like when your spouse (by that I mean your husband) takes on a home improvement project way out of his expertise and says, “don’t worry hun I got this.” Of course you know, when he tells you not to worry, that is when you know you need to worry.
And Jesus isn’t just talking to 21st century city slickers worrying about why their 4G data plan isn’t working on their phones. Jesus is talking to farmer folk. Jesus is talking to people in an agricultural society that mainly made their living off the land. That’s why he is talking about sowing seed and gathering into barns, because unlike today where 1% of the American population farms, in Jesus day farming was the activity of a majority of people. And things were a lot more tenuous back then. They didn’t have Combines, and pesticides, and Genetically modified super crops. If a harvest failed that meant people starved to death. Farming was and still is the basis of civilization. And even though productivity has greatly increased since ancient times I know that many of you who farm still have that sense of how dependent you are upon Mother Nature. You know how many things are out of your control. I think that is true for folks in any field or occupation in the economy. Whatever our job, there are many things beyond our control. But the rest of us are able to maintain the illusion of control more easily. A farmer has no illusion of control. Even with all our modern technology I think most farmers today would admit there are still reasons to worry.
So I imagine that Jesus’ audience was even more skeptical about this teaching than we are today. Many probably lived year to year, not knowing if they would have an abundant harvest, or if they would starve to death.
But because our treasure is in heaven and not on earth, as we learned last week, Jesus is calling us to have a different perspective than those who do not know God. He calls us to learn from the birds and the lilies of the field. The Greek word here means, “to study closely”, as if you are in a lecture hall watching an esteemed scholar, as if you are at church listening to your preacher, well at least I hope you are listening closely. We must first realize that Jesus’ command to not worry is not an excuse for Ergophobia (that being fear of work). If we look at the birds they are actually very busy working. Perhaps more than us since they can’t store nearly as many resources as we can. If we look at the lilies of the field they are clothed beautifully but they can be cut down in an instant. It’s not that the birds and the lilies are exempt from work or danger it is that all they need is already available to them and their very nature is to receive those things. Their lives hang by a far thinner thread than ours yet they remain un-anxious. And our Father, who clothes the lilies with greater splendor than King Solomon, loves us far more than the lilies or the birds. Jesus point is if the Holy Spirit dwells within us, Jesus walks along side us, and our heavenly Father watches over us, then worry just doesn’t make any sense. As John Stott, author of Christian Counter Culture points out, “ All worry is about tomorrow, whether about food or clothing or anything else; but all worry is experienced today. Whenever we are anxious , we are upset in the present about some event which may happen in the future. However, these fears of ours about tomorrow, which we feel so acutely today, may not be fulfilled. “ (Stott, 168) And as Richard Foster, author of Freedom In Simplicity, argues Christians should, “ live centered in trust and faith and all our action and work arises out of that center. It is not fear and anxiety over tomorrow that prompt us to work, but obedience to the divine command. We make provisions as it seems right and good, but what comes to us is not so much the result of our labor as it is the gracious gift of God.” (Stott, 37). We’ve been talking about stewardship the past few Sundays. And the implication for today’s passage on stewardship is clear. If we are afraid there is not enough, that God will not provide, we won’t give generously as God wishes us to.
I hope I am relaying to you clearly what Jesus is trying to say to us but to be frank it’s hard for me to believe what Jesus is saying here, because I see so much in this world that speaks to the contrary. I see war, and famine, natural disasters, broken families, people who’s carriers are in shambles, people who’s dreams are shattered, I see all these things and it is just hard for me to even take Jesus seriously. I doubt that there is enough for me or for anyone else. I am fearful. I have a lot of anxiety. Sometimes I have panic attacks. I want to be able to say as Paul said in Philippians 4:11-13, “ I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” I want to say those words with sincerity and integrity. But today I cannot say those words. And I hope the Lord will use my confession to teach me the secret to simplicity and contentment as he taught Paul. I want that. I know It’s not just a simple matter of believing more, memorizing scripture, or praying more. If you have done all these things and you are still gripped by anxiety I submit to you that there is nothing wrong with you. I always see faith as an electric line. It connects us to God. But only God can provide the power. As Paul says in Romans 8:25, “if we hope in what we do not see we wait for it with patience.” To use a farming analogy, we can sow all we want, but it is the Lord who produces the harvest.
I’m still hoping, still waiting, to experience what Jesus was talking about in these verses. But though I myself, do not experience the peace he refers to most of the time, I met a man once who did. His name is Don Allen. He was a friend of mine back in Richmond, VA. Don Allen is a homeless man. Homeless, by his own admission, through a series of his own poor decisions. Back in my church in Richmond we had these things called community groups. These were groups where we would fellowship in each other’s houses, share a meal, read the scriptures, and pray for one another. There were people of various ages, backgrounds, and races, in these groups. All of us had busy schedules. But we took time out in an anxious and divided world to give undivided time to the Lord and to each other. Don Allen came to us because two of our group members were walking along the street one day and invited him to church. Don Allen taught me more about trusting Jesus than any of my seminary professors did. He even invited our group to his camp site on a couple of occasions to share a meal with him and his homeless friends. Sitting by that fire, as those who had so little, shared what they had with us, was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Don Allen once told me that his life was so much better after he lost everything. Because all the things he had, all the things that he used to worry him, just complicated his life and kept him from God. He was far closer to Jesus as a homeless man than he ever was when he had a roof over his head. Obviously, being homeless in the inner city, or anywhere else is no picnic. Don Allen was mentally and emotionally stable, but lots of folks who are homeless have mental problems and are often violent. More than once people tried to attack him and steal his few possessions. His is an existence that could not be called safe by any definition of the word. And yet, that man could sing praises to the Lord like no man I have ever seen.
Right before I left Richmond, VA, Don Allen got hit by a car on his motor scooter. I went to his hospital room after. I remember he was bandaged up pretty bad. He told me he remembered flying through the air and landing on the pavement in extreme pain before he blacked out. His recovery would take months. But still he thanked God for preserving his life. Still Don Allen knew that His Father in heaven would provide for him. Don Allen knew the truth that even I as a minister of the Gospel have yet to come to know in my heart. That truth is this. Come what may, Jesus is enough.