Posted on September 30th, 2014
St. Matthew 6:24-34
September 28, 2014
Last Sunday in New York City thousands gathered for what was dubbed the People’s Climate March. Writing in the New Yorker, organizer Bill McKibben identified what was driving the participants: “I’ve always thought that … climate change caused a peculiar combination of deep dread and a sense of powerlessness. We area, after all, so small compared to physics” (Sept. 22, 2014). Deep dread, and a sense of powerlessness. We are small, and forces arrayed against us, dangerous and capricious, loom large.
That’s anxiety. Some experience it over a fear that the climate is changing. Others over disease raving a continent. Immigration. Militant Islam. Your mother-in-law.
It works by gripping our memory. When Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Do not worry,” He uses a term that means “remember.” Worry and remember are verbs, action words. When you make it into a noun, it becomes “tombstone,” which makes sense, because a tombstone is there to remember the dead. Isn’t it startling? When this life is over, your life is reduced to a name, a birth and death date, and perhaps a symbol or phrase chiseled in stone.
Memories fly away, and we sense that’s what is happening with us. Children grow up, old friends growing older.
But memories also gnaw at our minds, eating away at us. She promised! He lied. They laughed at me. If I had said this other thing, I would have gotten that job, and everything would be different. Why did I give in again to my rage, my lust, my despair? I should have spoken up! I should have remained quiet. If I get the chance, I will make him pay.
On and on we worry, and the worries become tombstones, so that we are dying even as we live.
Dread. Powerlessness. We are so small.
How can Jesus say to us, “Do not worry”? Because He is in control. He invites the birds and flowers to be our preachers. Every morning, the birds sing their song, gather their worms, then return to their nests. And what king ever had such beautiful clothing as a wildflower? And yet these things are nowhere near the value of a human being.
If God cares for these, will He not care for you even more? The bird has no anxiety. The flower has no fear. The sun gives light and heat. The earth spins. Although the world is in bondage to sin and death, yet still we see order in the cosmos, the created things fulfilling their function. Of all the creatures, only one is overwhelmed with dread: man.
Earlier in this sermon, called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had expounded on the meaning of the Ten Commandments. The Commandments demand a perfect righteousness in us. Your righteousness, He said, must be perfect. The one who calls his neighbor an idiot, the person who is angry, the man who looks, just for a moment out of the corner of his eye, at a woman not his wife; the person who dislikes his enemy – all these have hell to pay. Such is the demand on your righteousness.
In this part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus now says, “Do not worry about these things causing you anxiety; do not build tombstones with the thoughts gripping your mind. Your heavenly Father knows everything that you need. Here is what you should concentrate on: ‘The kingdom of God and His righteousness.’” His righteousness, not yours.
His righteousness, God’s righteousness, is His love, His mercy, His pardoning work. The cross of Jesus is the righteousness of God. There all the anxieties of man, all the worries of our race, are jammed like thorns into our Lord.
That was a time of anxiety. The disciples hid behind locked doors, worrying that crucifixions were in their future. Here’s the thing: they were! In their future were loss of property, loss of livelihood, loss of friends, stonings, flayings, crucifixions. The resurrection of Jesus didn’t take away what they feared. The resurrection of Jesus took away the fear. Why? Because death and hell, Satan and sin had lost their power. Christ is risen, and they no longer had worries, for their resurrection was a certainty.
The first among these men, Peter, therefore wrote to us: Cast all your cares, your worries, your anxieties, on God, for He cares for you (1 Pet. 5.7).
Why do we worry? Because we forget, forget that God cares for us, and not only will do, but even now is doing for us better things than we can hope, desire, or understand.
None of this is to say, “Don’t be concerned about anything.” Rather, it means, “Be concerned about yourself, about being a faithful husband or wife, a faithful father or mother, a loyal citizen, an honest worker. Do what is given to you to do, and don’t worry about tomorrow, don’t worry about anything outside of your control. Those things will worry about themselves. “Tomorrow,” Jesus says, “will worry about its own things.”
There are unpaid bills. People are angry. We’re all going to die. But Christ already died for our sins, once for all. He is risen from the dead. By Baptism He is our brother. He is in us, and we in Him, in this Eucharist. Which means, truly, there is nothing—nothing—for us to worry about. +INJ+