16 September 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 6:24-34
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Some of you might remember a song from 1988 by Bobby McFerrin called Don’t Worry, Be Happy. The title is actually the catchy chorus of the tune sung over and over. It’s a sweet and joyful little song that is more an invitation to have a positive attitude than it is a command.
For if we are upset, sad, depressed, distressed, or anxious, having someone simply command us: “Be happy” won’t make us happy. In fact, it can even come across as being naïve or insensitive. And besides, the year 2012 is not 1988.
We are in the midst of a world economic meltdown. Many of us work multiple jobs to pay the bills. Mother and fathers sacrifice to educate their children. Many of our people are deep in debt, and we make less money than we did even when Bobby McFerrin first sang to us of hope and happiness.
Our embassies and flags around the world are burning. Our troops are at risk in far-flung continents. We are all 24 years older than we were in 1988 – which means more health issues to be concerned about. We do have much by way of anxiety and distress. And Bobby McFerrin is not the only person who tells us “Don’t worry, be happy” – our Lord Jesus does as well. And when our blessed Lord tells us to do something, be something, or not to do something, or to refrain from something – we do well to listen attentively and take His words to heart.
He thus He says: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” And the sense of the original Greek text can be translated stronger than “do not be anxious.” The word actually says: “Don’t even think about such things.”
Our Lord is telling us that even when we see the world collapsing around us, we shouldn’t have a care in the world. And He even scolds us, albeit gently, for our “little faith” when we do worry.
And unlike Bobby McFerrin, our Lord gives us an explanation as to how we can rise above our anxiety. He teaches us from the nature of creation and our place in it: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
What glorious comfort!
Dear friends, as crazy as the world is, as uncertain as our times are, as racked by sin and death and sickness and doubt that we are in this fallen existence – we still have a God who is not just in charge, but who has created everything. And what’s more, He still takes interest in His creation. He still watches over every tiny organism, every cell, every molecule, every electron. He promises in His Word that He has come to make all things new, to roll back the corruption that causes us anxiety, to restore life to the death that we brought into the universe – for He has paid for our sins in full at the cross, and made good on His promise by being the firstfruits from the grave.
And when our thoughts are on such things, when we are focused on God’s Word, we can join St. Paul in asking in triumph: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
It is only when we take our eyes off of Jesus and look to the uncertainty of this world that we become anxious and worried, distressed, and even depressed.
God takes care of the birds and the lilies and even the grass. And so God cares for you, dear brother, dear sister, dear friend. “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you?” He asks.
Of course, our Lord Jesus doesn’t answer this question, because we know it already. It is a resounding “Yes.” The Lord cares about you, and He will provide for you. “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”
Instead of simply trying to improve our mood with a happy song to cheer us up, the Lord gives us real, solid, ironclad reason to be joyful, to dispense with anxiety, to be hopeful, and to put the burden of our worries on Him who cares for us! It is not just a call for us to be happy, it is rather a divine promise that we shall be eternally happy.
In fact, the word sometimes translated as “happy” is something deeper and more lasting than a passing emotion. In this very same Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus speaks of His followers as not being merely happy, but “blessed.” We are blessed because He has blessed us. We are free from anxiety because He has freed us from anxiety. Dear friends, our worries and troubles are just that: “our” worries and “our” troubles. They are what we bring to the table, the baggage we drag around with us – all because of our lack of focus on that which is truly important.
And this, dear brothers and sisters, is where the Lord leads us in this passage, the conclusion to what it truly means to be freed from anxiety and to be connected to a life of joy through faith:
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
“Don’t worry, be happy.” Or as our Lord puts it: “Do not be anxious. Be blessed.” For you have been blessed by Him who rules all things, who loves His creation, who forgives your sins, and who grants us, His beloved people, the gifts of life, joy, peace, now and forever more.
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In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.