In the church I worked in in Tauranga there was a man who had served in the artillery during the Second World War. He had served in the western desert with the New Zealand division, It had affected him greatly. He said he’d never seen anyone killed but he knew each time the gun he serviced fired it meant death. One of the ways it affected him was that when he came back to New Zealand he decided that he didn’t want to go overseas again. He just wanted to stay put. This made it hard for his wife who particularly after they retired wanted to travel. She’d never been out of New Zealand, and when asked he would say ‘I’ve been and I’ve seen enough’.
Finally however he agreed to take his wife to Australia. She was so excited. The thing that changed his mind was a chance to see the wild flowers bloom in the desert. He remembered seeing them before. You see amidst the heat and desolation of the Libyan Desert the rain would come and just for a brief period afterward the desert would become a place of vibrant colour and life, the flowers in their vivid radiance would flourish just for a brief season and then as the heat and dry came back they would wither and die. He’d always remembered their vivid beauty I guess it gave him hope. Jesus invites us to consider the wild flowers here today and gone tomorrow, but more beautiful and wonderful than King Solomon in all his splendour so that we would know how much God cares for us, and be able to face down worry on the cross road following Jesus.
We are working our way through Luke’s narrative of Jesus final journey to Jerusalem, the one that would lead to the Cross. The narrative of that journey takes up the central third of Luke’s gospel (ch 10-19) and it focuses on Jesus teaching about what it means to be his followers. What it means to walk the cross road with Jesus. In the section we are working our way through at the moment Jesus deals with the challenge to stay faithful amidst the pressures of life that would cause us to turn away.
At our Parish Council meeting in June we had a good discussion about worry and a good devotion on putting our trust in God. But one of the points that came up was the question is worry a sin? I mean to worry is to have a lack of trust in God? I have to admit I worried about that? It just does not feel right. In the passage we looked at last week and this week we have sins that Jesus warns his disciples to be on guard against. They were the yeast of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy: putting on a mask of faith and piety that does not come from a full-hearted faith in God… this week it’s all kinds of greed; a desire to be satisfied by more and more things, or possessions instead of relationship with God. But he also encourages them not give in to anxieties that go along with those sins. In the case of persecution fear, instead they should be bold and courageous and proclaim Jesus in the face of persecution trusting God to provide them the words. In this case they are not to worry about the necessities of life but rather live out their faith in Jesus with generous love and care for their neighbours.
Worry and fear are physiological reactions, one to danger and the other to actual or potential problems in our lives. They are seen as the negative expressions of the reactions in us that help us, that adrenaline buzz we need when faced with danger, or gives that ability to work harder and focus on solving a problem. But they are also responses that can draw us away from God. It depends on how we handle them. In the parable of the sower Jesus talks of the seed that had fallen amongst the weeds, it sprouted and grew, but it was chocked out by the weeds, and he explains that as being like people who hear the word of God respond to it but it is cocked out by all the worries of the world and the deception of possessions. It is how our faith comes to the fore in these times that allows us to stay faithful to Christ.
How do we deal with worry? How do we stop it from chocking the life and faith out of us?
The first thing Jesus talks about is perspective.
In the passage we read this morning Jesus is teaching the crowd about being a follower of his, about salvation and the kingdom of God and he is interrupted by a man who wants him to adjudicate in a dispute over inheritance with his brother. The man wants Jesus to bring his religious authority to bear on the matter. Jesus is not having a bar of it. He uses the interruption to tell his disciples to be on guard against all forms of greed. He tells the parable of the rich farmer, who had a bumper year, through no work or skill of his own actually finds his wealth increase. Who decides that he will have to build a bigger barn to store all this and relax because he has made it… he can eat drink and be merry… His security his identity all he is, is invested in what he has. We might think the man blessed, no money worries, But Jesus says God sees him as a fool. “You fool tonight your life is forfeited and who is going to get your wealth now?” In the Old Testament a fool is someone who lives their lives without reference to God. The man didn’t acknowledge God’s providence in the bumper crop, had no thought for God’s justice in how it was going to be used, though of his life and security and comfort in only what he had. In the end it came to nothing.
We can focus on life being about what we do and do not have, what we can and cannot do about something, and miss the reality of God. I used the picture of this sparrow last week, and with the wonders of modern technology it was cropped.
The right perspective is this God in the picture (represented by the cross). That is how we are invited to face financial issues and other worries in our life.
Secondly, providence. Not only perspective that God is in the picture, but a right understanding of the character of God. Jesus turns to his disciples now and says don’t worry about the essentials of life. You see Jesus brings good news to the poor. Most of his listeners were not having those first world problems but dealing with subsistence living issues. How were they going to feed and clothe their families? Jesus invites them to look again at creation. Look at the ravens, they don’t sow or reap, they don’t have barns and storehouses, God cares for them and feeds them. Now we might thing that a raven is a step up from a sparrow, but in Jewish thought it was the other way round. Raven’s were unclean animals. Part of the success of this species is that they are opportunistic omnivores. They will eat anything, they are scavengers, and what mae them unclean was that they often dined on carrion, dead flesh . But shock God cares and provides even for these filthy animals. How much more does God care for you?
The wild flowers don’t weave cloth, doesn’t work hard yet they are more beautiful that Solomon, the high point of fashion and power in Israel’s history. Consider the daises in your back lawn, they are beautiful enough to make daisy chains for your daughter one minute and the next you’ve mowed over them, they are caught up in the catcher and you’ve lobed them into the compost, or the gradin sack for someone to pick up and take away. But God has clothed them in such splendour. You are more precious to God than those flowers. God cares and God provides.
Sandwiched in the middle of those two Jesus says that really worrying about those things aren’t going to do any good anyway. We can’t add a single day to our lives, an hour or a minute by doing it. In fact we know that worry and stress is a killer, it shortens life. Instead of worry we need to learn to rely on God’s providence his care his ability to provide. Just a quick illustration, while I worked at the same church in Tauranga, two girls in my youth group said they couldn’t come to a labour weekend camp at Hunua Falls. I told them money shouldn’t be an issue, and not to worry , I’d pray and God would provide. Kris and I were not in a position to pay the extra $100 to get them there. Next day I won $100 on a silly radio show quiz. The announcer was amazed I was able to guess a particular movie from one line of dialogue. Usually they only gave away a smaller amount as with each clue the amount went down but by the grace of God I got it first time. I rang the girls and told them they could come to camp. Over the weekend they told one of the leaders that they were both depressed and had decided if nothing changed over the weekend they would commit suicide. Teenage angst and drama or real I don’t know. I do know that God meet them that weekend in a way that bought new life and hope. God cares God is able to provide.
It’s not don’t worry be happy it’s don’t worry rather trust in the goodness and love of God. In the end God already knows what we need.
Finally it’s about priority.
Jesus says the priority for the pagan nations around Israel was on what they would have to eat and drink. Clothes and food and possessions, they worry about those things, but we are to live differently, we are to live kingdom of God values: To have the priority of being wholehearted about Jesus. Of course as this is Luke’s gospel this has an outworking in how we use our resources. We can live generously and in a way where what we have is used to love our neighbour and care for poor, because God cares for us and is able to provide for our needs. God is not anti-wealth he is not calling us to be destitute, but rather to change our priority for life and for what we have. It about where we want to invest our resources… in this realm or in God’s kingdom. In Acts 2 it says that as a church they did not have anyone who had a need, because people sold their possessions and gave the money to the apostles, not to line their pockets and so they could live in flash houses but to give to people who needed it. A home group at the church I gew up in,, had a couple whose car died and they didn’t have the money to replace it. Another couple in the group had money saved up to replace their beaten up old car that just might make it a bit longer so they gave their money to the couple without the car. Another couple in the group were in the process of updating to the latest model and decided well they could live with last year’s model for one more year and gave their money to the second couple. I think in the end someone won lotto and it paid for all of them. My mum was part of another home group made up of widows who did the same thing on a smaller level simply sharing the little they had over each week with people who were short that week. But you see how prioritising the kingdom of God can decrease worry in a whole community of faith. Challenging aye… I wonder how much worry we still have because we still don’t put the kingdom of God first as a community.
On Wednesday morning I was taking the rubbish bins back from the gate here at the church across the carpark and up the drive to where they are kept by the manse. Do it every week. It may have been the onset of the stomach bug that hit with real vengeance that afternoon, but I found myself looking down. The bins were empty, but it felt like I was dragging all the cares of the world behind me. My forehead (which seems to get bigger each year) was knotted and tight my neck straining with the stress. A whole raft of concerns seemed to delight to flash tauntingly across my mind’s eye. Then I stopped and looked up. The tree up in the corner of the section which has always been here and I take for granted, suddenly struck me with its beauty. The deep green in stark contrast to that light blue sky we’ve been having on those cold clear mornings. I gained perspective, the beauty of creation and the awesomeness of the creator, I remembered providence, the God who made this, cares for me, loves me, has given his son to gain my forgiveness, and has sent his holy spirit to live in me, and he cares and provides… and started to work with priorities all these things I need to do… I could do them and in all of them I wanted to put God first. I’ve got them done despite that stomach bug. People don’t worry, look up… God cares God provides, we can put him first and he will take care of the rest.