This is the second sermon in a series on the promises that are made to us during this political season. This Sunday, we talked about the promise of clarity, which is meant to calm our fear of the future.
SCRIPTURE – Matthew 6:25:34 – 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 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?27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Promises, Promises Sermon Series
#2 – The Promise of Clarity
October 16, 2016
Rev. Kory Wilcoxson
We continue our sermon series today on the power of promises, something that carries a lot of weight during this political season. This sermon series actually came from a leadership book I read on sabbatical called The One Thing You Need to Know by Marcus Buckingham. Now, don’t be put off by the fact that it takes Buckingham 289 pages to tell you the one thing you need to know. He’s actually a pretty brilliant guy. In one chapter, he writes about the search for universals in human nature. Are there things we as human beings share across cultural boundaries? Anthropologist David Brown spent time analyzing the research on every society ever studied. And I thought my college research projects were time-consuming! From this work, he compiled a list of 273 human universals that transcend boundaries.
For example, tickling, joking, and baby-talk are universal. People from every society overestimate their objectivity. We all show a preference for sweets. Every society has a word for “pain” and for “string.” All societies share a fear of snakes among some of their people. And every society includes some form of toilet training in the education of their children. I would bet it’s a universal that some children learn it better than others.
In some ways, Brown’s list is depressing. Every society has weapons, rape, and murder. But every society also has trade, toys, and the concept of taking turns. This list proves that we, as human beings, share things in common, regardless of our cultural context and societal influences. There were several fears that Brown identified as transcending cultures, to which he attached corresponding needs. That’s where the subject of this sermon series came from. Last week we look at the need for security and the promises made to us to address that need. This week, we’re talking about our fear of the future and our need for clarity about what’s going to happen.
If any of the candidates could adequately address this fear, they’d win in a landslide. We know that no one can know the future, but that doesn’t stop politicians from assuring us that they not only know what’s going to happen, they promise that they’ll make it happen. When he was elected in 1904, Teddy Roosevelt promised to never run for the presidency again. He ran again in 1908. Herbert Hoover promised a chicken in every pot. Harry Truman promised healthcare for everyone. Lyndon Johnson promised not to send troops to Vietnam. George Bush asked you to read his lips when he promised no new taxes. Bill Clinton promised the era of big government was over. And a shout-out to my fellow Hoosier and vice president, Dan Quayle, who promised the future would get better tomorrow.
Our political leaders can make all kinds of promises about what they’re going to do and how it’s going to make your life better. Or, in the case of this election, they can promise how the other candidate is going to make your life worse. What they’re promising is clarity about the future, a universal need for all of us. But let’s all take a lesson about knowing the future from the newspaper ad that stated, “The Clairvoyance Society of Greater London will not meet today due to unforeseen circumstances.” If they can’t know the future, who can?
Why is this clarity a need for us? Because in the absence of knowing for sure what’s going to happen, we’ll worry about what’s going to happen. And aren’t the candidates tapping into that fear? If you elect this person, your personal freedoms will be threatened. If you elect that person, our country’s safety will be at risk. Politicians know how to tap into this fear of the future, how to stoke our anxiety about what the other candidate might do and how to calm our worries with their own promises about the future that they know may never be kept.
I think this propensity to worry is universal across cultures because it’s built into our DNA. Pastor John Ortberg talked about a New York Times Magazine article that said worrying could actually be genetic. Geneticists have identified a certain gene that has both a short and a long version. People with the short version are more prone to fear and anxiety. People with the long version seem to not worry as much. Now, are you worrying that you have the shorter version?
In our passage today, Jesus provides us with reasons not to worry. Look at the flowers in the field, the birds in the air. Doesn’t God care for them? But I’ve accidentally weed-whacked enough flowers and hit enough birds with my car to know that not all of them live to their fullest potential. So how can we, people facing a momentous choice and an uncertain future, take Jesus seriously when he says, “Do not worry”?
For me, this need for clarity comes back to one of my biggest spiritual blind spots, which is the issue of control. As I’ve told you before, I’m a control connoisseur because “freak” just sounds so negative. As human beings with free will, there’s a lot in our lives we can control. We control which bills get paid, what food goes into our bodies, and how we react to certain situations. We control the temperature of our house, unless we have a spouse; which channel the TV is on, unless we have kids; and the position of our seat in the car, unless we have kids that drive. Especially for us, who are abundantly blessed, there are a lot of things we control.
But there are a lot more things over which we don’t have control. We don’t have control over the aging of our bodies, not matter how much we exercise and take pills and replace joints. We don’t have control over the economy or the price of gasoline. And we don’t have control over what other people think and do. When we don’t have control, we worry. And there’s nothing we have less control over than the future. If a candidate can convince us that he or she can control the future, can provide that clarity, we put our faith in them…and then complain when they don’t deliver on their promises.
Maybe our faith in clarifying the future is misplaced. Maybe instead of trusting in our leaders, we should trust in the One who holds the future – and the past and the present – in very loving, gracious hands. Jesus reminds us that if God cares for a bird, if God cares for a flower that’s here today and gone tomorrow, how much more will God care for us? We are more than what we eat or what we wear or where we live or how we vote. We live by God’s grace, regardless of what the future holds.
Still, “do not worry” seems a bit too Pollyanna-ish at times. If we live by God’s grace, why are people still living out of cardboard boxes? Why do we need oncologists and rehab facilities and overflowing medicine cabinets? We think God has failed us because our world still gives us plenty of reasons to worry, so we put our faith in real people who promise us that they have things under control.
But God never promised to take away our fears. God promised to help us overcome them. The truth is there will always be something to worry about, if we so choose. When we were baptized or made our confession of faith, we were not promised an easy life. What we are promised is the endless, unremitting, unconditional, loving care of God over every aspect of our lives. And that, Jesus says, is why we shouldn’t worry. Our attitude should be defined, not by what we see, but how we see it and respond to it. A crisis can be an obstacle or an opportunity. A difficulty can be a roadblock or a lesson. We choose how to respond to life, how we move into the future. We can worry, or we can trust, regardless of what happens on Nov. 8.
Jesus gives us the blueprint for how to do this. “Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you, as well.” Worry about the future starts to consume us when we take our focus off the priority of loving and serving God. If we truly believe that God is God, then we trust that no matter what happens, whether it’s good or bad, whether it’s what we wanted or not what we wanted. God is with us, loving us, working to bring about good in the situation.
We’ve all had times in our lives when we’ve thought, “I’ll never get through this. Things will never be the same. My life has changed forever.” We lose someone we love, and life changes. We get a diagnosis, and life changes. We get downsized from our job, and life changes. The candidate we don’t vote for gets elected, and life changes. If you’ve gone through those things or something like it, you know that feeling of despair, hopelessness, worry. What does the future hold now?
Have you felt that way before? You know what it’s like to be in the valley, don’t you? I’ve been there with some of you. It’s scary down there. You feel at times like you won’t make it out. You worry about the future, which is so unclear. But guess what? You’re still here. You made it this far, didn’t you? You may not be the same person you were, but you are here. We’ve been empowered to bear the unbearable and do the undoable and pass the breaking point, but not break. Through our weakness, God is made strong. That’s God’s grace at work.
Where are you on the worry-meter today? Maybe you’re a “1,” cool as a cucumber, abiding like the Dude, living all “Hakuna Matata” and “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” Or maybe you’re a “10,” feeling like looking like Albert Einstein with his finger in a electrical outlet, worrying about everything there is to worry about, and then worrying that you are worrying too much. No matter where you are on that scale, I wonder this: Where is God in your worry? Have you shared what worries you with God? Have you listened for God’s promises?
You may not have the wisdom for tomorrow’s problems. But you will tomorrow. You may not have the resources for tomorrow’s needs. But you will tomorrow. You may not have clarity about what’s going to happen tomorrow. But you will tomorrow. In the meantime, instead of worrying, seek first God’s kingdom in your life. In other words, if you find yourself worrying about what the future holds for you, do something to make the future better for someone else. There’s so much we don’t control about what’s going to happen in our world, but we can make a difference for that one person whose future is much more uncertain than ours. Someone is going to get elected, and a good portion of us will be ticked off about it. Promises will be broken, the future will change, and we won’t have any control over it. And life will go on. We can worry about what the future holds after Nov. 8, or we can take control over the things that matter, like how much we live out our faith or how generous we can be or how much of a difference we can make it someone’s life. Seek first the kingdom of God and you may just find you don’t have as much to worry about.