Sunday, March 17, 2019

Do Not Worry

Why is it that we, as human beings, have a tendency to make life so difficult? I think we’ve always done this—we have a knack for making things more difficult than they ought to be. Let’s just boil things down to their lowest common denominator.

Life is really not that difficult, is it? “What is the meaning of life?” This is a question the world has been asking for millennia. But listen, we—above all people—should have the answer to that one! Life is about glorifying the God who gave us “life” in the first place.

But you say, “It’s not that easy! Life gets complicated! Life is full of tough stuff like: relationships, mortgages, family, money!"

OK, granted, life sometimes gets difficult, but just humor me for a moment. Is it possible that we allow life to get more difficult? Is it possible that maybe God intended for our existence to be much less hectic and frantic and chaotic? Is it possible that we bring much of the dysfunction to our lives upon ourselves?

My goal this morning is quite simple. I am here this morning to convince you of one thing: God intended for you to live a very simple life. Because God knows that a simple life is the most fulfilling life! God has been trying to get that message across to us since the beginning of time, but we consistently ignore God’s voice. I think we hear it, but we ignore it. Kind of like the familiar scene in a horror film. They hear the “scary voice,” but they pretend it’s just the wind!

And that began very early in our history…

Beginning with the first humans who walked on the earth, we have turned paradise into what often seems like a prison. God told Adam: “I have some simple rules for you to follow.”

You can almost see Adam can’t you, in the garden? “Is that the voice of God I hear? No, maybe that’s just the wind.” And Adam ate the fruit. We know the rest of that story.

The people of Israel were no different. God said here: “I give you this land. These judges will watch over you and protect you and lead you."

Now you can almost see these people as they looked around at their neighbors, can’t you? “Is that the voice of God I hear? No, maybe that’s just the wind.” You see, they wanted a king. We know the rest of that story.

Remember the people who followed John the Baptist in the wilderness? They listened as John warned about God’s coming wrath. Many of them asked him, “What do we do?”

And John just told them plainly, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same. Tax collectors, don’t collect more tax than you should. Soldiers, don’t extort money and don’t accuse people of doing things they are not doing.” John described for them the “simple life”.

Now you can almost see those people as they listened to God speak through John, can’t you? “Is that the voice of God I hear? No, maybe that’s just the wind.”

 These people were not interested in giving up everything. They were more interested in a more complex question: "Is this the Messiah?...Is this the one who will lead us to victory over Rome?"

We have a knack for making the simple message of God into something so complex! Even Paul had to become the mouthpiece of God once again. He said, “I’ve learned to be content. God wants us to live a quiet life and work with our hands.” But I imagine that many people heard or read those words of Paul and uttered the now common response: “Is that the voice of God I hear? No, maybe that’s just the wind!”

You know, Jesus ran into a group of people on His journey to Jerusalem. And wouldn’t you know it, He reminded them of God’s plan once again. But, in spite of God’s persistent reminder to humanity to live “the simple life,” we still make the simple much more difficult. We continue to hear these words of Jesus and respond, “Is that the voice of God I hear? No, maybe that’s just the wind.”

Let's look at Luke 12:22–34 (NRSV)

"He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

These words from Jesus come from Luke’s equivalent to the Sermon on the Mount—"The Sermon on the Plain.”

It’s interesting what we have done with this text: “Don’t worry!” Well the meaning to this one is obvious, isn’t it? Don’t get upset; don’t get agitated! I’ve heard many sermons on this text:

“As a Christian, your life should be so filled with the joy of the Lord that nothing phases you.”

“If you let life get you down, well, maybe you just don’t have enough faith!”

And this message sounds really nice when life is good, doesn’t it? Everyone is healthy. Your business is going well. You are at the prime of your life. But that kind of message doesn’t sound near as appealing when your life turns south…and it will!

Some of you have been there. Your children do not make good decisions and find themselves in trouble—But, don’t worry!

You lose your job and wonder how you will make ends meet for your family—But, don’t worry!

She has cancer and doesn’t have long now—But listen, don’t you worry Christians don’t do that sort of thing!

Church, Jesus does not call us to live in an eternal state of joy and ignore the stuff of the world around us! After all, Jesus himself was known to worry from time to time! The Gospels say He looked over Jerusalem and worried for them. When He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus worried.

So, if this text does not call us to live worry-free lives, what does it call us to? Context is key! It is no accident that this text follows Jesus’ parable of the rich fool. Church, always remember to read things in context!

Jesus is in the midst of preaching a sermon to the crowd and some guy screams out from the back, “Hey Jesus, I got this problem. My father just died, and my brother and I can’t decide who gets what! We thought maybe You could help us out.”

Jesus basically tells him that He was not sent here to judge whose greed was more justified. Then He gave them a parable. You’ve probably heard the parable before.

A rich man has a great crop. He says, “I better plan for the future.”
He plans to build bigger barns. He plans to make enough money to live the good life! He takes every measure to ensure that his future will be bright and free from anxiety! But it ends badly for this man. Before he can do any of that…He dies. We know the point of this parable: You can’t take it with you when you go!

It’s important to know this context, because the message of Jesus in our text for today is a commentary on that parable! Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t worry about anything in this life.”
He says, “Don’t be like this rich fool.” He worried about accumulating things in this life. He worried about his future security. He worried about his wealth.

Look, if you lose your job. Or, if your child passes away. Or, if you get caught in the stuff of this life, Jesus does not expect you to become stoic! But Jesus does expect something else of you. He expects you to have more faith in Him than in your stuff. He expects you to realize that your ultimate joy in this life will come from Kingdom things and not treasures of this earth. The real joy in this life will come from living the simple life!

So, what does this mean to you and me?

I have to be honest with you…I hate preaching sermons like this one. It sounds like the same ole’ “Preacher-coming-down-on-materialism” sermon that comes around about once a year! But when we embarked on this journey together a few weeks ago, as we sought to retrace the steps of Jesus on His journey to Jerusalem, remember I said parts of this journey are difficult!

The reason this leg of the journey is particularly difficult is because it hits way too close to home! Our world struggles with an addiction to things. And, for the most part, Christians are right there with them.

Did you know that Americans owe $400 billion in credit card debt? Did you know that the average American family owes over $8,000 in credit card debt every month? That is the AVERAGE!!! And those are just the numbers.

The other part of the story is the pain that is always the companion of debt. The broken families, the anger, the resentment, the worry! How do we get out of this viscous cycle? Jesus tells us that if we simply seek the kingdom, we would jump out of this cycle.

How does He define kingdom? Being in the kingdom does not mean you find your way each week to a church building! Not even THIS church building! Being in the kingdom means that you make the gospel come to life in this world. And, according to this text, it means you live in such a way that your possessions are not ruling your life. God is ruling your life and God is directing you to give out of your plenty to your neighbor!

But for so many of us, when we make more we simply spend more. We get caught in the cycle. Our quest is to one day get “enough”!

G. K. Chesterson once said,

"There are two ways to ever get enough: One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less."

For some reason, we just seem to miss the voices of God around us. Our nation has been plagued recently with the dishonesty of corporate executives. People with billions wanting more and more. People sacrificing family and prestige and honor for one more buck. You think that would be a warning to the rest of us!

We see people with untold riches leading very unhappy lives. Paul Manafort is heading to prison because of his greed. There was a movie about Howard Hughes a few years ago. It tells the story of man who had billions, but he was so unhappy he divorced himself from life. I could name countless others. movie stars, untold number of politicians, our most famous athletes. History has proven again and again: Money and stuff does not equal happiness!

Then, every once in a while, we hear another kind of story about someone living the simple life. Someone like the late Mother Teresa. She lived her life serving others in Calcutta, India and she died with two sets of clothes in her closet. Before she died, she said something that I think adequately describes what this simple life is all about:

“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”

Church, maybe God is trying to communicate to us today as God has always done. God is always here. God is always speaking to us. The real question is: Are we listening? Is that the voice of God I hear? Or, is it just the wind?

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