“And why do you worry…….?
Chilmark Community Church
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
November 22, 2015
Way back in 1988, a simple song flooded the airways for a period of time – Bobby McFarrin’s – – “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. Some days, just listening to it would lift my spirits. But on other days, I would want to turn it off and throw something at the radio because life really can be very heavy and there is a lot to worry about. A simple “Don’t worry – be happy” can sound pretty callous and unfeeling in the face of the enormity of what life throws at us sometimes – and especially in the light of the trauma of the daily news of terrorist attacks in Paris and Mali – – and the continued threat in different places around the world.
Jesus’ message about “don’t worry” doesn’t seem quite realistic in the complexity of our lives. His words seem out of step with our society and the world we live in. On the surface they lack coherence with the lived experience in the 21st century. As Ulrich Luz has put it, “when [Jesus’ words are] interpreted in a superficial manner, this statement could only have been written by a single guy living a carefree life on the beach in sunny Galilee.”
But there they are – – impertinent questions and teachings, really: “Why do you worry about your clothing?” “Don’t worry about what you will wear or eat or drink….don’t worry about your life……
Worry is another word for anxiety – – and anxiety is always directed toward the future – – what will happen if…….. What will happen if I lose my job…..what will happen if my social security is not enough to sustain me? What will happen if I get really sick and my health insurance won’t cover expenses? What will happen if I can no longer take care of myself? What will happen if I can’t meet the rent or the mortgage…..Who will take care of my family if something happens to me?…. What will happen if the terror afoot in the world cannot be contained?……..anxiety is with us a lot.
In our culture and our time and location, for the most part, our food and clothing needs are pretty well met. On this island if we are up against it, there are organizations and systems in place to help us. Food Pantries, free clothing ministries, Meals On Wheels, community dinners, food assistance programs and so on. In a small community like ours, there is no need for anyone ever to go hungry or without adequate clothing. It was not so for Jesus’ listeners who might only own one garment and who might face starvation if a family was not able to trade for food in the local markets, if a father thrown in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his hungry children.
So how are we to hear these words for us today? Part of the answer is in verse 34 at the end of what we just read – but I think it needs a little unpacking. Jesus teaches “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
Ram Dass, a meditation teacher in the Eastern religious tradition, sums it up this way when he says “Be here now.”
Many spiritual teachers across the ages have taught that God can only be experienced in the present moment – – we cannot reach back into the past and feel God’s presence – although we man be able to see where God has been at work in our lives. We can’t reach into the future to find God because the future does not yet exist. When Jesus challenges us with the words “Do not worry…” he is inviting us to stay very much in the present where we can indeed feel and know the presence of God working in our lives and in the world right here and now – from moment to moment.
The more we are able to focus on that holy energetic presence working with us, the more our anxiety quotient goes down. When, through worry and anxiety, we move ourselves into some imagined and frightening future, we have lost touch with the companionship of God in this moment. How often do we manage to create tension and worry about something that is going to happen and then we get on the other side of it and realize that all that anxiety simply wasn’t necessary at all?
I think it is important to know that there is no moral judgment in Jesus words here. Jesus simply recognizes that his followers do indeed worry – this does not make them sinful or bad – it is just a state of being human. What Jesus is saying is that we don’t have to worry so much – – that by focusing on the truth that the Holy One dwells in every moment of our lives – and does indeed know exactly what we need in any given moment, we can relax into that truth and give ourselves some breathing space when we are feeling challenged by what life is presenting.
Now – I have to tell you – – I have to listen to my own sermon, because I can generate anxiety with the best of them. I need a little help along the way. So – I listen to teachers who suggest practices, spiritual disciplines, if you will, to keep me focused and present to the Holy. One practice is to notice when I am feeling worried or anxious about something – especially about things over which I have no control. That is the first step – – simply noticing my anxious state of mind – to say to myself – Hmmmm – -getting a little uptight about this aren’t you?” A second practice is to acknowledge that when I am anxious, I have in that moment separated myself from the Presence of God. As soon as I realize that, I have taken a step away from the worry or anxiety and a step closer to feeling myself back in God’s Presence. A third practice is to ask “What is God unfolding for me in this moment?” Now, a direct answer to that question may not come right in the moment, but the question has the effect of bringing me back into the awareness that God is indeed working with me even in the midst of my worry and I can begin to relax. I also have to tell you that this is not a magic formula. It is a discipline and I have to practice it over and over again – – sometimes a dozen times a day. Anxiety is a slippery thing – – but – – here’s the reward – – – the more I practice, the more aware I become of the active, energetic presence of the Holy in every moment – – and that leads to gratitude and thanksgiving. Gratitude and anxiety cannot share the same space for very long.
As we approach our national day of Thanksgiving, in a world fraught with danger and suffering, with violence and uncertainty about what it all means, it is good for us to take the teachings of Jesus to heart, to affirm that God does indeed, know what we need, and to give extravagant thanks for God’s continual involvement with our lives for our benefit.
Some of you might remember the old Ma and Pa Kettle television series? In a classic scene that was to be found in many of the episodes, Ma Kettle would bang the triangle on the porch, and from every corner and crevice around the yard hordes of screaming, yelling children would pour into the house fighting for a place at the table. Then Ma, in her best stentorian tones would holler, “Hold it!” and everyone would freeze in silence. Pa Kettle would roll his eyes heavenward, tip his hat, and say, “Much obliged.” And immediately the melee began again as abruptly as it had stopped. Maybe those simple words are enough, but it would be good for us, wherever we are on this Thanksgiving Day, if we stop for longer than a breath and bless God for all the ways the Holy Presence clothes and feeds and sustains us throughout the moments of our days, through all the years of our lives. Have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving.