What I said this Sunday – 2nd before Lent
Here’s my sermon for this week which, in the Church of England, was on the gospel reading Matthew 6.25-end; for the rest of the world (or at least those churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary, which is most) the gospel was Matthew 6.24-end. Read my sermon to learm more about the verse ‘missing’ from the Church of England!
What do you worry about?
We worry about all kinds of things, but I wouldn’t mind betting that one thing most of you worry about is money.
Mintel, a market research company, carried out a survey about worrying last year. According to their survey 8 out of 10 people worry. I couldn’t help wondering if the other 2 people worried that they didn’t have anything to worry about . And what are the things we worry about? Top of the list – and no surprise – is money! Then comes, in order, problems with family and friends, health, stress at work and then in 5th place, job security.
Now, as we all know we don’t like talking about money in the Church of England. And because we don’t like talking about money the Church of England has done a very interesting thing with our reading this morning. Look at how our gospel reading begins:
Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life …
Jesus has said something quite important before these words, and from which these words carry on. And what is interesting is that in the Revised Common Lectionary, which we follow, the gospel reading for today begins at verse 24 – not verse 25 where our reading began. Go into almost any mainstream church across the world – Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, United Reformed, Lutheran – and they’ll tell you what it is that Jesus has just said. Not in the Church of England, which seems to want to protect us from something, so has made a deliberate decision to omit the previous verse. Why? I don’t know the answer to that, but it is a highly significant omission. And, I would suggest, a dangerous omission because these missing words of Jesus, while being uncomfortable, are words that we all need to hear. And they are words that provide the context for what we heard Jesus say to us this morning.
By now – unless you’ve already guessed – you’re probably dying to know what the missing words are. And it’s very important because the words of Jesus that we hear this morning connect and build upon what he has just said. And what he has just said is this:
You cannot serve God and wealth.
The Church of England decided it didn’t want you to hear those discomforting words this morning – read into that decision what you will. Perhaps it didn’t want to offend wealthy benefactors – I don’t know! Let’s just hear what Jesus has just said in full:
No one can serve two masters: for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life
… and so on. You cannot serve God and wealth. Therefore do not worry about your life. Easy to say “Do not worry” of course, but we all still do it. So, when we worry what do we do about it? Well, when Mintel carried out their survey on worrying they also asked people how they dealt with their worries. And, interestingly, just like the missing but highly significant verse from our gospel reading this morning, there is a missing but highly significant omission from the list of answers. When it comes to dealing with the stresses of money, family and friends, health, job stress and job security, what do people do? Top five responses to life’s worries were socialising with friends and family, listening to music or reading a book, exercise, talking to people about one’s feelings and spending one-on-one time with a partner.
The significant omission from that list is the one thing that Jesus is trying to communicate in his teaching in today’s gospel. You have no need to worry because God is caring for you, he says, concluding:
Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Issues of material security – our money and employment – seem to be significant factors in us losing our sleep. But while relationships emerge as at least as much an antidote to worry as a cause, having a relationship with God does not seem to feature highly on the list. Given that so many of us worry, it is worth hearing what Jesus has to say about the matter. Anxiety, Jesus insists, is counter-productive. Worry cannot add an hour to our life-span. Indeed, the opposite may be true.
Jesus doesn’t say that we shouldn’t make plans for the future. He does say that we should not let the future worry us. He doesn’t say that material provision is unimportant – but he does make it clear that it should not pre-occupy us and push aside life’s greater priorities: God’s kingdom, our relationship with our Lord and those around us; our Christ-likeness of character.
Worrying about everything, getting stressed, doesn’t give us any more security than we already have. All it does it disconnect us from the source of the only real security we can have in this life – Jesus, the Lord of yesterday, today and forever, whose provision we experience only in the present moment. Right now he is providing you with the very air that you breathe. Can you trust that he will continue to sustain your life and meet all your needs as you walk in trust with him, step-by-step?