What do you worry about? What keeps you awake at night?
Well, we worry about all kinds of things, but I wouldn’t mind betting that one thing most of you worry about at some time or other is money.
Mintel is a market research company. And a while ago they carried out a survey about worrying. And 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 worry.
And what are the things we worry about? The survey showed that 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 fifth place, job security.
Today’s gospel reading gives us Jesus talking about worry! And the Church of England has done a very interesting thing with our reading this morning. Jesus starts by telling the crowd that they are not to worry. Easier said than done, of course! But look at those opening words of Jesus:
Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life …
Therefore… !!! Such an important word!
Jesus has said something quite important before these words, and from which these words carry on. And if Jesus is saying , “Therefore, do not worry about your life…” you may well think that it’s pretty important to know why Jesus is saying you shouldn’t worry! Without knowing what he has just said the whole passage becomes meaningless or open to misinterpretation since you cannot know the foundation for Jesus’ command to not worry.
Well, it’s clearly not important to know what Jesus has just said 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. The Roman Catholic Church which has the same gospel reading next Sunday includes the all-important preceding verse. Perhaps, given the unusual length of our first reading, the Church of England thought we need a shorter gospel. I doubt it!
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 which put into context all he then says about not worrying.
By now 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.
We all know that in the Church of England we don’t like talking about money. And 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 they 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.
Jesus says: You cannot serve God and wealth. Therefore do not worry about your life. And that gives us context for today’s reading. Since you cannot serve God and wealth you must pick one – will it be God, or your wealth? And Jesus then goes on to explain how it needs to be God, and if it’s God then there’s no need to worry.
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 in the survey.
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.
Serve God – and everything else will fit into place.
Serve wealth – and God will end up taking second place.
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 of people’s ways of dealing with worry. 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 – because however anxious we get it isn’t going to change things.
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 God and those around us. We can only serve one master, he says, God or wealth.
His point is that 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 in the present moment. Right now he is providing you with the very air that you breathe.
So don’t worry because getting anxious, stressed, isn’t going to make any difference – but take your worries to God – this is the message of Jesus to us this morning.
Perhaps Jesus had in mind the words of the Psalmist from Psalm 5522 – Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.