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That’s for the Birds

Sermon delivered by Howard Baston, pastor of First Baptist Church in Amarillo, T.X., on Mar. 15 2009.

Luke 12:22-34

What keeps you up at night? What gnaws away at your soul? What forces you to toss and turn like a fish flopping on the river bank, trying to make it back to the security of the water? What do you worry about?
 
What do you not worry about these days?
 
I’m worried about preaching a sermon about worry. How hypocritical is that?
 
Turn on the news – someone was shot, there’s mercury in the fish we eat, peanut butter is poison, a new super-flu is coming, terrorists are regrouping, … On and on it goes. If you take all this stuff seriously, it’s likely that you’ll never go out, never eat, never travel, never take any kind of risk at all.
 
Not only does your worrying impact your life, it has negative consequences for those who love you.
 
One poet pondered,
My friends, the worriers, make themselves miserable,
I suppose, in preparation for the misery to come.
They must be practicing for the time lightning will destroy
their houses, or for when their spouses will die
on that famous fog-plagued strip of road. Bird flu
and if their hotel room will be too close to the ice machine
often begin to live side by side in their minds.
They can’t help it, they say, these savants of catastrophe.
Often adding that I seem to suffer from underworry,
which causes them to worry for and about me the more.
And so, since worry always trumps the absence of worry,
to live with them is to live on their terms. Don’t worry.
I’ve learned not to say, which is other-planetary language
to them, cold, unsympathetic, the language of someone
who wouldn’t help them build a bomb shelter
after they’d seen the end of the world in a dream.
Try to be reasonable, is the button that triggers the bomb.
I try to love them for their other qualities,
like being right about most other things, or how good
they are in the kitchen or the workplace….
But if not for my sake, then for their own, shouldn’t
they worry less, or at least privately? Every once in a while
shouldn’t they say, Forgive me my worries?
But the semi is always running a stop sign, one of the big
hemlocks topples in a storm. Then they point to the world
news. What’s wrong with you, they want to know.
Don’t you know what’s out there? A failure of imagination,
they say. A man who’s a clear danger to himself.
(Copyright World Poetry, Incorporation July/Aug 2007)
 
There is so much bad news out there. I can’t remember any time when the news was worse. And, of course, the problem with today’s world of global communication is we know all the bad news from around the world. Like last week – a child in Germany slaughters his classmates. We have to worry not only about what happens in Amarillo or Texas or even California, now we take on the worries of the world. We share the sadness from every sector of society.
 
At its worst, worry is insidious, invisible, a relentless scavenger, roaming the corners of your mind, feeding on anything it finds. It sets upon you unwanted and unbidden, feasting, on the infinite array of negative possibilities in life, diminishing your enjoyment of friends, family, achievements, and physical being – all because you live in fear of what might go wrong. (Edward Hallowell, Fighting Life’s “What Ifs,” Psychology Today, Nov/Dec 1997)
 
At least one in four Americans – that means 65 million Americans – meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime. Worrywarts are all around us. If we are honest, we all do our fair share.
 
Children can’t even be children any more. Our anxiety from our fast paced lives has even filtered down to our children. Here’s what a little boy named Donald said about his first day at school:
My name is Donald, and I don’t know anything. I have new underwear, a loose tooth, and I didn’t sleep last night because I’m worried. What if a bell rings and a man yells, “where do you belong?” and I don’t know? What if the trays in the cafeteria are too tall for me to reach? What if my loose tooth comes out when we have our heads down and are supposed to be quiet? Am I supposed to bleed quietly? What if I splash water on my name tag and my name disappears and no one knows who I am? (Erma Bombeck)
 
It reaches children. It reaches teens. In fact, ABC News did a story about how the present economic crisis is paralyzing teens as well as it paralyzes their parents. Six in ten teenagers are worried that the country’s economic problems are going to hurt their family. (abcnews.go.com, “Economic Worry Grips Teens, Too,” 11/26/08)
 
Whether it is we ourselves or our children, we are engulfed, consumed, and paralyzed by the what ifs in life.
 
“What if” my cholesterol is too high.
“What if” I can’t pay the mortgage this month.
“What if” my husband leaves me?
“What if….”
“What if….”
“What if….”
 
Turn to our text today as we continue our sermons from the Gospel of Luke. I know where you are today, and Jesus addresses financial worry in the Gospel of Luke.
 
Back up just a moment in our text. In Luke 12:13, we have two brothers arguing over the family inheritance. We have a scene set in an economic context. Jesus warns in verse 15 to “be on guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” He tells us a story about the fool who wants to build barns and bigger barns, for that very day his soul is required of him. Jesus tells them, “Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves in hoarding goods but, rather, be rich toward God.” Then He tells them not to worry so much about having the big barn full of grain and goods but, rather, to have a big faith in a great God.
 
I want us to notice some things from our text on worry.
 
I. Worry is worthless.
 
Look at verse 25
And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span?
 
Translation: How can worrying add a single hour to your life? The word here is cubit. It’s usually a measure of length, but in this instance it’s a measure of time. Can believers extend the length of their lives by worry? The answer, Jesus says, is no. Worry is worthless.
 
Worry is a special form of fear about the “what ifs” of life. Rather than extend our lives, worry actually destroys us. 
 
Dr. Susanne Gaddis (Ph.D), a health care provider, said her grandmother Bopp used to say it this way: “Honey, there’s no sense in making mountains out of molehills. All it does is exhaust the mole.” You and I have never worried away a single problem. It has an excessive negative impact upon our bodies. (www. CommunicationsDoctor.com) 
 
Worry doesn’t add to life. Worry robs us of life.
 
Mental health research indicates a strong connection between financial distress and emotional stress, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and migraines. Research also shows that rates of depression and suicide tend to rise during periods of economic instability. 

The home foreclosure crisis is one problem that is clearly contributing to the surge in stress and anxiety. According to USA Today, mental health organizations are reporting a dramatic increase in calls from clients distressed about housing problems. “Psychologists say they’re seeing more drinking, domestic violence and marital problems linked to mortgage concerns – as well as children trying to cope with extreme anxiety when their families are forced to move.” (http://worrydepository.com/about.html)
 
One of the most common commands of scripture is “Fear not.” Worry is the fear of the unknown about tomorrow.
 
The December 2006 issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings Medical Journal published the results of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill test case in which 7,000 students at UNC took the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Don’t let me bore you with all the details – you can find them all there in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings – but the bottom line is this: The worrywarts, the pessimists, actually had a significantly greater likelihood of dying sooner than the optimists. Those who were worrywarts were most likely to die from every cause from accidents to suicides to homicides.

Let me quote some dry language from the report, “Those who scored as pessimistic had decreased rates of longevity compared with optimistic individuals.” (Mayo Clinic Proceedings, December 2006, 1541-1544)
 
Put another way, you can study the students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill only to discover what Jesus already said a long time ago. Worry is worthless; it doesn’t give to your life. It takes away.
 
II. Trust triumphs over worry.
 
Verse 28
Oh people of little faith.
 
You can’t be in control. Rather, you must trust a God who is in control.
 
I commented to a best friend this week, “Life sometimes seems to simply be the sum total of how we respond to the continued obstacles that threaten to overtake us each day.” 
 
Many have endured unwelcomed financial obstacles lately. Curiously enough, the setting of this passage is financial in nature. Jesus tells us to consider the ravens, how they neither sow nor reap (verse 24). And yet God feeds them, and we are more valuable than the birds. He speaks of the lilies who are clothed – more beautifully than Solomon himself – and yet they neither toil nor spin.
 
N. T. Wright has said that most of Jesus’ hearers only had enough money to live for a given day. They might have one spare garment, but certainly no more. And when the family bread winner was sick or injured, that meant instant destitution. Jesus’ commands are more striking, in fact, when we know to whom He is speaking as He declares, “Don’t worry about food or clothing.”
 
This wasn’t just good advice on how to live a happy, carefree, worry-free life. It was a challenge to the very center of their being. They struggled for daily survival.
 
It is hard to trust in difficult economic times, is it not?
 
Warren Buffet himself said the economy, gripped by fear, “will be in shambles throughout 2009.” (Warren Buffett on the Economy, WSJ 2/28/09). 
 
The Dow Jones Industrial Average dipping below 7,000 this week – 52.2% down from its peak of 14,164 on October 9, 2007. Some analysts say it still has further to fall. Financiers declaring, “This is one of the great market collapses of all time.” Many analysts say that the current recession is the longest and deepest since the Great Depression, having already wiped out more than half of the peak value of the United States stock market. John c. Forelli says, “We’re at heightened levels of fear.” (Stocks plunge on a wave of worry, Boston Globe, 3/3/09)
 
Take a bad banking sector, a crashing housing market, unpredictable oil prices, and rising unemployment – with 651,000 jobs lost in February alone – and we have the recipe for disaster.
 
These were good words back in the first century, and they are good words today. Don’t let economic concerns rob you of your faith. Trust triumphs over worry. Worry is related to a shortage of hope and trust.
 
The root problem with most of us who worry: we like to be in control of things. We cannot accept the unpredictablity of the future. 
 
It is very hard for a worrier to accept uncertainty. Folks who worry want to know with 100 percent certainty what is going to happen. So if you worry, you’re in essence trying to predict a bad future so you can somehow prevent the unpleasant surprises and control the outcome. Crazy, is it not? The problem is that the equation falls apart and worry doesn’t work. To live life with sanity, you must accept uncertainty.
 
There is not a single person in this room who predicted the pending economic crisis. If you had known in 2007 what you know today, you could have played the markets into the millions. But no one knew.
 
You have to accept uncertainty. Bad medical news. The declaration of a desire to divorce. Nobody knew those things in 2007. We must accept uncertainty in our lives.
 
It’s an illusion. You may feel safer when you’re worrying, but worrying doesn’t keep bad things from happening. It only keeps you from enjoying the good things of the present.
 
As a piece of practical advice, keep a prayer pad and pencil by your bedside. When a worry comes into your mind, write it down. Don’t make it a matter of worry – make it a matter of prayer.
 
In Philippians 4:6, we’re told not to worry, but to pray. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
 
You must trust God. You must accept uncertainty.
 
You know, 90 percent of the things you worry about will never come to pass. Sir Winston Churchill said, “When I look back on all the worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened.”
 
Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrows. It only saps today of its strength.
 
For those of us who like to control everything, predict everything, manage everything, let me give you some advice from an unknown author. “For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe.” 
 
You don’t have to control it all. You can let it go and let God be in control. We are called upon to trust.
 
Look at the way He takes care of the birds, the flowers, and the grass. You know, ultimately you have to trust God anyway. You are not in control of creation – only the Creator is. You can’t change the stock market. You can’t change the report on your medical test. You can’t change the way your spouse is treating you. You can’t change any of it. In the end, you must trust the Creator.
 
III. Seek the sovereignty of the kingdom
 
“Stop your worrying about bread and clothes,” He says. But look at verse 31, “Seek His kingdom and these things shall be added to you.”
 
Matthew puts it this way: “Seek His kingdom and His righteousness….” The kingdom of God at its heart is about God’s sovereignty sweeping the world with love and power so that human beings, each made in God’s image and each one loved dearly, may relax in the knowledge that God is in control. If your God is a father who calls you His child, what’s to stop you from trusting Him? Go with zeal after a kingdom agenda. 
 
Wasn’t that the primary message of Jesus? “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” With Jesus, the kingdom (the rule and the realm of God) had entered humanity. Human history had suddenly been interrupted. Changed. Why, the very beginnings of the reign of God were present in the person of Christ. And we’re to seek after that kingdom. Another place and another world. And that, itself, takes away the worries of the present world.
 
And as we strive for the greater good and the greater goals of God, a holy and righteous life, a life of servanthood and humility, being members of the kingdom – with a whole different economy. And then the food and the clothes will find their place.
 
When you really have a kingdom perspective, the dips in the stock market of 2009 really have no control over you. I know what some of you do. You sit and you watch the market all day long – calculating your gains and losses for the moment. In reality, at the end of eternity it means absolutely nothing. Seek kingdom righteousness. Kingdom values. And all those things will fall into place.
 
There is a final and shocking lesson in this passage.
 
IV. Give graciously as God gives to you.
 
Look at verses 33-34.
Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which will not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
 
It sounds much like the Sermon on the Mount. The message here is – even to those who were wondering about their next meal and how to clothe their nakedness without an extra cloak – “Seek kingdom values, but in the midst of your own worry and frustration, be generous.”
 
There is no time more tempting than today to withhold your tithe, withhold your charity, withhold your gifts. But in reality, Jesus says that even in the midst of financial worry, be willing to give as God gives to you.
 
Everyone in this room still has much about which we should be thankful. It does remind us of the Philippian passage where he says we need to stop being anxious. We need to stop worrying . We need to go to God in prayer. And how does he say to go? With thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
 
The gratitude of our hearts keeps us giving. 
 
Conclusion
So what about you? Are you willing to give your worries to God every night? You know, He’s going to be up all night anyway. Will you trust your Creator, realizing you’re only creation? Will you stop with the “what ifs” and live with joy in the “what is” that God has given to you?
 
Will you dare to trust Him? To accept that you cannot know what tomorrow holds? To accept that you’ll always live in uncertainty and you’ll always live by His care and grace?
 
Or will you, in absolute foolishness, try to control tomorrow? Try to play out the worst possible scenarios way ahead of time? And carry the cares of this crumbling world in your heart and in your head?
 
Maybe Peter said it best in his first epistle: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).