Last week, we heard that life is more than the abundance of possessions. Today we hear that life is more than the essentials – food and clothing. Jesus zeros in on our basic, core anxiety – our everyday needs. And He says, “Don’t be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
That would appear to run counter to the prevailing opinion here in southern California. Life seems to be defined by food and clothing, coupled with endless entertainment and an almost insatiable desire for electronic gadgets. Life is more than food? You wouldn’t know it by our grand obsessions with calories, fat grams, and carbs. The body more than clothing? Well, shoes too. You have to have the right shoes, don’t you?
We need clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home. Those are primary needs, in fact, we’re not going to worry about anything else until those are taken care of. And Jesus comes to us this morning and says, “Don’t worry. Don’t be anxious about your life, or even the most basic of your needs. Your Father in heaven has you covered. Don’t worry.”
Don’t worry? Has Jesus looked at the economy lately? My retirement fund? The unemployment statistics? The gross domestic product? Health care? Come on, who is alive and aware these days and not worried about something having to do with the means to support this body and life? Don’t be anxious? Get real!
But here is the reality: Anxiety is a liturgy. It’s the worship we offer our false gods when they’ve failed to deliver on the goods. When we realize that our religious transactions aren’t working and we are left without an apparent safety net under us, the anxiety mounts and grows. Sleepless night, churning stomachs, headaches, heart palpitations, stress, the list goes on. Anxiety is like a cancer of the soul, consuming us from the inside, paralyzing us, disordering our lives, our eating, our drinking, our priorities. Anxiety eats away at us like rust, corroding our souls until we are nothing be a shell.
Don’t be anxious, Jesus says. He knows what He’s talking about. He’s the Lord of creation. He’s the One who died and rose again. And He’s intimately familiar with our anxieties. He worked the family trade. He knew the uncertainties of a family business. He came to bear the sin of the world on His shoulders. He was the “Man of Sorrows,” intimately acquainted with our suffering. Do you imagine that didn’t involve some potential anxiety?
Jesus knew His disciples’ hearts and He knows our own. He knew that He had called them away from their fishing boats and tax collectors office. And there were probably days when they wondered aloud, “What are we going to eat today? How will we afford clothing when ours wears out?” They were following someone who had no place to lay His head, who didn’t promise them wealth and prosperity like the prosperity preachers you hear today. Jesus never promised them any of that. Instead He promised them hardship and persecutions in this life and eternal life in a kingdom that has no end.
Consider the ravens, Jesus says to His anxious disciples. Look at the birds. They neither sow nor reap nor store in barns, and yet God feeds them. Yes, they spend the bulk of their day looking for food. And yes, they work their feathered tails off building nests. But in the end, they can only play the hand they are dealt. They can’t rearrange their environment the way we can. They are completely dependent on their environment. “And yet God feeds them.” The hidden hand of God cares even for the birds of the air. And if He cares about the birds, don’t you think He cares about you? You are worth so much more that a bird.
Consider the lilly and all their beauty. They don’t weave or spin or shop at Nordstroms, yet even Solomon in all his over the top bling wasn’t decked out like them. And aren’t you worth more than plants, which are here today and gone tomorrow?
Does anxiety put daily bread on the table? Not a crumb. Does anxiety put clothes on your children? Not a stitch. Does anxiety pay the mortgage or the rent? Not a dime. Does anxiety add a single hour to your life? No. And it will make the hours you have most miserable.
Jesus calls His anxiety-ridden disciples “little faith ones.” Little faith is better than no faith, I suppose, but it’s still not the way of faith to be anxious over things. Faith is trust, trust that your Father in heaven knows what you need even before you ask. Trust that you value to God is so much greater than the birds and the flowers.
Our other readings this morning speak about faith as trust. There is Abram, 99 years old and his wife nearly as old, childless, and the only heir to his fortune is some relative named Eliezer of Damascus. And the Lord says to childless Abram, “Look up in the sky and take a census of the stars. Count them, if you can. Here’s my promise to you, Abram. So shall your offspring be. You will have descendant as numerous as the stars in the sky even though you don’t even have a kid at this moment.
Abram believed the Lord. He trusted. He took the Lord at His Word, as improbable and unlike as that Word was. He trusted the Promise that against all odds, against all that he knew of reproductive biology, against all common sense, he would be the father of many, that through his offspring, all nations of the world would be blessed. He believed, that is, he trusted. And God counted this faith of Abram as righteousness.
This is a key verse in the new testament. It is a key and central verse with the apostle Paul, that a sinner stands justified before God by grace through faith, and that faith, trust in the promise, is counted as righteousness before God. The book of Hebrews devotes an entire chapter to faith. It begins with a definition: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is trust in a promise without having the thing in your hand. It’s being so sure of the outcome, even before it happens, that you bank your entire life on it. You orient yourself around it.
Faith is much like a little kid who is promised a candy bar the next time they go to the store. He waits for it, expects it, can’t wait to go to the store and get it. And finally, the store trip comes, and the little guy can’t wait for the candy aisle. When they get to it, he runs and grabs his favorite one in complete confidence. And if there is the slightest piece of parental hesitation, he’ll say with a quivering lower lip, “But you promised.”
Hebrews goes on to list a kind of hall of fame of faith – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and others who trust God, who took Him at His Word and whose lives were oriented around the Promise. They died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar. They knew there was a better country awaiting them, a better city built by God, and they oriented their entire lives around this promise. And yes, the world thought them crazy and deluded and deranged, but God is not ashamed to be called their God.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” That’s the Gospel good news today that speaks to your anxieties and fears. Your Father’s good pleasure is to give you the kingdom, and He works everything together for you to receive the kingdom. You have it all, thanks to Jesus. His death and life has purchased what you cannot afford on your own. LIfe with God. You have His Word on it. He clothes you in Baptism; He feeds you in HIs Supper. You have the kingdom. You trust Him with the big stuff. Why not also trust Him with the little things of this life?
This doesn’t mean we don’t work and plan and store in this life. But we hold things loosely, lightly, with a dead hand of faith. Give freely. Take care of the poor. Do your banking where your life is. Store up treasures in heaven, eternal treasures that don’t corrode or decay, that can’t be stolen, that moths can eat, that won’t wear out like all the things we have in this life. Seek first the kingdom and God’s righteousness, trusting that your Father in heaven who has saved you by the blood of His Son, knows what you need.
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul speaks of anxiety and prayer. He wrote to the Philippians from jail. They had just sent him a generous gift of support, and he was writing to thank and encourage them. If anyone had reason to be anxious, it was Paul. His liberty had been taken from him, his work hindered, he had no guaranteed means of support. And he writes this:
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
You have the kingdom. The Father has promised it; the Son has won it; the Spirit delivers it. Don’t be anxious about your life. The Lord has you covered.
In the name of Jesus,