I suppose the only reason this piece of scripture has been allotted for Harvest festival is that it is about the only passage in the New Testament that waxes lyrical about nature but actually it is a very deep and challenging piece about something that affects all of us – anxiety and worry – and because there is a bit of this about in the parish at the moment, for obvious reasons, I’ll take my opportunity this Harvest Festival, as only the second to last time that I’ll be preaching to you on a Sunday to speak about anxiety and worry . Not as someone who has conquered it, but as someone who suffers from it and could do with following Jesus’ wise words as much as anyone else.
For anyone on the poverty line, or a refugee on the road, or suffering after a flood or drought the sentiments “Do not worry about anything, about what you will wear, eat or drink” is at best unrealistic and at worst a bit sick.
So we must as a priority understand just what Jesus is forbidding and what he is advocating.
It is not ordinary concern and foresight that Jesus condemns, that is essential and intrinsic to human life – It is the overwhelming and all consuming “worry and anxiety”, that can envelop us like a shroud that sucks all the joy out of life that is condemned.
As an antidote to worry Jesus starts by pointing in the direction of the created world around us. The word translated “Consider” actually means “learn from” rather than “contemplate”.
Learn from Nature. What do we see?
What we learn from the birds is that they do not worry. They do not strain to see a future which they cannot see or seek security in storing up goods and wealth as insurance against a future that you cannot see.
In verse 27. Jesus also points out that worry is pointless anyway in that it never ever changed anything. All it does is rob you of your present.
And then when Jesus asks us to learn from the “lilies of the field” he is referring to the poppies and anemones which together with dried grass were used in their clay cooking ovens to raise the temperature quickly in Palestine at that time. Thy were burned up but in their short life have more inate beauty than mankind can ever emulate.
Jesus means if God gives such beauty to such a short lived thing that we burn in the flames, how much more will he care for us? Learn to trust God more, no matter what the immediate circumstances of our life are.
Jesus gives us two antidotes to worry pertinent to followers of “The Way”. First of all he says concentrate first on the Kingdom of God. If we concentrate on how much God loves and cares for us, concentrate on the doing of God’s will and the acceptance of God’s will, worry will be squeezed out of our lives.
We all know I trust how a great love can drive out all other concerns; We clear the decks because this love becomes the all consuming passion in our lives, inspiring us, dominating our entire life. It was Jesus’ conviction that worry is pushed out when God becomes the dominating power of our lives. This is a view which fins its counterpart in the first letter of John when John writes. “Perfect love casts out fear”. Anxiety and worry are the consequences of fear.
The second thing Jesus offers is in verse 34, inexplicably omitted from our lectionary reading, and it says “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will worry about itself”. This is the ability to live one day at a time – to live in the present. Handle the demands of each day as it comes without worrying about an unknown future.
In today’s parlance you would call that a form of mindfulness. Concentrating and living fully in the present. Most of the things we worry about never happen.
It is important that we get to grips with this because worry and anxiety are not benign – they are far worse than useless they are actively injurious to the human soul.
Many of the typical diseases of modern life are caused by worry, from ulcers to mental breakdown, to heart attacks.
He who laughs most and longest lives longest. Worry also refuses to learn the lesson of life, that no matter how dire something has been in our life – well here we are – with our heads still above water (sometimes only just) but here we are nevertheless and if someone had told us at the beginning of whatever traumas we have faced would’ve told us that we would get through it regardless, we might not have believed it.
At the last breakfast club we had a deeply moving talk, one of the most powerful I have ever heard and when you hear what some people have endured it makes you weep inside, but that talk was also a testimony to the healing power of God to patch us up and put us back together again. Our other great weapon against worry is prayer.
Lay it all down at the foot of the cross. Free yourself to live your life which is God’s gift to you and live it fully. Let go and let God.