In our Gospel for today there’s one word that gets repeated over and over again: the word ‘Worry’. It’s something that Jesus warned against on many occasions. He says in verse 25, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear”. And again in verses 27-28, he says: “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothes?” And again in verse 31, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’” And in the verse immediately after the reading for today Jesus says, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Now if you’re like me, you might find this a little hard to take. C.S. Lewis was a devout Christian, but he admitted that for his whole life, he struggled against a tendency to be a worrier. Commenting on this passage, Lewis said, “If God wanted us to live like the birds of the air, it would have been nice for him to have given us a constitution that was more like theirs!” Like Lewis, I tend to be a worrier. “Don’t worry – be happy” sounds great in theory, but how do you actually put it into practice?
Well, I’d like to suggest to you that there are three basic attitudes that are at the heart of Jesus’ experience of life, three attitudes that are reflected in this passage and which lead to a life that is less driven by worry. These attitudes are joy, trust, and focus.
First, joy, joy in the good things that God had created.
Jesus looked around and saw all that God had created, but he saw more than that: he didn’t only see the creation, he also saw through it to its Creator. Jesus lived a life of joy because he not only enjoyed the creation around him; he also received it as a gift from its Creator. And none of this was about ownership. Jesus didn’t have to own the birds in order to enjoy watching them, and he didn’t have to own a field in order to enjoy the beauty of its flowers. He could simply receive it all as a free gift from God.
And this leads to the second attitude that is at the heart of Jesus’ experience of life: the attitude of trust.
Jesus had trust in his heavenly Father; he had a strong and lively sense of the goodness of God. To him, the goodness of the created world was a sign of the goodness of the one who made it. And his teaching grew out of his experience. When he told his followers not to worry about tomorrow, we can assume that he had learned this attitude by putting it into practice himself. He knew from his own experience that the creator of all this beauty was not a stern and stingy killjoy but a loving and utterly dependable Father. And because of his relationship with his Father, Jesus was able to break free from the tyranny of worry and focus his life on the things that really mattered.
So, even though Jesus seems to have known all along that the cross was ahead for him, I don’t get the sense that he was always looking ahead anxiously, worrying about what was coming next. Rather, he seems to have been able to live entirely in the present moment, giving attention to the present task, celebrating the goodness of God in the here and now. And he wanted his followers to do the same.
So today I think Jesus would counsel us to get close to the creation and learn to take joy in all that God has made, and he would counsel us to learn to know and trust God as our heavenly Father; the more we cultivate our relationship with this God, the easier it will be for us to live our lives on the basis of simple trust in God. And finally, Jesus would counsel us to choose our focus wisely. In the passage immediately before today’s gospel, Jesus advises us:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (vv.19-21).
He goes on to warn us:
“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (v.24)
And at the end of today’s gospel he says,
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (vv.31-33).
Here is where we get to the heart of the matter. The reason Jesus was able to live in joyful trust in God was that he had made God’s priorities his own. And he challenges us to do the same. Seek the Kingdom of God, make it the number one value of your life, and God will respond by providing for you what you need to live.
Personally, I’m not there yet. I still worry. But I’m going to pray that Jesus will teach me day by day to find joy in God’s creation, to trust in the goodness of God, and to focus my attention on seeking God’s kingdom and doing God’s will. That sounds like a pretty good place to be at Thanksgiving.