Sermon: Don’t Worry; Be Thankful

Wednesday, November 21, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Thanksgiving Eve

Once upon a time, there was a woman who woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and noticed that she only had three hairs growing on her head.  “Well,” said the woman to herself, “I think I’ll wear my hair in a braid today.”  So she carefully braided the three hairs together, got dressed, and went out and had a wonderful day.

The next morning, the woman woke up, looked in the mirror, and noticed that she had only two hairs on her head.  “Hmmm,” she said, “I think my hair would look great parted right down the middle today.” So she carefully parted the two hairs down the middle, got dressed, and went out and had a wonderful day.

The next morning, the woman woke up, looked in the mirror, and saw that there was just one hair on her head.  “Ooh,” said the woman, “I think today will be a great day for a ponytail!”  So she carefully pulled the one hair back into a ponytail, got dressed, and went out and had a wonderful day.

The next morning, the woman woke up, looked in the mirror, and saw that there were no hairs left on her head at all.  “What a relief!” she said to herself, “I don’t have to worry about how to fix my hair today!”  So she got dressed, went out, and had a wonderful day.

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear – or even about how you will fix your hair.  Despite the cute story, “don’t worry” is probably some of the hardest advice there is to follow.  I think this might be my least favorite of Jesus’ commands.  There are just so many things to worry about in this life.  We worry about things as small as finding a parking spot or picking the right outfit in the morning or whether we’ll get out of worship on time when pastor’s sermons run long. (haha)  And we worry about major things like wildfires and hurricanes, family disputes, and what news we might hear from the doctor.  Big or small, all of our worries tend to reveal one core, human truth – and that is that we like to have a lot more control over our lives and the events in them than we like to admit.  God knows I do.

And God knows that worry is not good for us.  Worry and stress have been linked to poor health outcomes: high blood pressure, mental health issues, cardiovascular disease, and even impaired immune function. This is a point on which God and the medical community definitely agree: worrying is bad for your health.  Jesus says to us, just as he said to his earliest disciples: do not worry.  Great. Simple.  Now we have one more thing to worry about: we’re too darn worried!

But Jesus knew that there is one really effective treatment for chronic worry: gratitude.  Thanksgiving. I know that that sounds kind of cheesy and self-help-y to say.  But it is both profoundly true and profoundly biblical.  Gratitude is an act of remembering and naming all the good things that we have received from God.  Gratitude grounds us in the concrete reality of all the good things that God has done; it reminds us that God has, indeed, been good and generous and faithful. This is what Jesus does in our gospel reading when he invites his disciples to look and see what God has done for the birds and the lilies.  He reminds them of the good that God has done.  And in turn, this remembering and naming of God’s goodness changes the way we look toward the future.  It sets us up to look forward with hope and faith instead of with worry and stress. If God has been so good to other parts of God’s creation, just imagine what good we can trust God to do for us!

By contrast, worry looks toward the future with fear and trepidation.  Worry focuses only on the negative; it fixates on what is lacking instead of giving thanks for all that God has given.  Worry views the world through a lens of scarcity instead of through the lens of God’s abundance.  Worry turns life into a zero-sum game where I’ve gotta get mine before you get yours because there just isn’t enough to go around.  Instead of seeking first the kingdom – to serve God and serve our neighbor – worry can turn us inward and close us off to other people and to their needs.

Knowing all this doesn’t necessarily make not worrying any easier.  But when Jesus says to us, “Do not worry,” I think it’s a lot like all those dozens of times when Jesus says to us, “Do not be afraid.”  Like we talked about a few weeks ago, Jesus never says to us, “There’s nothing to fear.” He simply says, “Do not be afraid.” Likewise here, Jesus never says, “There’s nothing to worry about.”  Because of course there is!  God knows that there are lots of things to worry about – and not all of our worries are about fleeting, material stuff; many of our reasons to worry are quite serious.  God sees all these things.  And, knowing full well all that we’re up against, Jesus still says to us, as he said to the disciples, “Do not worry.”  In the face of all that might worry us or make us afraid, Jesus invites us to respond with faith and hope.  He invites us to remember with thanksgiving that our God is faithful and generous and that God loves us.  He reminds us of all that God has done before and invites us to trust that God will continue to work for our good, just as God has done.

And at the end of the day, whether we worry or not, whether we remember God’s good deeds with gratitude or not, God is still the same.  God will continue to provide, to work for our good, to bless the world with God’s abundance, come what may.  Just as surely as God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, God cares for us.  So don’t worry; be thankful – and go out and have a wonderful day!

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