“What Are You Worried About?”
February 27, 2011
Isaiah 49: 8-16a
This was one of those weeks when I kept finding myself thinking: “What is this world coming to?”
Maybe you were asking the same question. It seems as though there have been a lot of weeks—or month—like this recently.
The Middle East is in turmoil. Old, oppressive regimes change in Egypt and Tunisia. Protests continue in Yemen and Algeria and Bahrain. Horrendous violence continues in Libya. Commentators wonder if this is a new 1989 or 1969 or 1848. Most likely it’s none of the above, but something momentous is happening.
The political climate in our own country reflects the unrest in the country as legislators flee Wisconsin and Indiana, seeking haven in the Land of Lincoln, who, apparently, once jumped out of a second floor window of the Illinois State House in order to deny a quorum and a vote. Here in Iowa we heard the news that a House committee is considering a patently unconstitutional measure that would bar Iowa county officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And our nation worries about a shutdown of the federal government in the coming days.
When we turn our gaze from humans, this planet appears to be in rebellion. Storms are becoming more frequent and stronger all the time. And last week there was yet another devastatingly tragic earthquake in New Zealand.
Are you like me and asking, “What is this world coming to?”
Or maybe there are pressing personal issues that keep you awake at night, that occupy your daytime thoughts, that lead you to wonder, “What is my life coming to? What will become of those I love?” As the semester at the University moves toward midterm, as the second trimester at the high schools comes to a close, students usually find plenty to worry about. The rest of us have our own concerns and anxieties.
On the bright side, while it doesn’t happen very often, I also thought this past week that the Iowa State Legislature showed something of the spirit of Jesus when the attempt to force the sale of Jackson Pollock’s Mural was dropped. The modern classic will stay in the state and, we hope, someday return to the University. For is not a university more than scholarships; is not an education more than books and lectures?
There was in this a hint of the recognition that beauty, wonder, mystery—art in all of its manifestations has an important position in a place of learning.
And we can we rejoice too, that President Obama’s Justice Department announced that it will no longer defend at least part of the wrongly named Defense of Marriage Act in court. While the President says he’s still “grappling” with the issue of same sex marriage, those of us who support marriage equality can welcome this progress, even if it is not yet enough.
The good news shapes how we look at the world as well.
Still, the temptation is to let worry overtake us. And you know what that’s like. We start asking: “What is this world coming to?” or “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” That is, we start to think that we are alone and on our own in this life, this world. We look around and begin to let a sense of scarcity, a sense that we will not have enough, shape our thinking and our acting.
Life is fragile. We know that. We sing it in our hymns, telling God and telling ourselves: “We fly forgotten as a dream does at the opening day.” Accidents happen. Illness runs it course, bodies fail. Markets collapse. Empires fail. The ancient Israelites knew this. And for all of our progress, all of our focus on security, all of our planning, the fragility of life continues to be a part of our daily reality.
An awareness of this fragility can lead to worry if we let it.
Or we can let such an awareness lead to a deepening sense of grace—an awareness of God’s care for all of creation, and, yes, even for us.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus calls those who follow him to a non-anxious way. And yes, we know all the reasons why this is such unrealistic advice.
An unstable world and our various individual troubles can constrict us and keep us from experiencing life as it truly is in the freedom and security of God’s love.
We worry and fret.
To just such people Jesus says, “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. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
Listen carefully to what Jesus says. The call to trust in God’s good care does not exempt us from working or keep us from having property. He speaks to people who sow and reap and store, people who toil and spin—that is to people like you and me.
When Jesus urges us to consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, he is asking us to do just that—consider. We are not called to become flowers or animals, but to take into account God’s providential care for all creation as we face all that worries and perplexes us as we live our very human lives.
Again, we don’t need to take the words of Jesus in a legalistic or literal manner. But we can hear in them a call to see that life does not consist of sowing, reaping, toiling, and storing alone. To an extent that most people in the world cannot imagine, we do not need to worry about what we will eat, what we will drink, or what we will wear. All these things have been given to us. And so, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn suggested, “The meaning of earthly existence lies, not as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul.” We are challenged to go beyond our worries toward a life that matters.
Jesus tells us today’s trouble is enough for this day. Deal with what you can and face tomorrow when it arrives. It’s not that Jesus was a positive thinker or naïve about what could happen. Jesus wasn’t one to sugar-coat any situation. He knew what was in the human heart. He knew the real possibilities of evil and misfortune.
But he also had a deep and abiding sense of the loving care of God—and commended that trust to his followers.
So while we often ask: “What will I do when . . .or if . . .?” While we often ask, “What will I do next?” We might be better off to ask: “What can I do now?” remembering the Jewish proverb: “If you can do nothing, you need do nothing.” We are called to act when we are able—indeed, to do all that we possibly can—and we are invited to abide in God’s care at those times when nothing can be done. As is has been suggested, we should act as though it all depends on us and we should pray as though it all depends on God.
“Tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” We worry and fret. Jesus focuses our attention on what we can do in the present moment—and on what God is able to do when we can do nothing.
In the greatest adversity, when God seems silent or absent, God is still at work in the world and in our lives. In a world that moves toward death and despair, resurrection turns us in the direction of life and hope. This faith in the God revealed through Jesus Christ leads us to hope and to act for the good in all the adversity of life.
In the days ahead when you wonder: “What is the world coming to?” Consider.
Consider, yes, the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.
And consider Egypt and how God so provides within each of us is the courage to bring about the change that we want, the change that is needed in our lives, in our state and nation, and in our world.
Consider Wisconsin and our own state and how God so provides within each of us the ability to, as our state motto asserts, maintain our rights, by claiming our responsibility and privilege to join in the struggles for justice. Consider the earth and how God gives us a new and urgent call in our time to take the action needed to save the planet from destruction by human hands and bring it a little closer to survival and sustainability.
What is the world coming to? If we listen to Jesus and follow in his way, we begin to see that the world is coming to whatever we make of it.