Sermon – Epiphany 8 – “Do Not Be Anxious About Your Life” – Matthew 6:24-34 – 2/27/11

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The mission trip to Southeast Asia that I went on in November last year was remarkable in many ways. However, one of the unremarkable aspects of the trip was the number of times I went through airport security from my departure from Portland, Maine to return to the same airport. I had to go through airport security or customs 22 times in the course of 17 days.

One comical story from that experience has to do with my friend Alan Taylor. I traveled with Rev. Ted NaThalang with LHF and Rev. Taylor from Texas. Alan warned us that because of his prosthetic hip replacement, he may get held up at airport security. Sure enough, Ted and I went through every airport screener without a problem, but Alan was stopped at every single one. And at every security point, he received one of those famous ‘pat-downs’ that was a big topic of discussion for a while.

Like it or not, airport security is a necessary part of traveling these days. And I must say from my experience, that the airports that had the tightest airport security made me feel the most secure on the plane. Security at the airports in Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia was pretty lax, and that made me nervous.

Seems like the principle here is: the greater the security, the less the worry; the weaker the security, the greater the worry. The more I worry about my security, the less I’m able to enjoy the flight. The more confident I am of my security, the more I’m able to relax and enjoy the flight.

As long as I felt safe and secure, I felt free to go and do what I needed to go and do. I remember when Ted asked for help with the project in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, the first question I asked was, “is it safe?” He assured me I had nothing to “worry” about. With his assurance that it was safe, I went. Actually, if he had said, ‘it’s not safe and your security will be at risk,’ I think I would have still said, “I’ll go,” but Deb would have nixed it for sure.

I think that this is the point that Jesus was getting at in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. Remember, His primary audience is these handpicked disciples whom He is preparing to send to “all nations.” It’s going to send them on the ultimate ‘missions trip.’ He wants them to know that they are safe and secure so that they may go and do what He is sending them to “all nations” to do.

He not only wants them to carry out their mission to “baptize and teach them every that I have commanded you,” but He wants them to do so without worrying about their life. He wants them to be so confident of their security that they carry out the mission with carefree joy in their heart.

And so Jesus says to His disciples, “do not be anxious about your life.”

Now, it’s one thing when Dr. Phil says something like that. When Dr. Phil says something like that what he means is, ‘don’t worry about your life because it’ll all turn out just fine.’ And if you were to ask him, ‘how can you be so sure?’ The best he could say is either, ‘because the CHANCES are everything will be okay,’ or ‘because you can actually make things turn out okay just by not worrying.’ I don’t know about you, but advice like that makes me even more ‘anxious.’

But when Jesus says, “do not worry about your life,” He means neither of the above. What He means is, “do not worry about your life’ ‘because I will take care of you. I will provide for all of your needs. I will deliver you from all danger and from all evil. I will deliver you from death itself.’

In fact, the whole Old Testament record of God’s relationship to His people is the record of God taking care of them. The Old Testament is filled with words of assurance and reassurance that the people of God are safe and secure and need not “worry about their life” because God Himself is their security. The prophet Isaiah pre-echoes the words of Jesus when he says, “like birds hovering, so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem; he will protect and deliver it; he will spare and rescue it.” (Isaiah 31:5)

So what Jesus is telling His disciples is the same message that God has wanted to impress upon His people all along. Just as God took perfect care of His people in the former times, He continues to take perfect care of His people in these last days. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He doesn’t change.

And so, in perfect unity with His Word of old, Jesus now says, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” It’s a rhetorical question. The only answer is “yes, of course you are of more value than they.” Did God become a bird to save the birds, or a flower to save flowers? Another rhetorical question. “No, of course not.”

But He did become man to save you. You are more valuable than the birds and flowers because Jesus Christ, the God/man suffered and died on the cross and was raised again from the dead to give you perfect security for your life. Not even death should worry you because Jesus has overcome even your death. That is what Jesus means when He says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life.”

This is the security that the disciple of Jesus Christ lives under. It is a security that no “department of homeland security,” or “security system,” or “Social Security system” can give to you. It is the security of knowing that the one and only almighty God, who created the heavens and the earth, and who “upholds the universe by the word of His power,” holds you in the palm of His hand. (Heb.12:1).

This is the security that Brownlow entered into this morning through Holy Baptism, and that you entered into in your baptism. “Behold Brownlow, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

So, the principle is, the greater the security, the less the worry. There is no greater security than the security that we have through Jesus Christ our Lord. Perfect security drives out all worry.

So, why then, do we worry about our life? Why are we so “anxious about tomorrow?” More rhetorical questions. The answer is obvious. Because we don’t believe Jesus. We don’t really trust Him. We are “of little faith.”

So, can we begin to see now why “worry” and “anxiety” about our life is sin? To worry about your life is to discount the great price that Christ has paid for your security. And as long as that sin is allowed to stand between us and Jesus, we will always be hesitant, reluctant, afraid to heed His calling and carry out the work that He would have us carry out with the confident joy that is based on trust in His perfect care for us.

A great example of this is Old Testament Israel. Remember how worried for their life Israel was when Pharaoh’s army caught up to them at the Red Sea? And Moses, the man of God, told Israel, “do not worry about your life. Just stand still. The Lord will deliver you.” And God had Israel pass through the Red Sea, and then the Egyptian army followed. God turned the Red Sea into the most effective security scanner of all time. It detected and apprehended every terrorist.

How secure should Israel have felt after that? But they didn’t go very far at all before they began to worry. They worried about their life, “what shall we eat, and what shall we drink and what shall we wear.” And what was the result of their worry? It paralyzed them. It not only stopped them from moving forward, it nearly caused them to abandon the mission and go back to Egypt. But God, in His mercy and patience fed them manna and quail, made water spring from a rock and their clothes never wore out.

With the same mercy and patience, Jesus removes the sin that stands between us and Himself by “the word of His power.” “I forgive you all of your sins.” And He feeds us with His body and has us drink His blood and clothes us in His righteousness. And by the power of the Holy Spirit working through these means of grace, He strengthens our faith so that we may trust in His care for us and not “be anxious about our life.”

I want to make one more point here before we conclude. It’s a point of caution. I’m afraid that sometimes, in our zeal to place our total trust and confidence in Jesus’ promise to take care of us, we wrongly conclude that idleness or irresponsibility is actually a sign of great faith.

I may think that Jesus’ promise to take care of my life and provide me with food, drink and clothing means that I don’t need to work for these things, and in fact, not working is a sign of my great faith. And the other side of that same misunderstanding goes like this. “I can buy all the things that I want on credit even though I don’t have the money to pay for these things, because I trust that Jesus will take care of it.” Or “I’ll spend everything I have now while I’m young, and trust that Jesus will supply all my needs when I retire.”

One of the great Christ figures in the Old Testament was Joseph. Joseph knew of the worldwide drought that was coming. But rather than saying, “God will take care of it” as permission to do nothing, he organized Egypt to work hard and make sacrifices now for the future – without worry that God will provide for all of their needs. And by his hard work, God provided food for the whole world, even Joseph’s own family.

The security that we have through faith in Jesus Christ sets us free from all worry and anxiety so that we may work hard and make the sacrifices that are necessary to be His disciples to “all nations.” In fact, it’s only when we are not “anxious about our life,” that we are able to “lay down our life for our neighbor.”

This applies to our individual calling as parents and children, citizens, neighbors – as well as our corporate calling as a congregation and a church.

“Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

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