“In Between ‘Worry’ and ‘Fear Not’”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Thus is the one who stores up for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). Two kinds of rich; rich toward yourself or rich toward God; either/or; no third way. That’s how our Gospel lesson ended last week. Did it make you uncomfortable? It made me uncomfortable. We can deal well in black-and-white when it has to do with other people, but when it comes to ourselves, we’re perfectly happy to stay in the gray areas. Too bad I can’t find any gray here.
Jesus goes on, beginning in verse 22 of chapter 12, to describe to His disciples the one who is rich toward God. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing” (Luke 12:22-23, ESV). But this is more than a description; it is a command. Jesus is saying, “You are a disciple; here’s how disciples act: Do not worry about what’s good for the inside of you or about what’s good for the outside.” How is this even possible? Do you worry about anything else but those things? We worry about what we will put in our stomachs, and then we worry about whether what we are putting in our stomachs is good for us. We worry about clothes for our bodies, shelter for our clothed bodies, and bills to keep that shelter heated, air-conditioned, repaired, connected, etc., etc., etc. Jesus pretty much has all our worries covered in those few words; the worries concerning the inside of our bodies and the worries concerning the outside.
But Jesus’ words are so foreign to us, so remote from our everyday experience, that it’s hard even to hear them. Our internal life more than food and our external life more than clothes? You mean, Jesus, that clothes and food are supposed to serve our bodies, and not the other way around? You mean, Jesus, that we’re supposed to use earthly necessities for the sake of life in this world, and we’re not supposed to live for the sake of our earthly necessities? What an incomprehensible reversal of our priorities! We tend to live and work for the sake of food, clothing, and shelter. We have been so turned around by what the pagans and the unbelievers do, that we’ve completely lost our bearings. Our compasses do not point true north; the stars by which we chart our courses have been shaken loose. If you’ve forgotten where you’re going, it doesn’t much matter how you get there. We’ve become too comfortable in a world of comfort; we fit in a little too well in a world where fitting in is a profitable business. So here we are, listening as Jesus shakes us free from our nicely planned futures, puts the compasses right, and resets the stars. And it cuts to the quick. It doesn’t feel good at all.
Now, I know how you feel: you’re tempted to turn off, to bail out now before it gets worse. As with most wrong turns, you’ve got to go back before you can go forward. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. And so it does. But do not turn off; instead, listen as Jesus makes it worse for you: “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds” (Luke 12:24, ESV). Besides, “which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest” (12:25-26, ESV)? And if that weren’t enough to convince you, “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the [wild] grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!” (12:27-28, ESV). Little-faith ones, indeed. The birds and the flowers surpass our feeble attempts at trusting God. O you of little faith. O me of little faith.
We do what we are not supposed to do—worrying and seeking after the temporary things of this world. Verses 29-30: “And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them” (12:29-30, ESV). And we do not do what we are supposed to do—trusting and seeking after the eternal things of God. Verse 31: “Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you” (12:31, ESV). I don’t know what you think, hearing that last verse, but my very first instinct is to focus on the “these things” being added to me. How can I get my grubby little hands on the kingdom and on the things of this world? But it’s one or the other. Jesus asks you and He asks me: Where is your treasure?
If you know yourself, that question has an obvious answer and it’s not a good one. So repent. If you feel the accusation of God’s Law hit home, echo His Word and confess that you are a sinner undeserving of His kingdom. Sitting amid your treasure with your worrying, confess that you do not want His reign to come to you. Because that would mean giving up control. But hear your Lord: “[W]hich of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Too late. You’re not in control. You never were. God is in control, and if you were not His, that would terrify you. But the God who is control of your life is not a distant, vengeful God; in Jesus, He is your dear heavenly Father, who knows what you need and is pleased to give it to you. But He does not want to give you what you need on earth at the expense of your place in the kingdom. He does not want to feed and clothe you on earth, only to let you go your own way into the fire of hell. I tell you the truth, it is better to enter the kingdom of heaven naked and hungry than to enter hell well-clothed and with a full belly. Left to yourself, that would surely be your destination. Luckily—no, blessedly—you are not left to yourself. If you were on your own, “seek his kingdom” would be an intolerable burden, for which of us could or would do it? You know, as well as I do, how devious is our own flesh.
However—and everything rides on the “however”—you are the dear flock of the Good Shepherd. You are here seeking God’s Kingdom. I stand here today to tell you where you can find it. I am here to tell you that it has come near to you today. “The Kingdom of God is among you,” and very soon, when you come to the Table, it will be within you. When Jesus was “asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed[!], nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20-21, ESV). He was talking about Himself. Where Jesus is to save and to forgive, there is the Kingdom. The voices of modern, so-called prophecy will point to observable signs, and they will tempt you to mistake events in the news for the coming kingdom. Jesus said to His disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them” (Luke 17:22-23, ESV).
Events in the Middle East are not the kingdom. The kingdom of God comes in ways that the people of this world, even people of the world who claim to be of the kingdom, will scorn. They have no desire for common things like bread and wine. Nothing spectacular about that. Water? It covers seventy percent of the world and we’re sixty percent water ourselves. Big deal. But that is how the kingdom of God comes. It comes in the common and the unspectacular. It comes in a Man who was also God and it comes in death and resurrection. You may think death is common and resurrection rare, but resurrection happens every day. It happens to you every time you repent and die in your sin, and God raises you with Jesus. It happens every time your Father breathes new life into you by re-grafting you into the living, breathing Body of Christ. You will soon eat the Body and drink the Blood of Jesus, and He will, without fail, exchange His glorious life for your deathly one. Jesus did not die for birds and flowers, but He did die for you. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (12:32, ESV), and He gives it to you now as you eat and drink Life from His Son’s hands and feet and side. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure.”
Do not doubt that the kingdom is yours, that you are under God’s reign. But you will still worry. So will I. We will worry about what we will eat and what we will wear, and where we will get the money for the bills, and whether the crops will be good, and if the weather will hold. Our Lord, who tells us not to worry, has not yet given us a fix-all solution that will rid us of the worry and the anxiety. The Word of God, the Law, will continue to condemn and kill you when you selfishly, unbelievingly worry about what you cannot control. And the Word of God in flesh, Jesus, will continue to come and feed you His new life, since you cannot sustain it by yourselves. Although you cannot contribute to that new life, you can beat back the desires of your sinful flesh. If you have more than you need, give it to someone who has a need. Sell your extra TV on eBay and give the money to the food bank. Give that jacket that never gets worn to a homeless man. Give those toys with which your kids never play to a shelter for women and children—and teach your kids to do likewise! Maybe we can all learn together from God’s Spirit how to mortify our flesh and serve our neighbor. I’m not saying it will be easy; our flesh has a good grip on us. But we do it just to show our flesh that it does not rule us; and, maybe, just to get in an extra dig on our old man, we can give away something that we really care about. We do not belong to our sinful flesh; we are God’s, and our true treasure is safe with Him, where moths cannot chew through it and thieves cannot break in and steal it.
Meanwhile, as long as you’re still here and still dying, Jesus will continue to feed you and remake you by His Holy Spirit. Come; He will do it now. And when you come, believe that there is a Day when the kingdom will come in all its power and glory and there will be a fix-all solution to your anxiety and worry. Until then, you live here, between the font and the altar, between your worry and your Lord’s “fear not.” So God must bring His kingdom to you daily, and daily bring you back to the life that is only in Him, and, day by day, He is slowly shaking you free from the grip of your things. The kingdom comes fully to you now, but it is not yet fulfilled. Hear the Word of your Shepherd again: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/8/07