"What, Me Worry!?"    Matthew 6: 24-34                    May 25, 2008
 
Does worrying do us any good?
 
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John16:33 NIV) Jesus is clear: we are warned, but we are not to worry. "But make up your minds not to worry..." (v. 14). (NIV) "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down..." (v. 34)(NIV). Jesus is addressing a critical question facing Christians of any age: How should I live in a bad-news culture where my very identity as a Christian is often at risk?
 
What Christian does not despair when looking out across the moral and social landscape of America? Yet, far from wringing our hands, we are instructed not to worry, but instead live out our calling in a faithful and responsible manner.
 
Does worrying do us any good?
             
It would be good to know that, because, Lord knows, we’ve put lots of time and energy into worrying about all sorts of things that might happen, most of which never do. And what’s more, news media, medical ads and life itself have been generous in providing us with a multitude of possible problems on which to focus our anxiety.

But having burned through all that anxiety, what do we have to show for it? Have we, as
Jesus asked, added even a single hour to our lives? Certainly, since Jesus asked that question rhetorically, he intended for his audience to answer it in their minds with a resounding “No.” But, then again,“Who knows?”

What if a man is a worrier and dies at the age of 68 years, 114 days and 17 hours, who’s to say that without all that fretting, he would’ve lived to be only 68 years, 114 days and 16 hours? In other words, his worrying gained him an hour. How can we possibly know?

Naturally, by setting up a scientific study! And it just so happens that that has been done, with the results published in the December 2006 issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings medical journal….. I won't go into details, but basically there are times when worry does help us to avoid danger by being appropriately cautious.
 
There's good worry and there is toxic worry. Worry can inspire action or stop it cold.

 
Illustration: Matthew 25: 14-28, The parable of the talents: 3 servants, same master; 2 made profit, acted wisely, did something substantial. The 3rd did nothing: was afraid, worried, frozen in place.  It's not that the first two didn't have their share of worry about this assignment, but they had good worry, the worry that works.
 
All three servants shared the same circumstances. They all had the same master (harsh, or otherwise). They were all given a similar job to do. It is assumed they all had the same opportunities. However, the two made worry work for them; the third was poisoned by it.

If you think that such paralyzing fear only strikes a few of us, take a good look in the mirror: Nearly half the American people are consumed with one form or another of worry, says EdwardHallowell, a psychiatrist and instructor at the HarvardMedicalSchool in Boston. He even wrote a book about the subject, Worry: Hope and Help for a Common Condition, published in 1998 by Ballantine Books.

"Good worry is worry that leads to constructive action," he told People magazine that year. In other words, good worry works. "Toxic worry," Hallowell goes on to say, "does just the opposite. It paralyzes you. You brood, you ruminate, you wake up in the middle of the night. Meanwhile you don't take action" (People, October 26, 1998, 145ff.).
 
Doesn't that sound like the servant who took his talent and hid it? Toxic worry is that anxious solicitude, that oppressive care, which springs from unbelieving doubts and misgivings, which is here condemned.
 
How can we avoid toxic worry (the bad kind) and make it work for us (good worry)? Dr. Hallowell proposes three things which can shift our focus from worry to solutions.

TALK: We should talk to someone to neutralize the power of toxic worry. We should talk to someone -- a friend, a relative, a spouse, a pastor. Talking helps put things in perspective, he said, and folks rarely engage in "toxic" worry with another person.

FACTS: We should also get the real facts of a situation. Find out what is and isn't true. Peter Drucker, management guru, says that "once the facts are clear, the decisions jump out at you."

PLAN: Finally, we should make a plan to deal with the situation, whatever it is. See what can be done to improve a problem -- rather than let it fester. If you suspect your boss is unhappy with your work, then talk with him and work things out. If there seems to be an unspoken tension in your house, talk about it, check it out, find out what's going on.
 
Often, worry stems from fear. Dr. Edward Hallowell ... suggests that once people understand the bases of their fears, in most cases, they can conquer them on their own. Rather than being paralyzed by an irrational fear of flying, in his book

Amanda [asks]: Are there international standards for aircraft maintenance and safety checks, or should I be wary about flying little-known lines such as "Air Madagascar"?

Dr. Edward Hallowell [answers]: I'm not an expert in air safety regulations, but your question points up an important step we should all take in worry control: GET THE FACTS. So, for example, before flying Air Mars, or whatever, find out from your travel agent or other person whom you trust what the safety record is of that airline, and what the international standards, or lack thereof, actually are.
Once you have the facts, you can make a better decision. Usually what I call "toxic worry" is rooted in lack of information or misinformation.

 
--"Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell on Easing the Worry Dealing With Your Fear of Flying," September 4, 1998, ABCNEWS.com.
 
Jesus' challenge is not a mandate for stupidity and irresponsible planning. It is about having a clear goal and setting up the path in a way that takes us there and not down the side alleys of spending too much time thinking about ourselves." (First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary,"WilliamLoader, MurdochUniversity, Uniting Church in Australia.) Often, that's what worry is. Pentecost 2,
 
As believers, however we have something even greater than just talking it over with others or making a to-do list as ways to conquer worry. We have a loving Savior who wants to see us do well, to succeed with whatever he's given us to do. German scholar Helmut Thielicke writes,
 
"We should not artificially turn away from our [worries] by constantly listening to the radio, for example, or running to the movies, or some other kind of busywork, but rather direct our cares to him who wills to bear and share all our sin and all our suffering and therefore all our cares. No diversion, but directing our cares. This is what to do.
 
Jesus did not say:
 
Look at the ostrich, how it buries its head in the desert sand and so tries to escape the fear of danger. No, he said: Look at the birds of the air, keep your eyes open, stand up straight and look to the heights where God makes known his grace and care." (Helmut Thielicke, Life Can Begin Again (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), 143.)

Today's text points our attention to the Kingdom of God and all it entails. After the three comparisons (life more than food, body more than clothes, people more than birds of the air), the pattern of comparisons interrupts itself, asking “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (v. 27). As the NRSV text note says, this verse can also be translated, “Can any of you by worrying add one cubit to your height?”
 
The issue is that nothing can be achieved by worrying. The hyperbole of the situation, adding time or height to a person, is used to show that the control over life, over food, over clothes and over money that humans think they have is entirely an illusion (cf. the introduction to this passage in Luke 12:13-21).

The question is not whether food, drink and clothing are important, but rather who is entrusted with providing these things. Clearly, Jesus exhorts his listeners to seek first “the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (v. 33). The “giving” of these things in verse 33 is the same word as the potential “adding” of height or time to one’s life (v. 27). What is impossible for humans in this discussion can be accomplished by God, who gives “all things.”

Further, Jesus tied the call to not worry to the kingdom of God: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” That’s a significant linkage because God’s kingdom is the ultimate reason for optimism and hope.
 
The very meaning of the kingdom is that God and those who stand with him win.
 
In the end, good triumphs over evil. If you’re a citizen of God’s kingdom it is still possible that you might be pessimistic about human activity in the short term, but you’ve got every reason to be optimistic about God’s activity in the long term.

Jesus made that very point: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John16:33 NIV). And what does “take heart!” mean other than “be optimistic!”? (In fact, the KJV words it as “be of good cheer.”)

By bringing the
kingdom of God into the discussion, Jesus reminds us that in the longest haul, we who follow him have nothing to worry about. Trust in God. Talk it out, get the facts, make a plan. Trust God. Hope in the future. Live in peace. Amen.
 
Rev. RosemaryStelz
 
 
 
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