Danbury United Methodist Church
February 27, 2011
Don’t Worry. Be Happy.
V V V
Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. Ephesians 6.1
V V V
Can you snap your fingers? Everybody snap with me.
In every life we have some trouble,
But when you worry you make it double.
Don’t worry. Be happy.
Don’t worry. Be happy. What else do you need to know? I guess I’m done.
Or maybe not. It’s not that easy, is it? Nothing gets me worrying faster than somebody saying “Don’t worry!” Don’t worry, you won’t be late? That gets me started wondering what, exactly, you’re doing before you’re supposed to be wherever, and what might happen if there’s traffic. Don’t worry, you have complete confidence that I’ll be able to manage this big project, whatever it is? Immediately I want to explain how you don’t understand the problem.
But that is essentially what Jesus is saying here.
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. … And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
We shouldn’t worry, because it indicates that we don’t trust God. And besides, it doesn’t do any good. Fine. But easier said than done, eh?
This little bumper-sticker saying, “Don’t worry, be happy” was often used by the Indian mystic and sage Meher Baba (1894-1969) when communicating with his followers in the West. But that was an abbreviation of a longer sentiment, which went, “Do your best. Then, don’t worry; be happy in my love. I will help you.” Bobby McFerrin saw the bumper-sticker version on a poster in the home of one of his friends and turned it into the first a capella Grammy-winning song.
“Don’t worry, be happy”—that’s like saying “Don’t think of an elephant.” But the full quote actually has some useful things in it. First, there’s the part that calls a follower to personal responsibility. “Do your best.” Then, there is the assurance of relationship. “I will help you.” Knowing that we are not alone with the things that might worry us is a big help, isn’t it? (In fact, it’s one of the things I worry about!) The full version of the quote makes a lot more sense than just saying “Don’t worry. Be happy.”
I think we may have applied bumper-sticker mentality to the words of Jesus as well. It is said that this command—do not fear, do not worry, do not be afraid—is the one most frequently found in the Bible…and probably the most frequently disobeyed. In Matthew alone we have at least eleven occurrences of either Jesus or an angel telling someone not to worry or not to be afraid, from the angel speaking to Joseph at the very beginning:
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife…” (1.20)
to the resurrected Jesus speaking to the women at the very end:
“Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (28.10)
Today’s passage is from the Sermon on the Mount, which we have been looking at for five weeks now. “Do not worry about your life” is not the only thing Jesus says. Let’s put it in context. This three-chapter-long sermon of Jesus begins with the Beatitudes, which proclaim God’s presence with, and help for, those who suffer, who mourn, and who pursue God’s ways. Then follows one instruction after another, about how to live in God’s kingdom now. The rules are different here—and not easier, either. You’ve heard you’re supposed to love your neighbor? Jesus says love your enemy too. You want to bring a gift to God? Don’t even think about it until you’ve made peace with your sister and brother. God has given you a gift? You’d better use it. You want to be forgiven? Not until you forgive everyone else. Jesus means what he says, and intends us to act on it. The sermon ends with a warning:
“And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” (8.26-27)
So this command of Jesus—do not worry—comes along with instructions about what we are supposed to do and how God wants us to see things, as well as the bedrock assurance that God is with us. Yes, God is with us—but the crucial question is: are we with God?
24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. 25Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life...”
I know I’ve said this before—but it’s one of the most important things about the life of faith. We have to choose. We have to choose, over and over. When it comes to our temporal lives, having the things we need to live—food, clothing, shelter—we have two choices. We can trust in money, or we can trust in God. They are mutually exclusive—when we trust in money, we undermine our relationship with God.
Nobody can serve two masters—but having no master isn’t an option. We all serve someone or something. Jesus says we need to choose the right master. Money is a cruel master. Money is never satisfied. There’s never enough. You’ve heard the saying, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” Wins what? Money can’t buy love or happiness, though many have tried. But many lives have been altered, even destroyed, by the pursuit of more and more stuff. Money is a cruel and unreliable master.
Jesus is not. Jesus is a master who gives everything, even his own life, for those he commands. But he expects us to share as well. The items Jesus tells us not to worry about—food, drink, clothing—are the same ones that will determine our fate in the end.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ (Matt 25.35-36)
Once we begin to let our concern for following Jesus crowd out our own worries for food, drink, and clothing, we ourselves can begin to be the answer to the prayers of the poor and desperate. When we are about God’s business and operating out of God’s vision, we have no room or need for worry.
Don’t misunderstand. In our scripture today, Jesus neither condemns planning, nor promises utopia. This would be a chaotic world indeed if God did not allow Christians to plan. And I would be dishonest to suggest that Christians never face hard times. There is much devastating loss and great harm in the world—even in this congregation. But Jesus gives us hope, even when things seem hopeless.
So Jesus has two reasons for telling us not to worry. The first is that worry is unnecessary––God will take care of us, in good times and in bad. The second is that worry destroys everything that it touches––and Jesus wants to protect us against its corrosive power. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon put it this way:
Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its trials––
it simply empties today of its joy.
Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow––
it only empties today of its strength.
I know it’s really hard not to worry. I have been, and have the potential at any moment to be, a big-time chronic worrier. Here’s what stops my worrying in its little hamster wheel: letting go of the outcome. When I have something I’m worried about—writing a decent sermon, for instance—I let go of whether the sermon will be any good. I pray, and turn that part over to God, and then I do my part. That’s all I can do, anyway! So, I write the best sermon I can, and I leave the outcome up to God. This also works when I’m worried about my health, or my children, or my relationships, or our church staff, or that funny noise I never heard in my car before.
It’s just like the Wesley covenant prayer that we all prayed the first Sunday of this year. In this prayer, we tell God that we are prepared to do whatever God has for us to do, and that how it works out is up to God.
I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for You or laid aside for You, exalted for You or brought low for You; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal.
Do you have something—or many things—that are worrying you? When you came in, you should have received a little piece of colored paper. I invite you to write those things down. If you need paper or a pencil, our ushers will bring them. Write down what worries you. [music begins]
Now look at your list. Imagine that no matter how those things turn out, God is in charge of them and they will be all right. If you want to symbolize letting go of them, you may bring the paper forward and place it on the altar.
24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. 25“Therefore 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? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.