Sunday, June 21, 2015

"A Point of Difference" (Matthew 6:25-34)

1.     Preface

We saw last week from Acts 16, that as we are worshipping and living out our lives, people are listening and observing. In that Acts 16 (v.16-34) passage, this turned out very well, for the Philippian “jailor” and all his household came to believe in Jesus, were baptised, and began on the road of discipleship. What marked Paul and Silas out for this Philippian “jailor” was the fact that they could worship God under such terrible conditions and personal injustice. And when given the chance to escape, they preferred to stay behind and look after the well-being of their “jailor”.

So when people are listening and watching today’s Jesus followers, what might they notice that would make a difference? We have recently talked about the fact that we care about other people’s troubles on both small and large scales – this could be one point of difference. This passage from Matthew chapter 6 (and its companion passage in Luke 12), suggest another point of difference that could be remarked upon!?! This passage compares an ideal for God’s people as against what people without faith might do; let’s refer to verse 32a {where Matthew has “Gentiles”, Luke has “the nations of the world”; both actually referring to those who do not believe in God – the ‘unbelieving world’}.

2.     Worry

What do people worry about??

·        Terrorism, ill-health, (lack of) money, etc etc
·        Jesus alluded to food, drink, clothing; these probably being examples of the smaller distractions, or things we should simply trust God about (while considering the bigger things). We can of course worry because it seems we have too little, but we can also worry because we have too much (and we want to be sure to keep it). I sense as I begin to read through these verses, that Jesus is seeking to direct our thoughts away from food and clothes {the externals} to more central matters. And the bigger the concern, the less likely it is to be in our control; so the less need to worry.
·        Jesus, then, concludes with sort of a ‘blanket ban’ on worrying – “do not worry about tomorrow”. This is not because there isn’t anything important to think about or do, but quite the opposite … each day will bring its trials. Rather, we do not worry, because we should trust in God. This is why the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ includes: “Give us this day our daily bread”, which could better be translated, “Give us today just enough bread for today” … implying that we trust you (our God) for tomorrow’s bread. Planning, to a sensible degree, is good; worry is not. Having worthwhile goals and making various preparations is good, worrying about these is not. Worrying about things that just may never happen is particularly valueless.
·        The fact that worry is counter-productive and wasteful is famously addressed in verse 27: And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life. We know that undue worry actually has potential to shorten life.

·        What is worry? Worry is where the mind dwells continually on troubles or deep concerns about the future (seemingly without resolutions). For instance, I myself might worry about how a particular relationship that sits a bit tenuously might turn out. Or I might worry whether I will be up to a particular challenge that lies ahead. Worry has also been defined as a “small trickle of fear that meanders through the mind, until it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained”. In other words, worry can start small, but left unchallenged, can take over our lives. We can get bogged down in worry; and worry can mean we have no peace of mind. Worry can lose us a lot of sleep and badly affect our health. Worry can rob us of joy. The Greek word translated “worry” here, suggests being distracted and divided in mind, or to be going round and round a problem without any solution. When we worry, this brings the tendency to take things back into our own hands, thus forgetting about or denying faith in a God who travels with us and carries our concerns. Worry takes us down the awkward path of aloneness.

·        Jesus compares the possible behaviour of human beings to “birds of the air” and to “lilies of the field”. Birds don’t sow or reap to make sure they are going to eat; nor having discovered food, do they store it up in warehouses to use later or sell to another bird. This is just not their mindset or what they are about. They just rely on the processes of nature; or as Jesus puts it, their “heavenly Father feeds them”. Obviously we need food to survive … I believe it ranks third after air and water for human survival. So this is about our mindset – if we get overly fixated on something, this tends to lead to worry. Likewise, I don’t suggest anybody comes to church naked next Sunday because the pastor said clothing was unimportant. The “lilies of the field” grow well and look good because God made them that way – there is no need for elaborate attempts at improving what God has made. The “lilies neither toil nor spin” … I think Jesus here, well ahead of modern psychology, has alluded to the fact that over-striving, over-activity, a work-addiction or performance orientation is all unhealthy. What we need to receive is … grace! This means, that despite ourselves, God loves us, accepts us and values us – enough to forgive us through Jesus. No more effort required!! Richard Rohr writes that, “Without grace, everything human declines and devolves into smallness, hurt and blame”.
·        This is NOT to say that we all remain passive; far from it. However, this is saying that we should act, minister to one another, and live … out of a fullness that comes from trusting God and knowing God’s love; rather than acting out of an emptiness that needs to constantly strive for God’s love and approval.
·        And where we are concerned for something big, say the environment, or some area of injustice, then rather than worry, we understand that there are others who are also concerned and active in this area; and also that God is the most concerned of all, and anything positive we can do will be done, not on our own, but in partnership with God. Out of the abundance God has given us, we can feed the hungry, bring water to the thirsty, and put clothes on the back of the homeless.

But we still tend to worry. I DO!! What can we do about this?? We can’t just sit back and accept that we are a worrier. Jesus was a kind and compassionate person – still is of course! However, quite often Jesus had very direct words to say … and if we read this passage carefully and pause, we can pick-up the directness or even abruptness. Do you see something like that here in this passage?? Look at verse 30 … towards the end. “… you of little faith”! Wack!! This is almost a jibe! So, if we still tend to worry, we need to build our faith.

3.     Building Faith

How do we build our faith?

·        Remember and reflect on what God has done for us in the past.
·        Pray, believing that God has our best interests at heart {refer to verse 32b following verse 32a – God well knows (better than we do ourselves) what will sustain us, progress us down the journey, and enrich our life. Lay it on the line with God how we really feel, tell it all to God; yet while doing so, be expectant (and grateful) that God will undoubtedly bring us some new perspective and insight, and sometimes also changed circumstances.
·        Share in fellowship with believers, and talk about our struggles and where God might be in this – listening carefully for the intuitive and encouraging input of trusted others.
·        Read the Bible … and seek help with understanding it.

4.     The Kingdom of God

I have mentioned the more central things or the deeper things of life. What are these?? Verse 33a. The Kingdom of God, right and just living i.e. helping to build a God awareness (in a positive way) that others might be attracted towards. This is where everything happens within a trust relationship with God. The Kingdom of God is where God is known and honoured. Worry would tend to steal the space needed to engage with this.

Luke takes this further, as Luke would, by including other statements of Jesus. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys (Luke 12:33).

This is about not becoming too materially-orientated, not becoming obsessed by things, not allowing material things to possess us, to rid ourselves of things that get in the way of central matters, to hang on to material things only lightly. We do not worry about things that have only temporary value to us.

We are also to be generous. Like the “birds of the air”, we don’t store away produce in barns while others miss out. And we value things of true value, in an eternal sense – heavenly investments, if you like. Right and just living is not just about good morality, but equally about good ethics, i.e. how our behaviour, e.g. our consumer choices, affect others.

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