Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sermon: "Don't Worry, Be Happy"

Matthew 6:25-34  - Adapted from the Message and the NRSV

Jesus said to his disciples,
“You are children of God. Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or what clothing you will wear.
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air; they don’t grow food, or harvest it, or gather it into barns, and yet God feeds them.
Are you not of more value than they are?
And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life span?

And why do you worry about clothing?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they don’t work or spend money on the latest fashions, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of them.

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think God will attend to you, take pride in you, do what is best for you?
Therefore do not worry, saying,
‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’
Try to not be so preoccupied with getting,
 so you can respond to God’s giving.

People who don’t know God and the way God works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how God works.
Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.
God will help you deal with whatever happens tomorrow.
You are meant to live for today.”

Rev. Maureen Frescott

Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC

November 22, 2015 – Thanksgiving Sunday

Matthew 6:25-34

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

“Consider the lilies…”

This is one of my favorite scripture passages, as I imagine this is Jesus’ loving response to the steady a stream of complaints and concerns voiced by his disciples.  

They always seemed to be worried about something.
About not having enough food to feed all of Jesus’ followers,
or not having a place to stay as they moved from town to town,
or not having a change of clothes – because Jesus told them to leave everything they had behind to follow him.

Who can blame them really?

How many of us would strike out on an indefinite road trip to follow a religious guru – especially after we’re told to bring only the clothes on our back and the shoes on our feet.
To bring no bag, no money,
to bring nothing but the trust that God will provide.

Can you imagine being cold, and tired, and hungry, and dirty, and emotionally exhausted from having to constantly defend why it is you’re following this prophet / messiah…..and then you go to him with your concerns and your heart felt worries…
And he responds by saying, “Consider the Lilies – they neither toil nor spin – and look how happy they are.”

Thanks, Jesus.
That’s a big help.

As helpful as the people we know who manage to put a positive spin on everything.
“Every dark cloud has a silver lining,” they say.
“When life hands you lemons make lemonade.”
“Don’t worry, be happy.”

Don’t you hate those people?

The truth is, it is HARD to be happy when life is handing you lemons.
And it’s hard NOT to worry, when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from or where you’re going to sleep that night.

And it’s hard not to worry when we do have food and shelter and security …because we're constantly being reminded that it could so easily be taken from us.
By misfortune, by natural disaster, by someone breaking into your home, by some nameless faceless enemy – real or imagined. 

The truth is, we have much to worry about in today’s world.
And our worries are now magnified exponentially by our access to 24/7 world news.
The worries Jesus’ disciples had were small in comparison.
They were lucky if they knew what was going on in the next town let alone on the other side of the world.

It’s the knowing that feeds our worries.

But not always.
In the US alone, 235,000 people are injured in bathroom accidents every year.
Worldwide, 1.3 million people are killed in car accidents every year, and 50 million are injured or disabled.

Yet few of us are paralyzed by fear or worry every time we step into the bathroom or get into a car.

(Well, maybe we will be now – sorry about that)

So why is it that some worries overwhelm us… and others seemingly never cross our mind?

And why is it that we have such difficulty heeding Jesus’ words about considering the lilies and not worrying about what tomorrow might bring?

It has to do with living in the moment…
And being grateful for what we have in that moment.

There’s a tribe that lives in the Amazon jungle that has no concept of time.
The Amondawa people of Brazil.

Anthropologists spent eight weeks with the tribe researching how their language conveys concepts like ‘next week’ or ‘last year’ or ‘this month.’
They discovered that the Amondawa people have no words for such concepts, only divisions of day and night and rainy and dry seasons.

They also found that no one in the community has an age.
Instead, they change their names to reflect their life stage and position within their tribe - for example an older child will give up their name to a newborn sibling, and then take on a new name.

It may be the combination of being isolated from the outside world and the lack of a concept of time – but the researchers also found that the Amondawa people expressed an overwhelming sense of happiness.

It’s hard to worry about tomorrow when your worldview is centered on living in the moment.

When you have such a broad concept of time, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about tomorrow – or thinking about what it would feel like to lose what you have now.

You also don’t spend much time thinking about that thing that you DON’T have that you’re convinced will make you happy when you DO have it.

Instead all you know is what you have.
Family. Friends.
Rain. Sun. Wind.
Food that grows in the wild, and water that flows from the ground.
Love. Life. Joy.

I imagine Jesus among the Amondawa people saying,
“Consider the lilies…”
and then seeing heads nodding in agreement all the way around.
He’d meet no resistance with that crowd.

We on the other hand, are skeptical.
It’s hard not to be.
When we have ticking clocks all around us.
Telling us we’re late for whatever comes next.
And 24 hour news cycles that tell us all that we should be worrying about...
Today, tomorrow and 15 years from now.

Cancer and Ebola, climate change and pipelines, racism and gun control, liberals and conservatives, welfare cheats and Muslim refugees.

How do we consider the lilies and let go of worry….when worry is seemingly all around us?

We do it by being grateful for ALL that we have.

Jesus came out of a tradition where being grateful was ingrained in daily life.
Even today, Orthodox Jews say a prayer of gratitude for nearly every event and task of the day.
Getting out of bed, turning on the faucet, getting dressed for work, flipping on a wall switch….
all in gratitude for shelter, clothing, water, light.

What may seem tedious to us is actually a wonderful way of reminding ourselves – daily – of all that we have to be thankful for.

If you need a more concrete way of reminding yourself of what you have to be grateful for – you can try something like this:

This a jar of “gratitude” that my wife, Stephanie, and I keep in our living room.

Whenever something good happens or when we’re feeling grateful we write it down on a piece of paper and put it in the jar.

From the small things….having a good day a work, seeing a spectacular sunset.
To the bigger things…the birth of a new family member, a promotion at work, getting good news at the doctor.
Then on December 31st we empty the jar and read all the slips of paper together.
To remind ourselves of all the things that we’ve had to be grateful for during the year.

You can also try what a man named John Kralik did.
Kralik is a lawyer who struggled with being thankful, so he made a New Year’s resolution to write a thank you note to one person in his life every day for one year.
He wrote to 365 different people –
from his son to the woman who took his coffee order at Starbucks.

When Kralik decided to write a thank you note to his son, he realized that he didn’t have his current address, so he called him. 
And his son said, “I’ve been meaning to call you, dad, let’s have lunch.” 
Over lunch his son repaid a loan of several thousand dollars that Kralik had never expected to see again.
Kralik was so grateful he sent his son two more thank you notes.
One for repaying the loan, and one for taking him out to lunch.

I’m not saying that by participating in a gratitude exercise you too will have relatives taking you out to lunch and giving you thousands of dollars – this is not the ‘prosperity gospel’ we’re preaching here….but what you will discover is that an act of gratitude often leads us to an awareness of even more things to be grateful for.

And gratitude leads to happiness.

While we may think that happy people are naturally more grateful,
studies overwhelmingly show that it’s the other way around.
Grateful people are happier people.
It’s the act of showing gratitude that lifts our mood and takes our mind off of our worries.

If you want the antidote to Fox News and CNN – it’s found right here in this jar....
or on this "Gratitude Tree" that we all helped create here in worship this morning:

 Noticing the little things that cause us to say “Thank you God, for this wonderful thing in my life” turns down the volume on the fear machine.

Making an effort to be grateful doesn’t make the worries of the world go away.
And it doesn’t mean we’re supposed to bury our head in the sand and ignore the very real problems and issues of our broken world.

What gratitude does is give us is perspective.
It increases our ability to distinguish a real concern from an exaggerated worry.

It turns our anxiety dial from the fear and suspicion end of the spectrum to the love and compassion end.

And if you’re confused about which end of the spectrum we as Christians should strive to be on…
Just look at where Jesus is standing.
And walk towards him.

Consider the Lilies…
they neither toil nor spin….
and look what God has done for them.

Are you not so much more valued and precious?

Don’t worry about what tomorrow might bring.

Be grateful for what God has given you…today and every day.



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