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First Impressions: Matthew 6:25-34

November 18, 2009

This Sunday’s service will function as our Thanksgiving worship, and so I will preach the Gospel lesson from the Thanksgiving Day texts.  It is Matthew’s elegant passage from the Sermon on the Mount about anxiety and trust in God’s providence.  The preacher must use care and honesty, because if Jesus’ words are taken too literally, it becomes quickly evident that his statement about sparrows and lilies (and human beings, as well) does not conform to the world as we experience it.

The text itself follows the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:7-15) and statements about treasures (6:19-21).  The former is a prayer that emphasizes trust in God’s power and goodness, and the latter reminds us that earthly possessions are never as good as their promise.

6:25 This verse is a perfect theme statement for a sermon.  Jesus tells us that worry is wasted energy because the essence of life is much more than simple striving for survival.  It is a lesson for the rich, the destitute and everyone in between.  Worry over acquiring the essentials for life is common to our human experience across the centuries and cultures, but simply having an abundance (or even the minimum) of food and shelter does not mean that we have obtained the type of true life Jesus offers.  We imagine worry to be a quintessentially modern plague, but it apparently even infected citizens of rural Palestine in the First Century.

6:26-30 Jesus described birds and lilies, who somehow manage to make it through life without building barns or walk-in closets.  He affirms that in God’s economy, human beings are more valuable that these beautiful, cared-for creatures.  If God cares for them, then God will certainly care for you and me.  Douglas Hare points out that Jesus’ statement is not literally true.  Many birds die of starvation or predation, and many lilies are killed in times of drought.  Human beings starve by the tens of thousands each day.  Any remotely sophisticated church member will see that right away.  What does the preacher do with that reality?

Aside from the more general discussion of earthly suffering, Hare suggests that we can understand Jesus’ words in their rhetorical context.  He suggests that we see the birds and flowers not as

“models to be imitated but powerful symbols of God’s providential care…The rhetorical development of these symbols draws our attention away from our frantic pursuit of the necessities of life to a calmer vision of God’s bountiful care in the natural world.”  (Douglas Hare, Interpretation: Matthew [Louisville: John Knox, 1993], 74-75.)

Hidden away in verse 27 is a very practical reason why worry is pointless: it accomplishes nothing.  Your worry does not fix any problems or give you a longer life.  Our modern medical understanding of worry, however, indicates that it might give you one thing: an ulcer.

6:31-32 These verses are a summary of Jesus’ main point in verse 25.  He added the reason why worry is not necessary—God knows what you need.  The same God who provides for birds and lilies will provide for you.  The Gentiles—those who do not have a God to trust—strive and stress, but that isn’t your calling as disciples, says Jesus.

6:33 This verse is a brief summary of the tone of our faithful lives: seek God and trust that all will be well.  We believe that has ultimate meaning, even if our present experience shows us that sometimes all is not well.  Children are abused.  The innocent are jailed.  The worthy die young and the wicked live for a long time.  The psalmist knew that.  So do we.  Yet we still place our trust in God’s ability to deliver an ultimate and lasting justice and righteousness.  You could preach along those lines, but it might be a bit too heavy for a Thanksgiving sermon.

6:34 This is another summary of the injunction against worry.  It is also a reminder to take things one at a time, just like the birds and lilies.  Multitasking might work great for computers, but not so great for living organisms.

I will be preaching my sermon in a celebrative mood—not celebrative because we have an overflowing cornucopia for which to be thankful—but celebrative because we have a God who loves us so deeply as to be concerned with our basic needs.  That is the reason that worry is always wasted energy.

What are you doing this week?  Will you be preaching the Thanksgiving lessons, or the Christ the King texts?  Which of your churches will have Thanksgiving Eve or Day services?

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