A sermon based on Luke 12:22-34.
Do you remember the song, Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin from back in 1988. It was catchy song and was the first a cappella song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 list. For a while there were widespread rumours, rumours that I believed, that Bobby McFerrin had committed suicide. McFerrin, however, is still alive and well to this day. I think people latched onto this rumour because there is something hollow about just telling people to Don’t Worry, Be Happy.
The phrase Don’t Worry, Be Happy was taken from an Indian guru named Meher Baba, who in addition to telling people to be happy, also told people that he was God incarnate. In fact his finally words before his death was not an urging to be happy but a reminder that he was God.
Two thousand years ago, there was another man who claimed to be God incarnate and who spoke about worrying. However, the message of Jesus is different from that of Meher Baba. Whereas Baba taught Don’t Worry, Be Happy, I would summarize Jesus’ message as Don’t Worry, Be Holy. That might not sound any easier, but I think we will see that it has much more power.
Before getting into the passage, I need to talk to you about anxiety. There are different types of anxiety. One is based on a chemical imbalance in the brain. This is not something that you can get rid of by reading an encouraging devotional or by listening to a motivational speech. This type of anxiety needs to be treated medically. Just as when I developed diabetes that I couldn’t correct my insulin levels with positive thoughts, so this anxiety requires medication.
The other type of anxiety is situational. There are times when we are anxious based on life circumstances. About thirteen years ago, my father was dying and my daughter was being diagnosed with autism. I was anxious. While we may not be able to change our life circumstances, we can make choices that either increase or decrease our anxiety levels. This is the type of anxiety that Jesus is talking about. If you are being medicated for anxiety, DO NOT take this as advice to stop taking medication.
Where Jesus and Baba would agree is in the advice to stop worrying. That is not to say that is easy. There are times that life is very difficult. It may be health, relationships, finances or any combination. There is an area of concern. Our temptation will be to spend all our energy into worrying. However, that worrying never helps. There is a part of that song that is good for us to learn from. McFerrin sings:
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double.
Many years ago, I was suffering from a particular autoimmune disease. My doctor gave me a brochure that talked about the possible outcomes, including some graphic pictures. The brochure also warned that stress can increase the severity of the disease. I wish my doctor hadn’t given me the brochure because it dramatically increased my stress level. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Think about what worry is. Worry is not concern or knowledge that there are some difficult circumstances. Worry is about putting “What if?” on repeat and making it the soundtrack for your brain. Doing this takes away the energy and focus that is needed to solve the problem and putting it into an activity that will make things worse.
Jesus is not telling us that we are sinners to remember that we need food and shelter. We are reminded that not only does God know our needs, he also cares for our needs. Jesus reminds us about how God cares for the animals and plants in nature. The birds and the lilies are pictures of the ways God provides. They do not live in worry. They don’t playback the “What if?” message over and over. They live in peace.
This is all meant to give us some perspective. Life may give us some difficulties but it will never help us to throw ourselves into a panic. But what do we replace worry with?
Seek the Kingdom
I suggest that instead of replacing worry with being happy, we should replace it with being holy. But what does holy mean? Many would define holiness with being perfect and therefore something unattainable. But that is not how the Bible defines holiness. Holiness is not moral purity. Remember when Moses saw God in the burning bush? Moses was told that he was standing on holy ground. How can dirt by morally pure? The ground was holy because it was set aside for a purpose. That is what we are to be when we are called to holiness. We are set apart for a purpose.
What is our purpose? Jesus says that this is to seek the kingdom of God. What does that mean? I remember seeing an interview with a pastor who was arguing that the church should not fight poverty but should only convert people. We get them to heaven and the rest is up to God. That pastor did not notice that two verses later, we are told to sell our possessions and give them to the poor. It is actually the opposite of what the pastor thought. God brings about the conversion and we care for the poor.
Let me back up with what the kingdom of God is. The kingdom of God is not heaven, at least that is not the entirety of the kingdom. The kingdom of God is wherever God is reigning. As Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” So yes heaven is the kingdom of God in that God rules fully there. But the kingdom of God has invaded earth with the appearance of Jesus Christ. Our job is to seek the kingdom, that is submit ourselves to the rule of the king and through that see the kingdom spread.
There are a number of ways in which that happens but one is through radical generosity. Look closely at what Jesus is saying here. He is talking to people who would tend to worry about what they don’t have or even what they might not have. The answer, according to Jesus, is to share what we do have with those who need it. That seems counter-intuitive. And it is meant to.
Eighteen years ago, Amanda and I were going through pre-marriage counselling. The only thing that I remember is that we were told that my concern was to meet Amanda’s needs and her concern was to meet my needs rather than the easier looking after our own needs. My first thought was, What if Amanda decided to meet her own needs and not mine? Then there would be two people meeting Amanda’s needs and no one meeting my own needs. That was scary and that is the risk of seeking a healthy and life-giving relationship.
This is the dynamic that Jesus is teaching and it is equally scary. God provides for us just as he provides for the birds and the lilies. But how does he do that? He does that through us,
Jesus is imagining a community of radical generosity. People do not need to worry about going without food because their brothers and sisters in Christ will always help out.
I’m not suggesting that we need to live in a communist country or that we have to be without any possessions. I am suggesting that we need to take community seriously and we need to see community through kingdom lenses.
I’m not going to tell you to not worry but be happy. You can’t really choose to be happy. Happiness originally meant something like being lucky and it depends on our life circumstances. But I will say that we should fight against the temptation to feel sorry for ourselves or to dwell on the things that might or might not happen. We replace worry with holiness, but a specific kind of holiness. Holiness in the sense of understanding we are set apart for the kingdom. “Seek his kingdom.” This means more than going to church or hoping for heaven. Live out the kingdom of God in the community that we find ourselves in.