“Jesus Takes Worry Warts to School” (Luke 12:22-34)
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Aug. 11, 2019)
Do you hear the school bells ringing? It won’t be long now and the new fall term will be getting underway. Yes, I know, our summer has gone all too fast! But, ready or not, here it comes!
Well, guess what, Jesus actually begins class today. Specifically, He takes all of us worrywarts to school. His lesson plan objective is to teach us that faith and anxiety cannot coexist but that faith alone is the way to true peace. One is either content and confident through faith in Him and His Word or he is living in a state of fear continuously plagued by anxious thoughts. The same heart cannot be both anxious and full of faith at the same time.
Oh, I know we pay a lot of lip-service to faith, “Yes, I believe You, Lord… I trust You!” But in reality our heart is often far from God. It is filled instead with anxiety over worldly concerns.
In the text before us this morning from the Gospel of Luke, we hear Jesus speaking not to the masses but directly to His disciples, those claiming to believe in Him. And, yet, at one point we even hear Him chastise them quite pointedly by addressing them, “O you of little faith!”
Note that He does not say, “You of weak faith.” We are so prone today of speaking of faith as either being weak or strong. It’s almost as if we have an aversion to admitting that perhaps we lack faith period. But are we right to quantify faith in this way or ought we not recognize that faith is either present or not present in us?
On another occasion where Jesus is teaching His disciples to do the seemingly impossible by forgiving those who have sinned against them, He says in response to their request to increase their faith, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6). It doesn’t take more faith to be forgiving. Such an act is not extraordinary behavior for the Christian. It ought to be the norm. After all, who is able to forgive but that person who knows how much he has already been forgiven by God! No, forgiving someone who has sinned against you is simply acting in faith.
So, it is here where Jesus is exhorting His disciples to literally “stop being anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.” It doesn’t take more faith to not be anxious. Not being anxious about anything is the very character of believing in Jesus and His Word.
Accordingly, this morning in our Collect (Prayer for the Day), reflecting the apostle Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians, we petition God, “Almighty and merciful God, grant that we may walk by faith, and not by sight, in the way that leads to eternal life…” We are not praying for stronger faith but rather that God enable us to simply operate, live, walk in faith, not in the anxious thoughts that stem from what we see in this world.
Herein lies the crux of the problem doesn’t it? Lead on by our sinful nature, the temptations of the devil, and the allurements of this world, we are continuously inclined to walk, live, and act in accordance to what we see with our eyes and not by what we hear in God’s Word.
The apostle Peter himself did an awesome job walking on water as long as he walked with his eyes of faith focused on Jesus and His promise to Him. But the moment he started walking by sight, his anxieties about the waves, the howling wind, pulled him down to the depths of sea like lead shoes!
Little faith is a euphemistic way of saying no faith. Anxiety in our hearts removes faith. The two cannot coexist in the same heart. So, Jesus takes us anxiety ridden, worrywarts, to school. He does so by getting right to the heart of the matter. “Stop being anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”
Boy, does He have us all dead to rites! We work day and night for food, and not just any sustenance but the best of the meats and the finest of wines. We shop till we drop for just the right apparel. But we do so not just so we can be adequately protected from the elements but also so we can look good in the process. Yet, in all this we so often seem to have little time, energy, or money for pursuing the Kingdom of God. And we do all this never truly resting but spending many waking moments worrying about it all.
It’s time, our Teacher says, that we all learn the lessons God has built into the created order. First of all, He says, “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?”
I’ll bet you and I never imagined that birds could be some of God’s greatest preachers, have we? But, clearly, as Jesus tells us, they are. Martin Luther certainly found that to be true. He has written that one of the best sermons on faith he ever heard was preached by a bird on his windowsill. At the time he was held up in the Wartburg Castle, pretty much as a prisoner for his own protection. He said all the reports he was hearing seemed to indicate that the Reformation was not going too well. In fact, it appeared that all his writings and efforts were going to be for naught. His heart filled with anxious thoughts. He wanted in the worst way to get free of the castle and see what he could do to remedy the situation. But there was that bird singing away as though it didn’t have a care in the world. It wasn’t worried where it’s next meal was coming from. It wasn’t the slightest bit concerned about the weather, where it was going to sleep for the night, or even if the sun was going to come up tomorrow. Luther said that little bird gave him pause to ponder that if it, a poor helpless bird, could entrust all of its needs and concerns to it’s Creator, then why couldn’t he, a preacher and doctor in Christ’s Church!
Dear friends, you are no mere bird. You are a member of the species God created as the pinnacle of His creation. You alone He created in His own image that you might have communion with Him. You really imagine that He is just going to let you fend for yourselves and not actively provide for your needs of body and soul? And talk about value, if you think being created in God’s image has not given you value enough, how about the fact that in spite of the rebellion of your race, God gave you His only begotten Son to become flesh of your flesh and then gave His perfect Son over to death to atone for you. You have been purchased by the blood of God! You can’t have any more value than that!
Besides, Jesus says, what can you and I accomplish by all our anxious thoughts anyway? We know the answer: absolutely nothing! Our thoughts and fears will not supply one crumb of bread or a single thread of a garment.
Our Teacher is not finished yet. He goes on, “Consider and learn something from the lilies. Look how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith!”
Who could even imagine being arrayed as beautifully as one of the hundreds of little prairie flowers that appear every spring, let alone as an Easter Lilly or an American Rose? Certainly Solomon, the wealthiest man alive in his day, could not. God has so gloriously clothed something as insignificant as a blade of grass which lives such a short time, whether burned up by the sun or in someone’s furnace to provide them heat, how can you and I ever doubt that God won’t keep us clothed and cared for? How absurd is our anxiety!
Our Teacher exhorts all of us His followers, “Stop seeking what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, be seeking His kingdom and these things will be added to you.”
You know, you and I might be justified to be anxious about things in this world at times if it was true that God had a hands off approach to His creation. In other words He had told us, “Okay, I’ve done my part in creating you. Now it’s up to all of you to care and provide for yourselves.” Then we certainly would have something to worry about. Our world would indeed be a place of the survival of the fittest, the wisest, the most resourceful. You, think it is a world of cut-throat competiveness, scarcity, and inhumanity now! Can you imagine if God removed His hand of providence from His creation!
Thanks be to God, as Jesus is teaching us here, His care for His creatures has no bounds. As the Psalmist states: “You, LORD, open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:16). God provides food for every sparrow. He even takes care of the needs of that bat that likes to take up residence from time to time in our sanctuary! Why, Jesus assures you that not even one hair of your head falls away without His permission (Matt. 10:29,30). That’s how intimate is God’s care for His creation and you whom He created in His own image and redeemed with His own blood.
And, here and now, you have His bold promise that you need not live in the anxiety of those who don’t know Him. He acknowledges that He is your Father in a way far more intimate, eternal, and personal than all other creatures who exist in this world. In your baptism into Christ you were given new life in Him. You have been brought into His kingdom of Grace and into fellowship with Him. You were given new birth into His family. You are no longer His enemy but now enjoy peace with Him through Jesus’ shed blood. As we talked last week, your real life is now hidden away in Christ.
As your Father He is not, therefore, going to throw you to the wolves of providing for yourself in this world. You are free to focus your attention, life and pursuits on His kingdom knowing with full assurance that as Your loving Father He will provide also all that you need to support your body and life in this world as well. Again, your Teacher assures you this morning, “Stop being afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!” Hear that? You are assured that the Creator of all things… the God Who was willing to suffer Your punishment on the cross in your place… wants nothing more than to share His kingdom with you. So, what’s to worry about?
Like most important lessons at school, so Jesus’ lesson for us today does not come without a test. Students groan and moan about tests, but tests are essential to determine if the lesson is properly learned. A good test will not just ask the student to regurgitate what he was told but will force the student to apply what he has learned to a real life situation.
Here comes our test. Jesus says, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.”
Surely, many will insist, Jesus is just speaking hyperbolically; that is, over exaggerating to make a point. But is He? Think about it. What better way to determine if our hearts are set on worldly possessions than to ask us to give them away! Jesus says, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”
Now, we have all given things away and sometimes even to those who desperately need them. But giving away from our extra or giving our old item because we now have a new one is not what Jesus is talking about. He is saying give away what you have so that you no longer have! In other words, do without so that someone else can have. Such giving not only takes real compassion for others but it also takes a real willingness to sacrifice.
No clearer evidence can be obtained if we have learned Jesus’ lesson then if you or I were able to actually give away so that we no longer have for ourselves. If my heart immediately fills up with anxious thoughts like these: “Now, what I’m I going to do? How can I now make it?” then clearly faith in Christ Jesus and His promises to me have gone out the window. My anxiety reveals what I treasure most and it is not things above with Christ but simply things of this world.
The Holy Spirit move us to pray: “Almighty and merciful God, it is by Your grace that we live as Your people who offer acceptable service. Grant that we may walk by faith, and not by sight, in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, Our Lord. Amen.