Sermon: “Worry and Doubt” (Matthew 6:25-34)

taco bell

So here’s a question for you: who is it in your life that taught how how to worry?

Do you know who it was?

Show of hands: how many of you would say it was your mom? What about dad?

How many of you have a kind of informally-designated worrier-in-chief in your extended family?

Raise your hand if it’s you.

For myself, I’d say that my parents taught me what to worry about, and thankfully, even more about what not to worry about.

But they were not the ones who taught me how.

I seem to have picked that up in my own.

You see, my parents were not the ones who taught me about Taco Bell burritos, and when it comes to how I, Max Grant, worry, I have learned that Taco Bell is a big part of my response.

So is prayer.

But let’s start with Taco Bell.

I confess that Taco Bell is part of my response, but hear me, church—this is not to say that Taco Bell offers much by way of a solution.

It is just part of how I initially respond.

And that’s the thing, right?

Because somehow, how I have learned—how I’ve taught myself—to worry begins with a period where my instinct is not so much to start solving whatever it is that’s on my mind.

My first instinct is to dwell in it. My first instinct is to turn my worrying about something into my own little fiesta-for-one.

The great challenge for me with worry is not to let myself linger there.

II.

That’s where prayer comes in.

And actually, I can tell you who taught me that.

It was Martin Luther.

You see, at some point in my late twenties, I found my way back to church.

That happened, not because I had started to feel what I’d describe as faith. Not at the start, anyway.

But what I felt was just this deep, deep longing for God that wouldn’t go away and that I wasn’t really sure what to do with.

I had a lot I was trying to figure out, and trying to juggle as best I could with the tools I had.

And anyway, it’s then that I encountered this story about Martin Luther.

Luther was a tremendously busy man in the early days of the Reformation—actively participating in the church and politics of his day, translating the Bible into German for the first time, at times having to go into hiding because there was more or less a price on his head.

He was the leader of a spiritual revolution. But like all revolutions, and as every revolutionary from George Washington to Fidel Castro can tell you, there are lots of things to worry about, and only so much that lends itself to one person’s control.

So think about that for a second.

And that’s what makes this little anecdote so interesting.

Because apparently, Luther was once asked what his plans were for the following day.

He responded: “Work, work, from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

And to me at that time, what that seemed to point to was that, for Luther, prayer was not just a rote formula or a momentary break to hear a word from our sponsor.

Prayer was looser than that, but far more vital.

It was about staying grounded in our relationship with the Eternal.

It was about listening deeply to what the Eternal had to say to us, here in the realm of the temporary and imperfect.

Without that, Luther recognized nothing worth doing would ever get done.

That was incredibly important for me.

It was incredibly important because it taught me that, without a doubt, there are some things that still clearly matter in the light of Eternity.

There are things that seem to rise even to that level.

And there is much that does not.

Not so long ago, I told the story of my teacher who sent me a postcard reminding me of how inconsolable I’d been about a bad grade the year before—I talked about what an eye opener that was.

Well, I’m afraid that’s a lesson that I’ve had to learn more than once.

But you know, Linda Hartig put it so well for me this last week at Bible Study, when she observed that some worry is important for us to do and some worry is important for us not to.

Worry that gets us moving, that expresses care in a way we can do something about—well, that’s one thing.

Worry for its own sake is something quite different.

And that’s right.

There is worry that God places on our heart—a sense of concern and relationship that we are called to do something about.

And then…well…there’s Taco Bell.

Because it’s there that I don’t worry about the things I actually can control. It’s where I let myself dwell in the things that I can’t.

Luther taught me better than that.

III.

And of course, so does Jesus.

Matthew’s Gospel puts it this way: “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these” (Matthew 6:27-29)

And he continues, “Therefore do not worry, saying ‘what will we eat? Or ‘what will we drink? Or ‘what will we wear’…But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (v. 31, 33).

There is a kind of language almost of “reward” when he says that, and there have been those who have understood this idea that “these things will be given to you as well” in that kind of light.

The bigger question of how God provides for us does come up here.

Jesus asks his disciples, “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” (v. 30).

But I would say that his point is not about the depth of our faith as it is about the spiritually precarious distraction of our worry.

Matthew’s word for “worry” is helpful on this point.

Because the word he uses is the Greek word merimnao (merim-NA-oh), which is itself a blend of two other words: the word merizo, for divide, and the word nous, which means mind.

To be worried, then, is to be one with a divided mind.

It’s the same word Jesus uses when he speaks to Martha in the Mary and Martha story, when he says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 41-42).

It’s the same word Paul uses to the church at Phillippi when he counsels them: “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Do not let your mind become divided.

So much of worry does that—it divides our mind.

And if we’re not careful, it divides our heart and maybe even our loyalty, too.

Because worry challenges us to remain grounded in what is most important—what it is that rises to the level of the Eternal.

And it can be so strangely tempting to dwell among the things that do not matter all that much rather than seek a way forward in the name of the things that matter most.

We may not quite realize that we’re doing it—but this is precisely why we need to find a way to see ourselves for what we are, and to glimpse the Eternal for what it is.

As Jesus tells Mary, to glimpse the Eternal is to choose “the good portion.” As Paul says, it is to claim “the peace of God, which passes all understanding.”

For the last couple of weeks, we have considered some of ways that doubt and faith are related.

I’ve tried to make a case that doubt is very much a part of the life of faith—that perhaps Thomas was not so much doubtful as he was a person who could only know things in his own particular way, as indeed, we all must do.

Last week, I suggested that as our faith evolves, we outgrow some of the answers that had been so important and so nurturing for us before, but now no longer quite fit—and that the time betwixt and between can be a difficult one, but that new answers do come.

By way of conclusion, I would just say that of all the things we go through in the living of our days, worry can push so many questions on us.

Worry casts doubt on so many things—not only the bad things, but the good ones, as well—whether it is only for a season or more permanently.

To worry is to live with a mind divided. It is to be so distracted that we can begin lose sight of where our love and loyalties truly lie.

Our great task, with God’s help, is to keep those things in view–to push past our initial response and to seek the source of what truly sustains us, that source without which nothing worth doing would ever get done.

It is to look to Jesus, in whom, as Paul said, “all things hold together…For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven….” (Colossians 1:17, 19-20).

The rest, my friends, is Taco Bell.

 

Amen.

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