Psalm 46:1-11, Luke 12:13-34
March 23, 2014
I’m sorry, but as I was thinking about this passage for today, I’ve been hearing that crazy old song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Anybody remember that? Don’t worry, I’m not going to sing it to you. Besides, having it run just through my head is enough! I don’t need to do that to you! (Or am I too late?)
Well, even though I’m not sure I agree with the sentiment of that song, it is essentially what Jesus was trying to get us to do. “Do not be anxious about your life.” “Don’t worry,” he might have said. “Be happy.” The reason I have a problem with the song is that it offers these little rhyming couplets, like “In every life we have some trouble, but if you worry you make it double.” And it even suggests what some of those “troubles” might be. “The landlord said your rent is late, and he might have to litigate.” But, it doesn’t really offer any solutions to those problems. It just says after each line, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” – with a nice bouncy, happy tune! (And a lot of “ooh ooh ooh’s!”)
Well, Jesus was saying that. “Do not be anxious about your life.” This passage is from Luke’s version of these teachings. In Matthew, those words are found in the “Sermon on the Mount.” But here in Luke, like the Lord’s Prayer last week, we find them in another context. And again, these are good words! Why would we not expect Jesus to use these thoughts in other places and times?
In this case, a man has come to Jesus and he’s asked him to settle a family matter. “Lord bid my brother divide the inheritance with me. And we might wonder what he meant by that. Was there some family greediness going on here? Was this man not getting what he deserved in this family? Was he being cheated? Was his brother there in the crowd when he asked this?
Or was this man indeed getting what he deserved under the law, but he didn’t like it, and he wanted more? Was he the younger brother? Because younger brothers didn’t get the same amount as the older brothers. They traditionally got the larger part of the inheritance. (That’s one of the things Jacob cheated Esau out of, if you remember that story!) Maybe that was the case for this man! Maybe he was saying “That’s not fair.” Anybody here ever had a brother or sister or a child who used those words? “That’s not fair!”
Well, Jesus says in answer, “Beware of covetousness.” “Watch out for that Tenth Commandment!” “Watch out for envying and desiring what someone else has.” That can consume us! And that’s not what God wants for us. What God wants for us is peace and joy! That’s why he gave the Commandments in the first place! He knew the kinds of things that can make life miserable. He knew the kinds of pitfalls that can hurt us.
I once saw a plaque on a wall that said this. “Some things are not right because God commanded them. Sometimes God commands them simply because they are right!” God wants what’s right for us. So Jesus said, “Beware of that envy, that covetousness, that can consume us!” And that makes me wonder about this man that asked this of Jesus. Was he just stating a need? Or was this problem consuming him? Was it eating away at him? What would make this man be so concerned about this issue in his family that he would bring it up in a public place – and to Jesus?
Well, with Jesus it wasn’t enough just to answer him. As he often did, he used this encounter as a “teaching moment.” It may not have been what he intended to do that day, but it turned out to be some of his best stuff! He first tells this parable about the man who kept building bigger barns. The man then said to his soul, “Soul…” I always loved that! He said, “Soul, you have plenty of stuff! Eat, drink, and be merry!” That’s where that phrase comes from – ironically!
Doesn’t this parable speak well to our world? We see people working so hard – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But you ask them why, and they say “so that ‘some day’ I’ll be able to enjoy life.” What does that sound like in light of this parable?! Of course the real irony is that there are many people today who haven’t given a thought to that “someday.” I’ve been saying now for years that there is a “retirement crisis” looming on the horizon, that will make the housing crisis of 2008 seem like nothing! The problem will be that people didn’t build bigger barns. But the bigger problem is – and will be – the worry, the anxiety over it! Just wait. And believe me, I hope I’m wrong!
Jesus went on to elaborate further. And that’s when he said, “Therefore do not be anxious about your life.” And he gave reasons for not worrying. He didn’t say “In every life we have some trouble, but if you worry you make it double,” but I’m sure he would have agreed with that! He said, “Which of you by worrying can add a cubit to his span of life?” And that’s true, isn’t it? Worry doesn’t do us any good! In fact we know today that it can even do us harm. As I’ve noted before, worry and stress can actually decrease our span of life.
We know that, don’t we? But(!) how many of us still worry? (Those with your hands down, don’t forget that ninth Commandment! “Thou shalt not bear false witness!”) It’s hard not to worry. There are a lot of things that concern us these days. Life can be very complicated here in the 21st Century! We know that. So how can we possibly go through life without anxiety? “Jesus you’re being naïve and idealistic!”
Perhaps so. But sometimes I think we have to have an ideal to shoot for, in order to improve where we are. Personally, I have a bone in my head that makes me worry. I got it from my mother! It’s probably not possible for me to get through life without worry. But I’ve realized that if I can move toward that as my goal, I’ll continue to be better off. How about you?
So, what’s the solution to worry? What’s the magic pill? The first part of it, Jesus said, is to look at the example of God’s provision around us. God feeds the ravens, and clothes the flowers of the fields. “and life,” Jesus said, “is more than just food and clothing.” Now of course people don’t worry about only those two things. But I’ll bet we all have our own “short list” of what worries us the most. If Jesus were to say this to you, what would he say? If he said, “Life is more than _____ and ______,” what would you put in those blanks? This is Lent. This is the time to look a little more seriously at our lives and to see where we stand in relation to God’s kingdom. And part of that is examining the importance we put on things in our lives.
Notice, Jesus is not telling us we shouldn’t care about those things. But he is telling us that we should see more. We should expand our vision and seek God’s kingdom. He then says the words that are also recorded in Matthew. “Seek first the kingdom of God…” And again, it’s not “Seek only the kingdom of God!” It’s “Seek first…” “And(!) all these things will be added unto you.” And Luke even adds these words that Matthew didn’t record. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Isn’t that great?! Just like you like doing things for your children, your heavenly father likes doing those things for his children!
As we go through Lent in particularly, God asks us to consider the priorities of our life. It’s not that we aren’t supposed to have things. It’s not that we aren’t supposed to be responsible and industrious. It’s that we are to seek God’s kingdom at the top of all those things.
At the end of this “teaching moment,” Jesus gives the reason for all that he’s been trying to say. And we said this when we were looking at the “Sermon on the Mount” last year. This whole thing, is a matter of the heart! Jesus finishes with these great words. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Jesus was, and is, always concerned about the state of the heart. That’s where the covetousness comes from. That’s the part of us about which we should always be concerned. What is the state of our hearts?
So where is your heart in all of this? Lent is a time when we look at ourselves and see where we stand in relation to the kingdom of God – the kingdom we are called to seek. And the biggest part of that is the heart. Where is that inmost part of our heart and soul oriented? That’s the most important thing to work on this Lenten season. Yes, we can do the Lenten things. We can add some additional reading, we can increase our prayer time, and we can seek God as Father, like we said last week. We can even “give up” something for Lent. All of those are good things! But above all, we need to search ourselves to see where our hearts lie.
That’s not easy. We’re talking this year about the things that led Jesus down that “road to the cross.” And this is one of them. He called people to look into their own hearts and see what’s there. And that can be very uncomfortable! In his day, it angered people. It threatened their status quo. It called into question their lifestyle. It called them to change, which was very hard for them to do. We joke about that in ourselves, but we’re not alone. Change is hard!
So I ask you to do that. I ask you to look deep down inside yourselves. Ask yourself “Where is your heart?” Are you willing to look?
Heavenly Father, help us to see ourselves as you see us. Help us to be concerned about that which we treasure in this world. Save us from those things that would “consume us” and make us forget the importance of your kingdom. Fill us with thoughts of your kingdom, and help us to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you. For we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.