“All Shall Be Well”
24“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. 25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But 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? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
(Matthew 6:24-34, NRSV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
I recently located my very first children’s Bible that my parents gave to me at age ten. Flipping through its worn pages with deep nostalgia, I came across this beloved verse. I had not only book marked these words of Jesus, I had them highlighted with bright pink marker, circled the words and dog eared the top of the page. I was ten years old when worry and anxiety began to settle in my bones. I have never defeated worry. I have learned how to cope, as many of us have. Hearing Jesus’ words to us today is comforting, yes; but a struggle nonetheless. I live in conflict with these words as I think about our modern complicated and progressively chaotic lives.
I think about Allison. Three kids under the age of eight, she seems to have a perfect life. At least her Facebook page reflects this notion. After her kids go to bed each night, she scrolls endlessly and mindlessly through her social media newsfeed. As she sees the photos of everyone else’s “perfect life”, her anxiety builds. She begins to question all of her life choices starting with whether she and her husband should go on more dates. It appears everyone else is making the time – at least according to the dozen date night photos she runs across. She’s then convinced that maybe her marriage is in trouble and decides to reflect on that for a few moments. Until she sees photos of her friend’s kids with their shiny sports trophies captured in a perfect shot on the soccer field. She then becomes fixated on the fact that she’s a lazy mom and should have enrolled her kids in sports earlier on. Now, she’s worried her kids will be left behind in life and will probably never be athletic due to her parental incompetence. She then reads an announcement by her former college roommate and friend regarding a new promotion within her large company. And for the next half hour, she worries that she made the wrong decision staying home with her kids. After all, who will want to hire her again after being out of work for so many years? After an hour of social media, Allison’s not only worried about the health of her marriage, her kids’ welfare, and her purpose in life, she now has diagnosed herself with a rare disease in a medical article that popped up on her newsfeed. She turns out the light, her body lying in the quiet but her mind loud with anxious thoughts.
I think about Dave. Dave finally commits to go away on a week vacation with his family. Lying in a lounge chair by the pool, the music coming from the speaker next to him plays, “don’t worry about a thing. Cuz every little thing’s gonna be alright.” The music feels like it’s mocking him in a sick way. “Mr. Marley can stuff it.”, he thinks to himself as the lyrics fill the warm tropical space around him. His kids are in the pool, yelling for him to come and play. “Daddy! Daddy! Watch this. I’m a mermaid!” He smiles and waves from a distance but isn’t really present to the moment. His mind is back at the office. He secretly smuggled his work phone into the side pocket of the family beach bag. His wife begged him not bring down. But she doesn’t understand. He needs to be connected. His boss expects him to be accessible. As it buzzes endlessly with work emails filling up, his anxiety mounts. All he can think about is his co-worker who is vying for his job. All he can think about is the amount of work that will be waiting for him when he returns on Monday. He doesn’t want to lose his job but he doesn’t want to disappoint his family either. So his body sits in paradise and his mind exists on the 25th floor on 81st street back at home.
I think about Deborah. She always knew this day would come. She just didn’t expect it to be today. Her mom is just not physically able to live by herself anymore. The house is filthy. The refrigerator is sparse. She finds refrigerated items in the pantry and daily pill boxes that have not been taken for days. Deborah is angry with her younger brother who lives the closest and is supposed to be checking in regularly. He and his wife have their hands full with their young family and things fall by the wayside it seems. Deborah consults with her other siblings. But being the oldest, they give Deborah the freedom to choose what she thinks is best. They are all too busy to help her figure out the next steps. As Deborah tries to reason with her Mom, she just becomes angry. She tells Deborah that she’s trying to take away her only happiness and she pleads with her to let her stay. Deborah sits at her mom’s kitchen table in the stillness of the night, worried that she is letting down her Mom who has loved her so deeply. She worries that whatever decision she makes will have consequences on not only her, but the rest of her family waiting back home for her arrival.
In our text this morning, Jesus understands our natural human instinct to worry. This discourse on worry is an important component, found within the context of the well-known Sermon on the Mount. With a captive audience of his followers, Jesus compiles together teachings of life and faith that he feels are priority. Jesus tells us that worry debilitates us and prohibits us from experiencing the Kingdom of God. Worry enslaves us. It holds our lives hostage and keeps us from moments of joy. From our worries of basic needs to anxiety about the unknown, Jesus assures us of the Spirit’s way of giving us everything we need if we will stop and look.
Eugene Peterson offers a unique interpretation of Jesus’ wisdom on looking beyond our worry to what is. In The Message, version Jesus says this, “What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way [God] works fuss over these things, but you know both and how [God] works. Steep your life in God – reality, God – initiative, God – provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
We live in an anxious culture. We can’t take a leisure trip into the city for a fun afternoon without seeing signs of panic and worry. The popular signage, “If you see something, say something” is plastered in every subway car and taxi cab. We stroll the sidewalks attempting to take in the beauty of the blossoming trees while trying to decipher if the man who just passed us looks suspicious. When we fly, the loud speaker at the airport reminds us to report any unusual behavior and to never leave our bags unattended. So while we eat our breakfast burrito we also freeze in anxiety over the abandoned bag next to us. For the next five minutes we tell ourselves twenty stories about its presumably explosive contents until a young mother with a baby comes to retrieve it. Letters from our children’s principal come home to us regularly. “Tomorrow we will have a bomb threat drill. Do not be alarmed.” “Next Thursday, we will have an active shooter drill. This is only a routine test. Do not be alarmed.” Thank you for those sentiments, principal Ferante, but I am alarmed. I am very alarmed. When I drop my children off at school every morning, I make sure to kiss them and tell them how much I love them before the car door slams. We live in an anxious culture, yes. But we do not have to live anxiously within it. This is Jesus’ message for us today.
In this shifting, modern culture that we find ourselves in, we can learn ways to ease our anxiety and turn our focus to that which is good. Maybe instead of scrolling mindlessly through social media, we sit on the porch with our loved one and talk about the day. Maybe instead of focusing on the panic attack producing signs, we look around and see the beauty in humanity around us. Maybe we look to the lilies and the birds. Maybe we get out of our heads for a few moments and observe the radiance of nature. Maybe we learn to get back to our own bodies. To feel our breath. To breathe in peace and to breathe out worry. Maybe we learn to turn off the screens more regularly and to look into the eyes of those around us. Maybe we talk more openly about our anxiety to others. And in doing so, our fears somehow subside a bit. Knowing that someone else struggles too, helps us feel less alone and afraid. Maybe we begin speaking more openly about the importance of mental health without harmful stigma and shame. Maybe like Jesus tells us, we look around, we look up and we look within. For we often miss that which is good and grounding in the midst of our worry.
In this resurrection season of Easter, we are called to see life through a new lens. Dr. David Lose, former president of Lutheran Seminary and Biblical scholar reflects on Jesus’ words today in light of Easter. He writes, “Love -- and especially God's love -- cannot be counted, tracked or stockpiled. And when you live in this kind of relationship of love and trust, you've entered into the realm of abundance, the world of possibility, the world of contentment. Suddenly, in this world -- Jesus calls it the "kingdom of God" -- not worrying actually becomes an option… This is why, in the end, Jesus dies -- not to somehow pay for our sins…but because those in power were so invested in the world of scarcity that abundance was downright frightening, even threatening. Scarcity, after all, creates fear, and fear creates devotion to those who will protect you. Abundance, on the other hand, produces freedom…But God doesn't operate from scarcity; God operates out of abundance. So in response to the crucifixion of God's Son, God does not, in fact, keep track, or look for payment…instead, God resurrects -- which, when you think about it, is the ultimate act of abundance: creating something, once again, out of nothing, drawing light from darkness, giving life to the dead. This is the world Jesus invites us into: a world of abundance, generosity, and new life.
In my own search for inner peace, I discovered a quote by the 14th century anchoress, Julian of Norwich. A spiritual counselor and first known female religious writer, she once wrote these words: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” Moved by this sentiment, I printed it out on bright pink paper and framed it for my office. It’s the first thing I see in the morning when I start the day. It is my calming mantra when the world feels out of control. Recently, I was sitting in my office and the framed quote crashed to the ground and broke into a million pieces. As an anxious person, I am more susceptible to superstition. I could not help but laugh and cry a little over the fact that my “all shall be well” frame randomly plummeted to its death. I have since purchased a new frame and found the courage to put it back on the bookshelf. Julian’s words describe beautifully the essence of Jesus’ message to us. All shall be well. And all shall be well. All manner of thing shall be well. It’s going to be ok. We’re going to be ok. Look up. Look around. Look within. Love is there. All shall be well. AMEN.
God of Love,
You have made the world and everything in it. Through Jesus you have revealed your love. Help us to set aside fear and to see the beauty of this world, the wonder of this life, and the beauty of the people with whom we share it. Forgive us when we do not love nearly enough, and remind us that with You, there are always new beginnings, there is always returning.
We pray for our world today. We pray for those who are victims of natural disasters around our globe. Comfort them and bring hope in the midst of devastation. We pray for those who are separated from their families. Bring peace to them and may they sense your spirit.
We pray for the needs in our community of faith.
Let us join together as a family of faith as we seek to experience your goodness in our lives and in this hour of worship.
Through Christ we pray,
Prayer adapted from a prayer by Rev. Mary E. Biedron in Hymns for a Pilgrim People.
Parts of prayer adapted from Refreshing Rains of the Living Word, by Lavon Baylor.
 Lose, Dr. David; www.workingpreacher.org.