"Don't Worry or Be Afraid"
In this world we live in, there’s so much to fear. Political speeches on various parts of the spectrum have named a litany of things and people that we should be afraid of. When we travel, we go through security screenings. There are metal detectors at big events, surveillance cameras in a growing number of places. Churches have security systems. I just attended a training on safety in houses of worship. We’re surrounded by reminders of the possibility of danger and possible loss.
On my phone, I get texts and emails from the local police and the Nextdoor app with subject headings like “Be on the lookout”, “Heed the Warning”, “Attempted home invasion,” “Secure your home and automobile.” From a variety of voices, we keep getting messages: “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
Truth be told, a lot of the news is grim around the country. Mass shootings. Forest fires. Global warming. Economic worries. Diseases. Fears of not having enough.
At the beginning of today’s gospel lesson, Jesus warns people in the crowd to be on their guard against all kinds of greed. He puts our relationship with material wealth in perspective: “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Then Jesus tells a parable, about a rich man whose land produced abundantly-- so abundantly that his barns were full. He had so much that he’d run out of space to store his harvest. This rich man thought to himself, “What should I do?”
Then he answers himself: “I’ll do this: I’ll pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I’ll store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years. Relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
This rich man thinks--or hopes-- that if he can only fill more barns, then he can finally relax and be happy.
But God said to the rich man, ‘You fool! This very night your very life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Jesus goes on to teach his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, don’t worry about your life, about what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
Look at the birds, Jesus says. They don’t worry about stuff, and God provides for them. Look at the lilies. They don’t worry about stuff, and God provides for them. How much more will God provide for you? It is God’s good pleasure to provide in abundance. Don’t be anxious. Don’t worry or be afraid.
Stuff, Jesus tells us, is not to be collected and stored up. Stuff is to be shared… given away…used for others. He told a rich man who was too attached to his wealth, “Sell your stuff and give it away to those who are in need.”
The kind of life Jesus describes has to do with choosing to live more simply, choosing to intentionally have less stuff, choosing to stop collecting more possessions… choosing to discover our sense of well-being in a just sharing of material possessions.
What Jesus teaches about having a faithful relationship to possessions isn’t hard to understand. But it isn’t easy to follow.
It’s so counter-cultural, in a society in which we are known as consumers… a society in which we are bombarded by messages that try to convince us that the things we buy and own can make us happy…secure…and content.
I’ve become more and more convinced that the greed and worry and fear that Jesus keeps warning his disciples about are at the root of so much of the evil and the problems in our world today. We live in one of the richest nations in the world. Yet we don’t seem to have the will to make sure that the neediest of Americans have what they need.
We have enough food to provide basic nutrition to everyone in our nation. There’s enough food in the world for everyone to have a basic diet. It’s a matter of priorities. What are our highest priorities? To care for the most vulnerable in our nation? To pay for wars? To give tax cuts to the wealthiest people?
I believe that—deep down—a lot of us want to be more generous and gracious. I think what gets in the way for a lot of us has to do with chronic anxieties. We worry about whether we’ll have enough. We’re afraid we’ll be vulnerable or dependent if we don’t build bigger barns or houses or retirement accounts, so we cling tightly to what we have. Maybe we tell ourselves that, if we can accumulate more-- then we’ll be happy and secure, and then we’ll be free to share.
Jesus knows our human condition. I think that’s why he spent so much time teaching about how to be in a faithful relationship with material possessions and how to have faithful priorities.
I like the way Eugene Peterson translates this passage in The Message. Peterson hears Jesus saying, “What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting-- so you can respond to God’s giving…. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met….”
“Don’t worry about your life,” Jesus says. “Don’t keep striving for the things of this world… Your Father in heaven knows what you need…. So, strive for God’s kingdom, and what you really need will be given to you as well.”
“What you really need will be given to you…. It is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Do we believe this? Do we live like we believe it—like we trust God to give us what we need?
Imagine how freeing it would be if—instead of being afraid, instead of worrying—we would stake our lives in trust in our great and faithful God!
Jesus asks his disciples, “Why are you afraid?” If we trust that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord, then we don’t need to be afraid.
In the midst of all the voices of fear, we are called to live fearlessly. Not because the world isn’t scary. Not because we are invincible. Not because we don’t struggle with fear and anxiety. But because we know we belong to God.
This may sound simplistic to some, but placing our trust not in earthly treasures but in the treasures of God’s kingdom can be powerful and transformative.
As Henri Nouwen wrote, “The more you feel safe as a child of God, the freer you will be to claim your mission in the world as a responsible human being.”
Living fearlessly in faith can free our energy, our imaginations, our intelligence to live into the Kingdom. It can open our hearts and empower us to embody God’s love in ways that the world so desperately needs.
Over the years, the stock market and the value of our homes can go up and down. Governments rise and fall. Corporations split and merge and restructure. Possessions can be stolen or destroyed in fires or floods. In faith communities, income rises and falls. The political scene is full of scary scenarios.
But don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. God knows what we need, and it is God’s good pleasure to provide us with what we truly need.
So… may we learn how to relax…and not be so preoccupied with getting or hoarding or trying to be in control-- so we can respond in faith to God’s generosity. May we learn to trust that God will provide what we truly need. May we learn not to worry or be afraid, as we learn to trust that God is good—all the time.
Do we believe this? Do we believe that God is good and that God delights in giving us what we need? Do we trust in it?
I pray that we do. I pray that we can affirm our trust: God is good. All the time. All the time, God is good!
Thanks be to God!
Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
November 18, 2018