“Don’t Worry. Be Happy.”
Here is a little song I wrote.
You might want to sing it note for note.
Don’t worry. Be happy.
In every life we have some trouble.
When you worry you make it double.
Don’t worry. Be happy.”
About half way through the sermon on the mount, after more than a chapter of teaching about the challenging way of discipleship that Jesus’ followers are called to live, Jesus tells his disciples not to worry: “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? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”
Can we put ourselves in the shoes of those earliest disciples? Can we imagine what they might have been thinking as Jesus told them not to worry? Some of them had dropped their nets, their jobs, their livelihoods in order to go out on the road with him. And they had left their families, their communities, and their networks of support behind as well. He had called them to a life of risk and uncertainty, and now he is telling them not to worry. Don’t worry about food. Don’t worry about clothing. Trust God to provide you with what you need.
It all sounds a little irresponsible, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, be happy? I mean, the Presbyterian Church in Canada doesn’t send people out on mission trips without making sure that things are organized and in place. We don’t want our missionaries to get sick, or hungry, or lost, or hurt when they go out to share the love of God in word or in action.
And it’s the same with our churches. We set a budget for the year, and we try to do ministry and mission within our means. If we feel called to do something new, or if some special need arises, we check to see where it fits in the budget, or we ask for special gifts for that need. We usually don’t just do it and trust that God will provide.
For example, earlier this year we received a request to do some upgrades and some needed cleaning for our organ. The Worship Committee and the Session learned about what was needed, how much it would cost, and how it would improve the instrument and help us to do more with it like organ recitals and concerts, and just the brighter, more joyful sounds we could make in our worship.
We agreed that this would be a good thing for First Church to do to strengthen our ministry of music and open up community connections for the future. But rather than simply blowing the budget by about $10,000, we invited folks to make special donations for the organ upgrade and cleaning.
We waited until the gifts started to flow in before beginning the work, and there was a wonderful response to the request. Generous donations of money were made, as well as gifts of time and effort by those who came out to help with the cleaning to keep our costs lower. And we now have a clean, bright organ that can do much more than it used to do.
Now, I’m not criticizing the Board and Session for their decision to invite special donations for this project rather than to just add it to the budget and trust that people would give enough to cover it. Because, in fact, our church takes on a certain amount of risk all the time.
We set a budget for the year. We spend money according to that budget on staffing, programs, materials, and the church building itself. And we trust that the members and adherents of our church will be generous and give towards our ministry and mission. We don’t get the money in advance and then start doing our ministry. We don’t even ask for promises or pledges from our members, indicating that they will give a certain amount during the year.
We set a budget for giving, and we ask for congregational approval of that budget. And then we just do it. We engage in the ministry and mission that God has called us to do, and we trust that God will provide through the generosity and faithfulness of God’s people.
Indeed, here at First Church we’ve actually approved deficit budgets for the last several years, showing our willingness to use some of our investments to keep on with our ministry. Although we won’t be able to do that indefinitely, memorial gifts, bequests, and other planned gifts are sustaining our ministry for the time being, supplementing what our members are able to give. And we hope and trust that God will help us to sustain it and grow it in the long term through other means.
Sometimes I do hear comments around this church that indicate a level of worry and fear about the future. Especially at Board meetings when we are looking at the numbers, and when we’re trying to make sure there is enough money in the chequing account to pay the bills.
But even if worry creeps in sometimes, you show your trust in God by the decisions that you make as a congregation. Even though you had a deficit budget, you went ahead and called a full-time minister. You decided to keep on doing ministry even though you didn’t yet know how the bills would be paid.
And about a year and a half ago, this congregation made the courageous decision to become refugee sponsors. You committed to be the local sponsor for Nyabani Mathiang’s family from South Sudan who are currently living in a refugee camp, and who want to join Nyabani and Elijah and their children here in Canada.
It took some time to get an opening for them in the list of refugee sponsorships being carried out through Presbyterian World Service & Development, but our turn has come up and the paperwork is being completed and the process is underway. So now we’re thinking about raising the needed funding to support this family during their first year in Canada. We have some work to do to raise around $50,000, and we don’t know yet how long it will be before they arrive. As we move forward with this work, Jesus encourages us not to worry, but to place our hope and our trust in God who will provide.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday today, we might want to pause and give thanks for the people of our congregation, for their generosity in supporting the ministry, and for those who came before us and made planned gifts that are helping us so much in this time.
But Jesus’ message for his first disciples and for us today is not as simple as “Don’t worry. Be happy.” I don’t think he’s suggesting that we should take irresponsible risks or just ignore our problems or challenges, pretending that everything’s a-okay and being happy.
But I think that Jesus is reminding us that following his way of life will undoubtedly include taking on some risk. Engaging in ministry and mission as a congregation and as individuals will include some uncertainty about the future. But we can’t get stuck worrying about everything.
We can’t let all our time and attention get sucked up with worrying about the budget. We can’t let all our energy get used up on worrying about the numbers and what’s going to happen next month or next year. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t make plans. But we don’t let making plans steal away all our energy from doing ministry and mission right now, right here, today.
Jesus said: “Strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Within our church, there are many ministries. There are ministries of music and preaching. There are sacramental ministries of baptism and holy communion. There are ministries of prayer and pastoral care. There are ministries of education. There are ministries of outreach and care for the poor. There are ministries of hospitality and fellowship. There are ministries of stewardship and administration. But there are no ministries of worrying.
As Jesus said, worrying cannot add a single hour to our span of life. Nor can worrying add a single dollar to our budget or a single person to our church community. What worrying does do is it immobilizes us.
Imagine the first disciples worrying about how they will survive out on the road with Jesus. What will they eat? What will they wear? Where will they sleep? What will they do if people don’t accept their message?
If Jesus’ disciples had gotten caught up in worrying, they probably would have decided to stay home and the good news of the kingdom of God coming to us in Jesus the Christ would never have been shared.
When we allow ourselves to get caught up in worrying something similar happens. We may not notice the impact of that immobilization right away. After all, we already have churches set up. We already have bibles printed and distributed in most of the languages of the world. We already have about 2 billion Christians worldwide.
But when we get worried, we start focussing in on ourselves, guarding our resources for the future, just in case… And when we get really worried, when all our energy starts to go towards worrying, it keeps us from doing the ministries that we are called to do.
Jesus does not call us to irresponsibility. But he does call us to be good stewards of the gifts with which God has blessed us. He says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
We must make doing God’s ministry and mission our first priority, rather than getting caught up in worrying about our needs. We must trust that God will provide for us as we give ourselves, our lives, our gifts, and our church for the sake of God’s mission in the world.
After all, we are striving to follow the way of Jesus, and that is the way that he lived. Jesus gave himself… his time, his care, his life for the sake of God’s mission in the world. He was not immobilized by worry or fear, but he stepped out in faith to share God’s love and risk the rejection and hatred and violence that came back at him.
Remembering Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before his arrest and crucifixion, we may be reminded of what he risked and what he gave so that he could love us to the very end.
And though for a time it may have appeared that his risk-taking was in vain… that hatred and violence had won out over love and self-giving… in the end, God’s love was more powerful than all the evil in the world. God raised Christ from death and gave him a place at God’s own right hand.
Jesus gave up his own self-interest, his own needs, his own power in order to put God’s purposes, God’s love, and God’s mission first. And all these things were given to him as well.
May God give us the courage and the love to follow Jesus’ way in our lives and in our church, that God’s kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.