October 7, 2012

Matthew 6:25-33

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.

The land lord say your rent is late.
He may have to litigate.
Don’t worry. Be happy.

Ain’t got no place to lay your head.
Somebody came and took your bed.
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 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, last spring St. Andrew’s was asked by the Camp Christopher Committee if we could provide some extra funding for camp shirts for every child and youth that would attend camp this summer. When our Session received the request, most of us thought that it was a pretty good idea. For about $10 each, we could provide a camp shirt for every child, ensuring that those whose families wouldn’t have extra money for buying shirts would get one as well, and providing some great advertising for the camp during the year whenever the kids wore their camp shirts.

We agreed that this would be a good thing for St. Andrew’s to do as an additional part of our mission. But rather than simply writing a cheque and trusting that the money would come from somewhere, we invited folks to make special donations for the shirts. There was a wonderful response to the request, generous donations were made, and with our gifts the camp was able to provide camp shirts for every child and youth this summer.

Now, I’m not criticizing the Session and their decision to invite special donations for this project rather than to commit to the full amount and take the risk as to whether enough donations would come in. 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.

There are many congregations, both in the Presbyterian Church in Canada and in other Christian denominations, that are struggling with the risks associated with continuing their ministry and mission. When congregations are rapidly aging and simultaneously shrinking in size there often comes a time when meeting an ever-increasing budget with a smaller group of supporters becomes almost impossible.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday today, we might want to pause and give thanks for the fact that our congregation is not in that position, even as we continue to pray for those congregations in our denomination and others that are facing difficult decisions about how best to serve God and their communities with the limited resources that they have.

But Jesus’ message for his first disciples, for struggling congregations, 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. As one person commented during a bible study on this text earlier this week, 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 own 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 that 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