“One Day with the Lord”
By The Rev. Dr. Andrew Stirling
Sunday, September 19, 2021
Reading: Matthew 6:25-34
Worry. It is a word that you hear an awful lot these days. Worry about people demonstrating outside hospitals; worry about people dying within them. Worry about the future of our governments; worry about what COVID will do to us going forward. Worry for our children and the vulnerable; worry about seniors and their wellbeing. Worry about the state of the world. Worry – you hear it a lot.
In the light of that, I’ve been thinking about two things I read this past summer that went to the very heart of my soul. The first was an article by Sadaf Ahsan in the National Post. In it, she basically said it’s okay to pursue mediocrity. I immediately paid attention, because I'm good at mediocrity, so I thought, “Okay, it’s okay to be mediocre.” But then I read on, and it was a spell-binding essay about writer Rainesford Stauffer. She outlined two important things: The first is the enormous pressure that young people feel to be exceptional, to stand out, worried about whether they’re rising above the challenges of their day.
The article goes on to say the following: “If you're a young adult today, or you even know a young adult today, it’s a challenge not to feel as though finding yourself has been turned into a competitive sport. Now, it seems striving to be extraordinary, being exceptional, and being special, are the same as being capable, being fulfilled and being happy.”
Ahsan quotes Stauffer again, and this is the important part. “We’re also in an all-new age of anxiety that’s taking no prisoners. I know I'm not the only one who was continuously told to get productive during the last year and a half, while barely being able to get out of bed on most days. And nothing makes you feel lazier that seeing Osaka [the tennis player] nail another competition at only twenty-three years old.”
She wrote that, by the way, before an eighteen-year-old won the US Open. “But that’s exactly the issue,” posits Stauffer, “so many of these things are what we’ve been told to want and strive for, which then has us tying our sense of selves to our achievements. And that has become an unhealthy distraction and dilution of the good of our present lives.”
That’s the pressure that young people feel: To be extraordinary, to stand out, to do something exceptional and it’s driving them, in many ways, to feeling inadequate. The article says, “It’s okay to be mediocre.” That’s Stauffer’s solution. Not sure I want to end there, but it tells you the sense of worry out there.
The second thing I read was a blog by one of my former professors at the University of Cape Town, John DeGruchy, who was, particularly during the apartheid era, the most prominent theological voice against racial discrimination. He singularly, of all the theologians that I’ve studied with, has had the greatest impact on my own personal life. I read his blogs and I take notice. A couple of weeks ago, his blog was on our text this morning, “Do Not Worry.” In it, he goes to great lengths to show that we must not worry about tomorrow, but rather, we must take responsibility for the worries and the things that challenge us today. Not to get caught up in what might be down the road, or what might take place, but rather to be caught up in the words of Jesus, “Do not worry about tomorrow… Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
As I listened to the voice of my former professor come from that blog, I couldn’t help but think how his words are prophetic, and how the Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to and addresses the worries of our age, particularly our worries about tomorrow. I’ve thought about how many times in my own life, I have found myself worrying about tomorrow for no reason and no purpose.
I remember, over twenty-three years ago, coming to be interviewed by Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. It was a massive group of people you had on your search committee. It was like the Inquisition. I remember going to a home in Inglewood and climbing the steps and being greeted by a very charming gentleman, who is here this morning, and who greeted me with warmth and kindness, led me in like what I thought was a sheep to be slaughtered. After an exhausting period, I walked down the steps, I had been terrified. This place has an awesome reputation and I felt inadequate and mediocre. But did I need to worry? Twenty-three years later, I think I can stop worrying. Although I must admit, I do worry about tomorrow for myself.
I’ll be honest with you, this is a new position I'm walking into, and I feel very inadequate for the task. Again, I have no idea what tomorrow will bring or what the next few months or years will bring, but I have learned something and it’s DeGruchy’s word to us, that this passage today is Gospel, it’s good news. Right now, your minds might be racing, wondering, “What are we going to do as a church tomorrow? What is our future going to be like tomorrow?” Let’s listen to what Jesus has to say to us, shall we? Because Jesus’ argument, “Do not worry about tomorrow,” is grounded in some very interesting arguments that he makes in this passage. So, let’s get biblical now for a moment.
Jesus makes an argument that we should not worry about tomorrow, and his argument is based on a new appreciation of time. Remember, Jesus, in these words, is talking to his disciples. It’s part of the great Sermon on the Mount, where we get the glorious beatitudes and these wonderful teachings. Jesus refers to the disciples in all of this as “My little faiths”. It’s actually a term of endearment, but I'm not sure it made them feel so good. “My little faiths,” he said, “do not worry about tomorrow.”
Yet, when you really think about it, even for Jesus himself, there were a lot of things to worry about. John DeGruchy makes this point abundantly clear in his blog, and I want to quote him. He says”
So why does Jesus tell us not to worry? Is Jesus a wishful thinker, a misguided idealist living in a different universe? Not at all. Jesus had plenty of reason to worry. He worried about women and the poor and how they were treated, he worried about the way in which the temple was abused; he worried about the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees, and in Gethsemane, he was in anguish as he anticipated his own death. So what did Jesus mean when he said, “Do not worry”? Well, of course, he did not say, “Do not worry,” on its own. He said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” In other words, we have enough to worry about today. There is more than enough to disturb our peace and make us feel uncomfortable right now, so let’s deal with today’s worries, because if we worried more about today’s trouble, we would worry less about what might happen in the future.
Jesus then shifts the emphasis of time. Concentrate on the present. What does Alcoholics Anonymous say? “Live one day at a time.” Jesus was not being some sort of pie in the sky when you die idealist; he knew there were worries, but he wanted the disciples to fix on the challenges in front of them, and not worry about tomorrow.
The problem is that when we get caught up in the spirit of the age, with the striving for materialism or exceptionalism, when we, as Dallas Willard said, “have already decided we’re going to trust in Mammon” in the god of this world, we have fixed our fate. We worry about things that are incidental, about being driven, about succeeding, about inquiring, about the things of this world that pass away, and when we do that, we don’t just worry about today, we worry about tomorrow. And when you worry about tomorrow, you lose today.
How many people – let’s be honest now – lose sleep in their lives because they're worried about tomorrow, only to find that it’s a whole lot harder to handle tomorrow’s problems when you're fuzzy-headed, and you haven’t slept well. You’ve lost today for tomorrow, a tomorrow you're not prepared for. Why do we do that? Because we’re overly concerned with the things that do not matter.
Jesus is also very funny; people don’t realise this. There’s humour in this text. This was pointed out by a friend of mine who’s an eminent preacher in North Carolina. He says, “My gosh, Jesus has a sense of humour; who can add one cubit of height to themselves by worrying about tomorrow?” Who can add eighteen point two five inches to themselves by worrying about tomorrow? I don’t worry about 18.25, I worry about hair follicles. I’d like a few more. But seriously, we worry about things that are incidental and unlikely to happen. You're not going to grow 18.25 inches by worrying. Jesus wants his disciples to focus on the now, on today.
Very recently I sat on a bench with a friend of mine who announced to me that he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. At best, he had six months to live, maybe stretching a bit more, and he wanted to know what he should do. We talked about faith and putting ourselves in God’s hands, and we talked for a moment about eternity and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But then some practical advice came to me from this passage. I said to him, “Look, you may not know what your future brings – and you don’t. But deal with the things that matter now, and don’t delay. Phone your daughter and son, reach out again in love to your grandchild, take care of your family. Renew your relationships with your friends. Put things in a right order now. Don’t wait, do it now.”
A week later, he died. Not six months, six days. Do not worry about tomorrow, take care of today.
Jesus also suggests that we can look at nature as a sign of God, the Creator’s love. He says, “Look at the birds of the air; does not God take care of them? Look at them, they do not worry about tomorrow, they do not worry or are anxious about what is to come next.” They feed themselves now, they take care of what is immediately in front of them. If they need to migrate, they migrate at the right time. Look at the birds of the air, are they sitting there worrying about tomorrow? No.
We’re even told by dog psychologists that dogs don’t worry about tomorrow. As I'm finding out with my puppy, he lives very much for the day and the moment. He doesn’t know that tomorrow he’s going to get a vaccination needle in his neck, but we give him a vaccination because we love him, by the way, just want to make that point. He doesn’t know that; he sees a bowl of food in front of him and he eats it. He goes to bed, and he sleeps. He doesn’t think, “Well, tomorrow it’s going to be a visit to the veterinarian.” He lives in the now, in the present.
Jesus said, “Look at nature; we do not add one day to our lives by worrying. Look at the lilies of the field, look how beautiful they are; they're as grand as Solomon in his greatest empire.” As the Queen of Sheba said in 1 Kings 10:4, the glory of Solomon is unbelievable and overwhelming. Look at the lilies then and how beautiful they are. In Palestine a lily would often bloom for a day and then the roots would be burnt. Only one day to shine, one day, but look how beautiful those lilies are, how glorious.
I think Jesus also wants us to refocus ourselves. When I look at that article in the National Post, there are two things that are missing: the first is, there is no sense of a transcendent being, a God who looks after us. None. Just be mediocre and feel good about yourself and don’t worry about the anxieties and the pressures – that was the bottom line. The second thing that was missing was any reference to others. It was all self-centred, coming to terms with yourself, but not coming to terms with other people, with the needs of our society
That, I believe, is one of the great problems that we have today. Not only do we forget that there is a God who takes care of the lilies and the birds of the air and loves us but also that we have a responsibility for others.
This is where DeGruchy hits hard. He says the following in his blog: “If we worked now to achieve justice today, if we worked today to save the planet, if we worked now to eradicate poverty, we would have fewer fears about the future. Today is the day we must struggle against evil if we do not want to worry about tomorrow.”
Jesus’ words do not mean that we must not worry, but that we dare not postpone our efforts to seek justice, do good, love our neighbour, care for those in need, support a friend who is unemployed, encourage a child who is struggling with school, standing by someone who is grieving – none of this can wait till tomorrow. Jesus is telling us – and hear his influence by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who you’ve heard a lot about over twenty-three years, right?) “Be careful,” says Paul, “how you live. Not as unwise people, but as wise, making the most of the time, and do so precisely, because the days are evil.” Take care of each other today.
At the heart of all of that, superseding it, being a word that transcends everything, Jesus says these immortal words: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” Reset your focus, seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. That’s how you deal with worry. You deal with worry by both addressing the issues that are right here in front of us now, but also pursuing, seeking after God’s righteousness and God’s justice, to seek after none other than God Himself.
There is one last thing, and if there’s anything I can ever leave you with, if there is any legacy that I have – and I’ve still got some more sermons for you to endure – it is this. It came to me many years ago in a chapel service at Rhodes University in South Africa. During the darkest days of apartheid, our school was beset by incredible troubles, divisions. There were riots and poverty and racism all around us, and everyone was worried. In a chapel service the Reverend Doctor Calvin Cooke, the principal, supported by Methodist minister, Donald Cragg, led us in a worship service built around the phrase: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
Here amid this turmoil, we had heard gunshots, young black people had been arrested. The streets were on fire. In the midst of this there was this voice of calm: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all other things will be added unto you.” And it rested on me like the dove of the Holy Spirit.
If ever there was a moment in my life where I was anxious, it was then for I had no idea about what the tomorrow would bring. But that has lingered with me, as has what my father and mother wrote in the ordination Bible they gave me: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all other things will be added unto you.” Even more importantly, and this has stayed with me all my ministry, we must remember who said these words. After all, as Calvin Cook pointed out, Jesus gave his life on the cross for the sake of us all and as the Risen Lord, shows that we have no need to worry. This fact should be our inspiration, this is the One on whom we cast our lives daily Do not worry about tomorrow because Jesus Christ is Lord!