Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Don’t Worry – Be Grateful”
Matthew 6: 24-34, November 22nd, 2015
Isn’t it amazing? I mean Thursday really will be Thanksgiving, and Friday is really the start of the Holiday shopping event that happens every year. And yes, we really do need to hang the greens today! Put up our Advent wreath and place the four candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, and put the Christ candle in the center. Oh my goodness, this means that Christmas is just 32 days from today! My head is already spinning as I think about all that needs to get done! Isn’t yours? Somebody needs to put together a turkey dinner with all the fixings for Thursday; they do don’t they? And shopping, good golly, I haven’t even started putting together a list. What shall I buy and who belongs on the list? What store has the best bargains? Then of course, there is our Christmas Eve service to be planned and there are Advent sermons and liturgists to be picked, a Christmas play to be organized and practiced, and the list goes on and on! Of course, I am not worried about any of this, are you?
Everyone tells us not to worry, even our scripture lesson today tells us to not 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.” /verse 25a/ I mean like, really, like seriously? Surely, you must agree, Jesus has pushed the limits on this one. Of course we need to worry! I worry you will miss my sarcasm in my opening remarks today. One theologian, a man named David Lose has this to say. “Do not worry? You’ve got to be kidding. Most days, life feels like one worry strung after another like lights on a … Christmas tree.” /David Lose/ Thanks for the optimistic pep talk David Lose! I am sure, of course that no one is at all worried about all the decorations that need to be set out, trees to be trimmed, and manger scenes and displays to be arranges. Do not worry!? Of course we can get it all done!
This is a good time to turn to Jesus. And Jesus said: “Look 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?” /verwse26/ Of course we must assume that if God is tending to the birds of the air, than most certainly God is caring for our human needs! We are figuratively, in God’s hands! As Fr. Rick Moley puts it “And, if we are in God’s hands, what do we really have to worry about?” It’s all about trust actually. If we trust someone to put together a plan for decorating the church and setting up the manger and our Advent wreath, than we have nothing to worry about. Especially since everyone here will help out, at least in some small way. Likewise, if we put our trust in God, through Christ, than we have nothing to worry about.
Our annual Thanksgiving holiday, in the beginning, starting with that first celebration that the earliest settlers put together; it was all about rejoicing over the fruits of their initial yearly harvest, having trusted God to take care of the seeds in the ground and the nourishment from the sun and the rains. This is all true, but let us be clear about one fact in American history: without the help from, and their willingness to trust in, Native Americans, those early settlers would not have had that first Thanksgiving feast; and they knew this, therefore they invited their Native American neighbors, all of them, too party with them! Those Native Americans assisted them in several ways, starting with teaching them how to plant corn and other vegetables, while showing them how to till and fertilize the soil, thereby ensuring the seedlings were properly nourished as the crops grew to maturity. Furthermore, Native Americans taught those early Pilgrims how to fish from the streams and lakes, thus filling their starving stomachs and helping them to learn how to live off the land. Yes, they owed these folks, and God, a world of thanks!
Whereas, Christmas is our annual observance of the birth of the Christ Child, God’s coming to us in the flesh, God incarnate. The Reverend John C. Purdy, is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, he expressed his thoughts on this topic in this manner: “If our trust is expressed … then we will not worry unduly about food, shelter, and clothing.” In like manner, if God had not chosen to come to us, living amongst as in human form, Christmas would not be something to celebrate. Our Christmas celebration, like our Thanksgiving celebration, is a response to a gift that came to us; they are both something we must honor and give tribute to and rejoice in, and ultimately: be grateful for!
God is good – all the time! God is love – unconditionally. God is faithful and trustworthy – this is worthy of our praise and gratitude!
No, my life, our lives, are not worry free. Yet, we are being gently pushed, prodded and directed, to trust in God more: more often, more freely, and more completely! The evidence of God’s love for humanity far exceeds God’s love for Mother Nature. All we need do is come into alignment with the will, the very desire of God. By attuning ourselves to the wishes of God, then things such as worry, concerns and apprehensions about what is happening around us, and what will happen next – shall begin to lose their grip on our day to day lives. When we do this – we shall be able to release the ‘control’ that ‘expectations’ have had on our lives. We no longer need to allow unrealistic and unfounded expectations to hold us back – from a ‘full and fruitful’ God centered life. Our hopes and prospects for the future, and the future of our children and our children’s children will grow and prosper: if we take the right attitude.
Jesus goes on to say to those whom are willing to listen: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” /verse 34/ Jesus has set the tone for today’s lesson. We can likewise set the tone for a right attitude as we live into this day, today. Always remember: with the right mindset, the future is ours to plan. With the right outlook, our tomorrows will become joy filled memories. With the right point of view, today is ours to fully live! Jesus has offered us the opportunity to look to our lives, with gratitude in our hearts.
Here are some short saying that might help you get the point of gratitude. Doris Day once said: “Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.” Albert Einstein was heard to say “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” An American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson tells us that there are “Two kinds of gratitude: the sudden kind – we feel for what we take; the larger kind – we feel for what we give.” Truly food for thought. William Arthur Ward, an American writer provides us with this insight: “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” His words suggest we can turn everyday into Thanksgiving Day.
Albert Schweitzer, theologian, organist, philosopher, physician, and medical missionary in Africa, and on the list of recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize; this man was quite the thinker, as well as a doer. One such though encompassed the rekindling of light. “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
There are a multitude of sayings revolving around gratitude. Listen to just a few. Wallace Wattles, another American writer, wrote “Many people who order their lives rightly in all other ways are kept in poverty by their lack of gratitude.” Epictetus (ɛpɪkˈtiːtəs) a Greek speaking philosopher, born a slave and banished from Rome landing in Greece, wrote of wisdom. “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” An unknown author tells us “Blessed are those that can give without remembering and receive without forgetting.”
Meister Eckhart, was a philosopher and mystic, during the Fourteenth Century; this German theologian puts his thought across in a short but clear sentence. “If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you: that would suffice.” This last quote only takes a second, given to us by one of Americas’ most quoted authors of the Twentieth Century, William A. Ward. “God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say “thank you?” No wonder he was so popular: he says it like it is, and asks deep probing questions, holding us fully accountable for actively responding to another’s gift with a simple act of gratitude.
As we move away from our worries, allowing ourselves to trust God more fully, let us allow our minds to move into the hearts of those who walked this pathway… long before the Pilgrims that first formed the early colonies which began the history of these United States.
The Palmist of old wrote, and the early tribes sang these beautiful words. Bob Baggott, Pastor at Community Church of Vero Beach, said to his Bible study class this week: just imagine being at the temple in Jerusalem, even back before the birth of Christ, to worship. Imagine stepping into the temple grounds and hearing a crowd of worshippers praising God as they raised their voices in song. Just imagine that the place where they stood would fill seven football fields! Imagine how your heart would soar, as if ascending to heaven, as you heard Psalm 100 song by such a crowd.
(Psalm 100) Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
As we begin to move toward our annual feast, a feast of Thanksgiving, let us be thankful as we put our trust in God. As we do so, let us remember always, that a feeling is simply an emotion, whereas being is an action; thus feeling grateful is not the same as being grateful! If we are truly thankful, we will have made a real effort to set our worries aside, at least for now. If we are really grateful – we will show this with our gracious and giving attitude of gratitude, in all areas of our lives!
“Let us now open our ears, as-well-as our hearts, as we listen now to these words from the New Testament, the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter:6, verses: 24-34”
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?
26 Look 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?
27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,
29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
30 But 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?
31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’
32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
“Allow God to move us to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of these ancient writings.”