Tuesday, 15 September 2015
Sermon September 13, 2015 Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity What, Me Worry
Do you remember Mad Magazine from the sixties and seventies? The character on the cover was usually Alfred E. Neuman who was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, at east in appearance. In my memory he appeared on the cover of every edition of the Magazine. He would often have words of “wisdom” when he appeared on the cover. These are a few of the pithy sayings:
• We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.
• You can be on the right track and still get hit by a train.
• In retrospect it becomes clear that hindsight is definitely overrated!
• Most people are so lazy; they don't even exercise good judgement!
Alfred was a bit of a clown in appearance. If you aren’t familiar with him, he was a rather gormless looking character with ears that stuck out, a missing front tooth, and hair that was never quite combed. He looked a bit like Alfalfa from the Our Gang Comedies of even longer ago. He might be considered rather a fool to look at him.
But like the classic fool in the king’s court he was able to speak the truth if you get below the surface appearance. The classical fool was there to keep the king from getting too high and mighty. He would remind the king that he wasn’t infallible. He was mortal and in the end he would have to answer to God.
Alfred E. Nueman’s tag line was, “What, me worry?” Now when he said this, you could easily dismiss it as being foolish. If Alfred didn’t worry it seemed it was because he didn’t quite get it. However, if we dig a bit deeper the truth in his statement is exactly what Jesus is telling us. “Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his or her stature”? Why are you anxious concerning your clothes? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin, yet Solomon in his glory was not arrayed as one of these.”
Worry and anxiety are the curse of the 21st Century. There is no shortage of things to worry about. As our society becomes more complex the number of things to worry about piles up until it is a mountain that is impossible to scale and conquer. Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences) Huffington Post had a headline last Sunday about high paying jobs that are low stress. Some of the jobs listed were fork-lift operator, lab-technician, tenured professors, librarians, tailors and jewelers. The reasons given for the low stress included job security, being able to set you own pace, and not having to deal with demands of co-workers. It is interesting that the things that cause stress are insecurity, and demands placed on you by others. However, there was no mention of jobs that provided fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment or even jobs that are meaningful.
We often think of the ancient times, the olden days as being idyllic and worry feel. Life was simpler so there were fewer things to worry about. However, as Jesus confirms, even in those simple times there were things to worry about. People were anxious about many things. From what Jesus said they were worried about their appearance i.e. what cloths they wore, or their appearance i.e. not tall enough, or having enough to eat.
There was also worry about not fulfilling the covenant and being isolated from the community. Anxiety and worry seem to be part of being conscious. Human beings have been given the gift of consciousness. We know that we are separate from the world. We are aware of the world and the possibilities for what lies ahead of us and the knowledge that we are going to die unlike the rest of creation. That awareness allows us to plan and come together to work cooperatively and to develop cultures. It also made us aware that there is a God and the need to worship God.
If anxiety and worry are a result of our being conscious, could not God have given us consciousness without anxiety? Now it may be that anxiety is an inevitable outcome of being conscious—you can’t have one without the other. However, it can also be that worry can be beneficial. If we worry about having security we can strive to be more secure. Our ancestors knew they had to protect themselves from wild animals and enemies. If we worry about disease we will make an effort to develop ways to protect ourselves against disease. If we had just accepted that we would die from different diseases scientists would not have striven to find cures. Ironically, people today seem to be eschewing vaccinations which have done wonders in protecting us from disease because of exaggerated worries that the vaccines themselves will cause harm. This is where worry can lead to negative results.
If we allow worry to control our lives then we are falling into a state that Jesus is warning against. If worry gives us the incentive to do something about what we are worried then it is a positive thing. However if we are worried about things about which we can do nothing then we are letting the anxiety take over our lives.
Jesus tells us to consider the lilies of the field; they neither toil nor spin. Jesus is not telling us that we do not need to strive to live full lives—to work and to harvest and to reap the benefits of our labour. He is telling us to have faith in God and to give those pointless worries over to Jesus.
We worry about the things in our lives we cannot see; and yet faith, according to St. Augustine, "is believing what you cannot see, and the reward of faith is seeing what you have believed in." If we believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Redeemer, then our hearts will not be troubled and we will be able, if not to give up our pointless anxieties, then at least help us to bear them. Jesus tells us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Thanks be to God. Amen.