By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
I have never met a worry I did not like. I am surprised I survived child-rearing. I was sure that when our daughter Mary was five and I could not find her at Marshall Field’s in Chicago, that she had been abducted. I was beside myself in the sheep barn at the Minnesota State Fair for the same reason. I never could get to sleep when Mary or Anne were out with their friends.
One of the worst times for me was after September 11th. I was in Florida with Mary who worked at Walt Disney World. The parks were shut down because they were considered terrorist targets. For the whole time that Mary worked there, I was sure she would be a terrorist victim—but so did we who were living in Fargo-Moorhead. Jim Olson, one of our good friends, built a safe room in their house—water, food, plastic sheets and duct tape. I do not know exactly why we thought that Fargo, North Dakota, was a prime target.
Another time of fretting was at our daughter Anne’s wedding. She gave me a “father of the bride” book so maybe I was typical—the emotions that fathers feel—loss of a daughter, aging, control issues, excitement but also some sadness—usually just come out as grumpiness. Now I tell couples whom I will marry that if they want the perfect wedding they should rent a video of the wedding of Prince William and Kate. I used to say rent that of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The ceremony is not as important as the wedding. But when it was my daughter—well, then I was not taking my own advice. It got so bad that Annie took my copy of Amy Vanderbilt’s etiquette book that I had received from my mother in 1965 and hid it away. I only got it back after the ceremony. No, I never met a worry I did not like.
Today’s Gospel could be speaking directly to me. Jesus said to his disciples, “Don’t be anxious for your life, what you will eat, nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing” (Luke 12:22-23 WEB). I remember I spent quite a lot of time fretting over the wedding dinner—filet mignon, walleye or squash ravioli—it was a Minnesota resort. Insisted on a soup course—cream of wild rice. Life is more than food.
Life is more than clothing. I was going to rent a tuxedo for the wedding because Anne told me that I would never wear one again. But when I tried on the “magic pants” it was horrible so I bought one. I have worn it since—once! Do not worry about clothing and food. God feeds the ravens. God clothes the lilies and grass of the field. Jesus’ reminder to his disciples is a good one for us—do not worry, do not be afraid.
The examples I have used are somewhat silly, I’ll admit. We often have deeper worries about our health or that of a loved one, about. We often have very serious things to worry about. Jesus knows we need food and clothing—the Gentiles would focus on such things but Jesus’ disciples should know better that what is more important is following the Lord. God promises to provide what we need—if God takes care of the birds and flowers, how much more will God provide daily bread for God’s people. And then we are reminded that worry is ineffective—“Which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his height?” (Luke 12:25 WEB). The word is cubit and a better translation is about height—we grow as tall as we grow and no amount of fretting will make us any taller. Will a life of worry make us any happier? Will anxiety add to our quality of life? One of my favorite Bible verses is from today’s Gospel: “Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32 WEB). Be not afraid.
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One of the words that Martin Luther used frequently in his writings, especially his earlier works, was the German word trotz “in spite of.” In spite of all the hardships he had experienced, in spite of the fear and anxiety of the period—fear for his life, anxiety over the fate of his followers and his reforming message, in spite of all these things, Luther was unshakably confident. He derived his power from his faith in God.
Luther often described his adversaries as sin, death and the power of the devil. It has been said that Albrecht Duerer’s famous engraving, “Knight, Death and the Devil,” clearly expressed the spirit of the Lutheran reformation and Luther’s courage and confidence in God. A knight in full armor is riding through a valley accompanied by the figure of death on one side and the devil on the other. Fearless, confident, the knight looks ahead. He is alone but not lonely. It is God’s power within him which allows him to ride on ahead. In spite of sin, death and the power of evil, the knight is confident, “in spite of.”
As the psalmist put it, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 WEB). There are things we may fear, but we remember that God promises never to leave us or forsake us. We do not need to be anxious. We have God’s promise, “Cast all your worries on (God), for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 WEB) and “In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6 WEB). Do not be afraid.
Our text continues with good advice against worry. Jesus said to the disciples, “Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33-34 WEB).
An American church leader visited another church leader in Poland and was invited to stay with him. When he went to his lodging, he noticed that it had few furnishings—a bed, a table and chair, and many books. The American visitor was astonished and asked his Polish counterpart, “Why don’t you have any furniture? The Polish leader asked him back, “Why don’t you have any with you?” “Because I am only a visitor here,” he answered. “So am I. We are only visitors on earth, our commonwealth is in heaven.”
We are only visitors here, my friends. We may live our threescore years and ten—seventy—or by reason of strength, fourscore—eighty. My father-in-law lived ninety-five years. Or our life may be much shorter. My mother died at forty-eight. But our time is limited and precious and soon gone.
I don’t know if the story about the church leaders really happened. It sounds like a sermon story to me. But it does illustrate Jesus’ solution to the problem of the anxiety and worry of his disciples. Jesus had just told the crowd about a rich man who had built new barns but his life was required of him. Then he told his disciples to be free of encumbrances that would weigh them down, burdens of daily life, that would cause much anxiety and rob them of their freedom for ministry. God knows we need food and clothing and things for daily living. God will provide what we need without our worry about it. Knowing God’s love in Jesus Christ, God’s promise of a kingdom prepared for God’s people, knowing that God will provide daily bread enough for the journey, knowing that God is with us always, we can be free of worry and care.
Now that’s a tall order for me. A few years ago, the father of my colleague, Pastor John Linn, came out for his son’s wedding. He was a pastor too, Pastor Hubert Linn. He said to me, “You’re a worrier aren’t you?” I suppose the elder Pastor Linn had read some of my sermons and guessed that I spent quite a bit of time and energy fretting and worrying. He did confess that he was a worrier too.
New genetic studies are confirming that people are either worriers or warriors and that they are born that way. They can manage their anxiety or tone down their confidence to meet circumstances but really cannot change their natural reactions. I know that I will face worry all my life. So I am preaching to myself this morning—Do not be afraid. Do not be anxious. Stop worrying and let God take care of you. Claim God’s promises. Look forward to God’s kingdom and experience God’s love in the present. Let God take care of you. Fear not. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2014, James D. Kegel. Used by permission