The Shift 2: From Worry to Faith
Matthew 6:25-34, Psalm 37
Sunday, October 18, 2015
Let’s do a quick check in about how much you worry. On a scale of 1-10, how much of a worrier are you? Let’s say 1 or 2 means “Akuna Matata,” no worries, you are cruising along just fine. 3-5 means you worry to some degree, but it doesn’t hold you back from being happy, you rarely lose any sleep, but you do sometimes get caught up in worry. 6-8 means you feel some effects from worry-sleeplessness, some anxiety, you would like to be happier, and while parts of your life are good, you have one or two things that are causing significant worry. The high end of the scale means that worry and anxiety are really diminishing your life and you probably need some help and support getting through it. Just take a moment and think where you would put yourself. And also, write down the three top things you worry about, and no peaking. This is just for yourself.
I’m going to give you my number, as a case study, and then talk about three things in this scripture text that may help us figure out how to respond to worry, how to make the shift from worrying to faith and to feeling grounded.
I’m giving myself a 5 or 6. On most major worries, things are fine-good spouse, kids are all OK, love my job, like most of the world I would like to make 10 percent more (but who wouldn’t), but there is no wolf at the door, and I feel happy most of the time. My worries are mostly about getting things done, a never ending to-do list that feels like it could explode into an epidemic. Worry #2 is all about the future. Will income inequality create a wasteland without decent public services? Global warming, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, community breakdown and negative attitudes about the institutional church. It’s the Psalm 37 stuff, why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? For me, when the full to-do list collides with the world’s chaos and injustice, and its 3 AM, the worry can seem outsized. I’m Sleepless in Noho about 2-3 nights a month, more when nearing Christmas, Easter and the Annual Meeting. Worry is mostly about the future for me-will my best efforts, will the church, will humanity fall short to make a decent future?
I would like to feel more grounded, faithful, while facing that worry and anxiety. So what might Jesus say to us from this text? The whole sparrow and lily thing does not cut it for me. Nice poetry Jesus-but what about the bees, whose colonies are collapsing? Sparrows don’t inspire me, eagles yes, but sparrows don’t have to think about college tuition, retirement funds, and they have no idea Donald Trump could be our next President. Lilies make me nauseous. What I am missing here about sparrows and lilies? Is there some symbolism or ancient cultural meaning in the Bible?
It turns out that sparrows like to hang around humans because we give off a lot to eat, seeds and bugs. They are the most urban bird, so we know them. And in all cultures they are a symbol of insignificance. In Ancient Egyptian Heiroglephics, the sparrow glyph simple means small or unimportant. So a sparrow followed by a Pharoah is not what you want on your pyramid. Sparrows only play a small role in the Bible, mentioned twice in Matthew and Luke, and once in Psalm 84, always with the meaning of God caring about small things, and therefore will care about you.
So the sparrow fits with the Gospel theme of “the least of these,” God cares for those whom society sees as insignificant. Sparrows lives matter. Every time people try to wipe them out because they are seen as pests in large numbers, the result has been terrible. Bugs, like mosquitoes, proliferate and everyone wants the sparrows back. We probably could not stand to ever go outside if it were not for sparrows. Bugs would rule the world.
So the meaning for me is that God’s eye is on the sparrow, because God knows they matter. They may be the “behind the scenes” creatures doing the hard but necessary work that nobody notices or values. When I think sparrow, I think God knows our true value, not measured by wealth, power, or social status, but measured by faithfulness and soulfulness. How do sparrows help me make the shift from worry to faith? I worry less when I don’t value myself as society does, or compare myself to others, but try to see myself as God does, who knows why I matter.
What about lilies? It turns out that those sweet lilies of the field are most often fertility symbols. They are a flower that opens wide when they blossom, and have a large pistol in the middle, so I can see how that came about. Greek legend says the lily was created when drops of milk spilled from Hera’s breast as she nursed Hercules and lilies sprang from the spot on the ground. Lilies were often carved into the tops of so pillars of important buildings, and Solomon called his lover a lily among the thorns in the Song of Songs. We use lilies at Easter, so the pattern of the prolific Easter Bunny, Easter egg, spring fertility, it all is in the same vein. The other interesting myth about lilies comes from France and the legend of the origin of the Fleur de Les. (the symbol on the side of the New Orleans Saints helmet.) When Eve left the beautiful Garden of Eden, she wept as she saw the last glimpse of paradise, and lilies sprouted from where her tears dropped to the earth. So lilies are associated with a longing for fertility, longevity, passion, new life, return to paradise, return to the womb.
Think about these two myths about lilies. The beauty comes from the wasted drops of milk meant for a baby, from the tears over paradise lost. Work that does not produce, tears of remorse and loss, even these have beauty and meaning in the economy of God. Hope springs from the places the tears dropped, we thought they were wasted but they are actually seeds for what happens next. Let sorrow be sorrow but don’t worry, because in God’s timing all things contain meaning and possibility.
I like short, provocative wisdom sayings, like this one:
6:34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
(That even fits on Twitter, with 10 characters to spare. Jesus knew what he was doing!) When I worry, this verse has a great impact on my state of being. When I deal with todays’ problems, in the present moment, I am happier, more effective and grounded. At a weeks’ start, If I’m caught up in Wednesday’s worries, then Mondays’ maladies become Tuesdays’ tensions, making for a worse Wednesday since I am backtracking to Mondays’ madness. When I just deal with the person or situation or difficulty right in front of me in the present, I have fewer worries.
Here is a practical application of what Jesus is saying. This is how I tame my terrible to-do list. My to-do list is immortal, it will never die. I, however, am a mere mortal-a mortal being who requires 6-7 hours of sleep, a daily walk in the woods and breakfast with my wife. I pick six things every day which are the most important things to be done, my six pack, and when I complete them at the end of day, I reward myself. I say, well done Todd. Tomorrow-I know you are coming. I’ll be ready for you. Its not a perfect system, because some days I have to do 10 or 12 things, and I feel like I have no choice due to emergencies and crisis. The key is that at the end of the day you tell yourself, I did my service to today. Tomorrow, I will see you in the morning. This keeps me from worrying about the undone, because then I feel disempowered and I quit, and waste time, because what is the point anyway.
The big shift is to be in the moment, deal with today, and keep the focus on the most important things, and as you seek the things of the Kingdom of God, then let everything else fall into its place. Keep your eyes on the prize-love God and love neighbor
So to close today, lets go back to your worry number and list. I want to give you a moment to think, what can I do right away this week, even today, that could move my worry down just one number? If I can move from a 5 to a 4 on my personal worry scale, that can make my day. Here are the three options again of what you might do:
- Focus on today
- Value yourself as the sparrow, knowing that you matter and what you do is known to God
- Look for the lilies, the signs of hope in the midst of tears and futility, that show you a way forward.