Gratitude Season #2
Elizabeth M. Deibert
There’s a lot to worry about and both presidential candidates have been working hard to make us think that electing the other one will be a catastrophic disaster, as if one person, even the President of the United States, could bring us to ruin or correct the ruin all by himself. Listening to the debates tends to build fear, not faith, but I keep listening because it seems the responsible thing for an informed voter to do.
There’s a lot to worry about in the church too. I read this week that the nones – are on the rise. I’m not talking about women living in covents, but the people who mark “none” on religious affiliation. The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling. In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%)those. It used to be easier to help churches grow than it is now.
There’s a lot to worry about and sometimes we even add worry to things that needed no worry, because worry tends to spill out over everything. I read some church bloopers this week that one of you sent me this week and my favorite one was this: Don't let worry kill you - let the Church help.
In hospitals and homes, in church meetings, over the phone, the internet and over coffee, I have heard these worrisome things in the last ten days : unexpected cancer diagnoses, heart disease, unsettled divorce issues, worries over lost jobs, academic pressures that kill the spirit, the death of dreams, minor surgeries that become major or repeated, the pressured need to move not knowing where, physical problems that have no good solution, close friends who die, concern over young children, relationship problems with adult children, people leaving the church in search of another. (slide)
Today’s text is not the lectionary reading for today. I chose it because the Spirit of God told my spirit that we were worrying too much about everything. I sensed a good deal of anxiety around here, for real reasons, understandable reasons. I’ve worried a lot myself, but we are people who trust in God. To be people of faith, we must keep our anxieties in check. I saw this pithy line somewhere: If you have time to worry, then you are not spending enough time in prayer, and at the women’s prayer group yesterday we prayed Reinhold Neibuhr’s serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
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. 34 "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today. (NRSV)
Sometimes when Gia knows I worrying, she’ll start playing something she knows will make me sing and singing helps: Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion – a constant friend is he. His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me. I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free, for his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.
The grand Illusion of our times is financial security: Everybody wants it, nobody gets it. It is like the horizon - the more eagerly you approach it, the faster it recedes. You say that you would be happy if only you could attain financial security, if only you never needed to worry about bills or taxes. And so you try to earn all you can and to put aside all you can for tomorrow. That secure tomorrow never arrives. What comes instead? Inflation, financial bubble, recession, bank failures, crime, illness, environmental disasters, war, layoffs, takeovers, joblessness, forced retirement. The harder you try for financial security, the less secure you are! (slide) As J Paul Getty, the richest man of the 1960’s said, when someone asked him, “how much is enough?” he said “just a little more.”
A 2010 Princeton study of personal economics as related to happiness showed that about $75,000/year is enough for the average family. Another $25,000 or even another $100,000 will make you richer but not happier.
Actually, people become less content as they increase toward living with the six digit figure, and some of us are on the far side of this overconsumption curve. Pressures increase with more disposable wealth. Anxiety increases. What we need is just enough to live on, to pay for basic necessities and a little to spend on pleasures. But I promised that I would not talk about money so much every week of gratitude season, so let’s shift back to the issue of worry, which is the heart of the matter.
It is really about trusting God and believing God will not let you down, when you live according to God’s design, when you put God first. If our trust is expressed as obedience, then we will not worry unduly about food, shelter, and clothing.
As we take care of the things God cares about – justice, kindness, mercy toward all people, especially those in need, God will take care of our real needs and our trust will deepen, as we practice trusting. (last two paragraphs adapted from John Purdy, God with a Human Face, 1993)
(slide) A person once met with their pastor for counseling and after meeting many times and listening to much concern expressed by the parishioner, the pastor said, “You know, I think maybe you are worried about too many things. Remember that Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow – what you will eat, what you will wear, how you will pay your bills, who will be elected president and what will happen to the economy.” The pastor went on to explain that excessive anxiety was bad for the health and did not solve any of the problems. The parishioner said, “Well, I know for a fact that my worrying has helped. Because 9 out of the 10 things I worried about this week about never actually happened.” 1 Peter 5:7 says, Give all your worries and cares to God, because God cares for you.” Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding.” Philippians 4: 6 says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Sometimes we just have to step back and remember that God is in charge. Our loving God is sovereign over all the earth, then we can whistle along through life with Bobby McFerrin, singing “Don’t worry. Be Happy.” (watch music video on youtube.com)
Released in September 1988, Don’t Worry; Be Happy became the first a capella song to reach number one on the charts, a position it held for two weeks. Ironically, the celebrity status it created for McFerrin made it harder for him to not worry. (slide)
One way to alleviate worry is to count your blessings, so let’s take our gift cards and add five more to the gifts we named last week. Today I will ask the children to come during the offering time to collect your gift cards.
God has so richly blessed us with gifts. So let us now sing a grateful hymn of praise.