Fearless Faith: I Am Going To Be Ok.
This sermon series is called Fearless Faith,
and we’re exploring through different lenses
why our Holy Scriptures keep telling us
not to fear
and particularly how we are prone
to struggle with that encouragement.
Last week we talked about love
and about how Love is, at the root of it,
an OPENING of the heart
to the care and the concern
and the wellbeing and the freedom of another.
We talked about how love is all about risk
and about how risk is scary
but we’re called to accept that risk
for the sake of those we love
like God does for each one of us.
Last week was all about those people we love
This week we’re going to look at ourselves,
and our fears and our anxieties about our own wellbeing.
And then we’ll explore
other realities of life that make all of this so complicated.
For now, in addition to the beautiful words of the twenty-third Psalm
we have for our reflection this passage from the Gospel of Matthew
where Jesus is teaching about worry.
I invite you to open your heart and your mind
to this reading of God’s word:
‘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?
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?
And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
And why do you worry about clothing?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow;
they neither toil nor spin,
yet I tell you,
even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
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?
Therefore do not worry,
saying, “What will we eat?”
or “What will we drink?”
or “What will we wear?”
For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things;
and indeed your heavenly Father knows
that you need all these things.
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.
‘So do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Today’s trouble is enough for today.
And may God bless to us our reading
and our understanding
and our applying of these words, to the way we live. Amen.
If you grew up in this country
anytime after 1952,
and especially if you were a boy,
you may remember reading Mad Magazine.
The magazine was certainly sarcastic, and irreverent.
It could be crude, and slightly risqué,
certainly by the standards of a few decades ago.
On the cover of almost every issue, there would be a picture
of Alfred E. Neuman, the mascot of the magazine.
Alfred had big ears, a missing front tooth,
and one eye lower than the other.
His wasn’t a particularly intelligent face.
The only thing on Alfred’s mind was, probably, mischief.
The motto that often accompanied Alfred’s portrait was: “What? Me Worry?”
Things could be crashing down around him,
but he was able to maintain his silly grin.
That was part of the joke.
He was the fool.
And the fool, he could maintain some comedic distance,
even with difficult or serious problems.
Life is filled with difficulties,
struggles and conflicts:
only a fool, in our circumstances, wouldn’t worry.
Now, Mad Magazine has parlayed this
into all sorts of satire and comedic gold over the years.
Movie characters—from Spock
Sports icons, like Barry Bonds.
You really didn’t want to be on the cover of Mad Magazine.
I’ve seen caricatures of the last two presidents
depicted as Alfred E. Neuman,
with the same “What? Me Worry?” Motto.
One a democrat, one a republican, both depicted as out of touch
with the realities of the economy, foreign policy, or social issues.
Its meant to be a bit of an insult.
If you aren’t worried, then something must be wrong with you.
That’s why some of us find Jesus’ words a bit difficult in this passage:
Do not worry about life,
what you will eat, or what you will drink
or about your body, or what you will wear
Is not life more than food,
and body more than clothing.
And in response, we say to Jesus:
Yes, of course, Jesus,
But, really, you don’t understand.
I have bills to pay.
Doctors and collectors and the government
all want money from me
and I’m struggling to put something aside for retirement.
I’m worried about my kids,
are they going to get into a good college
are they going to throw away wonderful opportunities
that I’m trying to give them
are they ever gonna get a job and move out?!
Now, as we’ve been seeing in this sermon series,
we string our worries together like they’re Christmas lights,
then all it takes is one good storm,
one tentative bulb to go out,
one little shock or scare or stumble
and we realize how precarious our existence is.
Our schedules, our plans, our efforts are turned upside down
and then we hear Jesus declare:
“therefore, do not worry,
saying what will we eat
or what will we drink or what will we wear”
Yeah, Jesus, but but really??
Now, this passage comes from a larger context,
a group of sayings or teachings of Jesus
known as the Sermon on the Mount
where Jesus went up on the mountain
and taught his disciples, saying
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted,
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth,
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst
for they will be filled,
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will receive mercy,
Blessed are the pure in heart
for they will see God
Blessed are the peacemakers
for they shall be called Children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted
for righteousness sake
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven…
Jesus spends his entire ministry
trying to show us what it means to be part of God’s Kingdom.
The Gospel of Matthew mentions the Kingdom of Heaven TWENTY-NINE times
again and again and again invites us into God’s realm
to live by God’s rules
to place God in the center of our lives
and to act and move and live like God really matters.
Now, Jesus does not suggest that life in God’s Kingdom will be without difficulty.
We hear that there are the poor in spirit,
there are those who mourn
there are those who are persecuted.
This is not pie in the sky stuff.
There is no opiate for the masses here.
This is not a problem free philosophy, akuna matada.
However, the difference is clear.
In God’s Kingdom, those who suffer will find healing
those who struggle, will find the strength to carry on
there is mercy for the one who seeks after God.
Since we live with the realities of pain and suffering,
and the life of faith isn’t really about being exempted from that
the question that comes to us is “why does Jesus tell us not to worry?”
No one can serve two masters, Jesus says,
for a servant will either hate one and love the other
or be devoted to one, and despise the other.
The problem of worry is ultimately about the problem of idolatry.
Instead of statues made of stone or medal,
we make idols of things, or people, or even ideologies.
In this passage, Jesus explicitly warns against making money an idol for us
“You cannot serve both God and Wealth.”
The problem with our idols is always the problem of scarcity:
if you put your hope and trust in wealth,
it will disappear.
Rust will consume metal
moths will eat through cloth
inflation will decimate your life savings
and a stock market crash will destroy investments.
IF you put your hope and trust in your health,
well, we can’t avoid the effects of adding miles on the ol’ odometer
and cancer or Alzheimer’s or heart disease
will take away the strength of our bodies or minds,
even for the most fit among us.
If we put our hope and trust in our spouse or partner or family or friends,
we know we can hit rocky spots and disappointments
as even the best among us fail.
Worry is when we realize that our idols will fail us.
Now, its one thing to articulate, out loud, the problems of life,
hence Jesus tells us: “blessed are the poor in spirit,
blessed are those who mourn,”
and so on and so on.
But its another thing entirely
to realize how much we depend on these idols that we make
and how much we know that they won’t work.
When we rub the lamp, and the genie will not come out.
The rabbits foot, well, no luck there.
Our money cannot buy happiness.
Our sidearm cannot ensure security.
Our Iphone will not guarantee our status.
Now we might not even consciously acknowledge these realities
but, deep down, inside
we know, we worry because we don’t trust our idols
and sometimes, since we muddle all of these things together
we’re not sure if we can trust God either.
I mean, these are big things, right here
these are what Paul Tillich once called “matters of ULTIMATE concern”
–how am I going to face my future?
–how am I going to pull myself together in the midst of
all these opposing forces within me?
–how am I going to face my mortality?
–how am I going to deal with losing the people I love?
–am I going to be ok?
The savior we look to doesn’t take these questions lightly.
Jesus doesn’t pretend that the power of positive thinking
or the actions of Going to Church and praying faithfully
take us to a magical land
where the realities of life no longer apply.
No, Rather than finding an escape from suffering,
Jesus himself took all of that suffering upon himself,
where Jesus understood the problems of this world
in the context of GOD’s Kingdom
Where God extends infinite mercy and grace to God’s people
Where God loves us so so so much, yes, us,
even as jumbled and scrambled as we are
and loves us from the beginning to the very end
Where God gives the Holy Spirit
to nudge us toward courage
to enliven possibility
to create relationships that help us
face each new day.
Where our Idols fail us,
God remains faithful.
Not even death is the end, Jesus’s life teaches us
and on this side of Easter, we learn that Love will always win
that the true God is on your side
that, unlike any other thing we might trust
to get us through life
God is actually the one thing
that you can truly rely on.
Now, maybe we’re back to where we started.
Does that mean that Alfred E. Neuman
should be the model for the Christian Life?
No, I don’t think so.
Do we stand by
with a silly grin on our face and declare
“What? Us Worry?”.
Alfred doesn’t worry because he has the ironic detachment of the fool.
But for us, those who seek to be inspired by this teacher from Nazareth
those of us who are trying to figure our, for ourselves,
what living a life of trust and love and grace and hope
kinda mean for our own lives
for the Christian, we don’t worry
because we know the greater reality of God’s kingdom
the realm of God unfolding all around us.
Alfred E Neuman
can only sit on the sidelines
grabbing a bucket of popcorn and making snide comments.
The person of faith,
you, and me,
well, we can join into the fray, so to speak,
and can actually make this world a better place.
The best that Alfred E Neuman can do is point out
hey, “the emperor has no clothes!”
The person who has been captivated by Jesus,
well, she can show the world what it means to be clothed by compassion
or to give a cloak and to go the extra mile.
The person of faith can understand that fear and worry
isn’t the final word,
because Jesus kept speaking after his last breath.
The invitation, to you, and to me,
is that truly, while nothing in this existence of ours is lasting
the care and compassion and the love of God is
and its yours
whether you think you’ve earned it or deserve it
or can handle it or not.
One contemporary theologian puts it this way:
“Courage isn’t the absence of fear.
Its just a decision that fear wont win.”
And I’ve seen it, with my own eyes,
when members of this Congregation have
been motivated by this awesome, amazing God of ours
to do a thousand acts of love
many of them unseen, unnoticed
volunteering and tutoring
feeding and healing
hammering and welcoming
for no other reason than because we see
all around us
the unfolding of the Kingdom of God.
When worry isn’t part of the picture,
or at least not the overriding part of the picture
we are freed, you know,
set free to actually get to work
When worry is understood in this way,
even when we grow frail
and our eyesight grows dim
and our body aches, oh how it aches
and our companions seem far away
we know—Surely, Goodness and Mercy shall follow
every day of our lives
and we dwell in God’s house, in God’s kingdom
our whole lives, forevermore.
We read that psalm, that twenty-third psalm
all the time at funerals,
and its good and right that we do
but it shouldn’t just be read there
it should be read anytime we struggle with worry
or just feel our bodies ache
or the weight of our schedules pressing in on us
and we pine for a break.
Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow.
God anoints our head with oil
Our cup runneth over, it overflows.
We’re never really alone, not with God.
We’re never really at risk, not in an ultimate sense, not with God.
Because, with God, all things are possible,
and in God’s Kingdom, all things are being made new.
Today we welcome some new friends to this journey of faith that we’re on together.
Membership in a church like the Kirk, we think and we believe
is a wonderful thing.
We treat everyone who comes here the same.
Being a member doesn’t convey any special grace
you don’t get an early number in line for heaven
you don’t get snacks any earlier during coffee hour either.
Being a member doesn’t even convey special obligations
we’re all called to the same service and care and compassion.
Joining a church, joining this church,
is more about celebrating what God is doing among us
knitting us into a family of followers
each one of us figuring out
what Jesus is doing in our lives and in the world
and seeking to make it our way too.
It is a commitment, at least for this season of our lives together
that we belong to something bigger than ourselves
and that we’re working to make this community
a reflection of God’s world.
It is kind of an audacious thing, really,
to look at the world and proclaim that worry or hardship won’t win
but that’s what churches do
and that’s what we do
since we make up the church, we ARE the church.
I’m convinced that the world needs places and people
who don’t just sit on the sidelines and laugh
but the world needs people who know
there is something more true than our worry
and, because of that, rolls up our sleeves
and helps EVERYONE know
that they are loved and cared for and safe
in God’s Kingdom.
May we celebrate our own place in God’s Kingdom
as we work to bring it about
through our love and our compassion and our service.
May it be so.
 The juxtaposition of the gospels with Mad Magazine is explored in part in a sermon by Daniel Bryant of First Christian Church, Eugene Oregon, entitled “The Gospel According to Alfred E. Neuman.” February 27, 2011. This sermon uses the idea in a different way, indebted in large part to a sermon of Rev. James Hobsben.
 Corey Nieuwhof, found on Facebook.
Image: Mosaic at First Presbyterian Church of North Kansas City, Missouri