I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it was taught, and if not, how shall I correct it? Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better? Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless. Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia? Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning and sang.[I]
The poem that I just shared, entitled I worried by Mary Oliver, is a wonderful introduction to our subject today: worry. Like I said before, we all worry. We worry about the things in our lives we cannot see and things of the world that we cannot control; and yet, “Faith,” according to St. Augustine, “…is believing what you cannot see, and the reward of faith is seeing what you have believed”.[ii]
And in our text for today Jesus seems to be “piling on.” Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will wear, he says, but instead, seek fist the Kingdom of God. Yah. Right. Good luck with that. If a person is hungry, you can bet they’ll be worrying about where their next meal will come from and if a person is naked, I can guarantee you that they’ll worry about finding some clothes. That only makes sense. So, I don’t think that’s what Jesus is driving at here. I think his message runs a little deeper.
Now, one way to unearth this deeper message is to read the text from a different perspective. I love the way Eugene Peterson presents this passage. He says, “What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. [God] wants to give you the very kingdom itself.[iii]
God-reality. God-initiative. God-provision. Reality. Initiative. Provision. What a wonderful alternative to worry. I mean, we often drive our selves almost insane with worry about things over which we have very little or no control. But what if we could find a balance between a sane amount of worry and thinking about and acting upon the things, we can have influence over? That’s reality. Right? There are real problems in our lives and in the world about which we can make a difference if we take the initiative to do so. Do you see what I’m getting at here? If we realize that God has given us the provision, (and by provision I mean the means) to take action, to advocate for justice, to dialogue about peace, to accept our calling to be sharers of the good news by sharing the love and the grace and the compassion of God in the world; then, we can transform our sense worry, our anxiety, our mode of panic into a mode of urgency.
Which, of course, begs the question: What’s the difference between panic and urgency? Well, panic is a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behavior, and that often spreads quickly through a group of persons. We have all seen what panic looks like. Panic has no sense of purpose. Panic makes us run away from the problem. Panic gives a sense of hopelessness. Panic says there is no way out. For example, if I’m claustrophobic. When I feel trapped, I panic.
On the other hand, a sense of urgency is different. John Kotter, a Harvard professor, stated that true urgency may sometimes involve moving fast. But the most important aspects of true urgency are relentlessness, steadiness and the purposeful pursuit of a goal while “…continuously purging irrelevant activities to provide time for the important.”[iv]
And that gets to the very heart of Jesus’ message to us today. We must be relentless and purposeful in purging irrelevant worry to provide the time for what’s urgent.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Climate change is urgent! But if we panic and crawl into a hole somewhere and make ourselves sick with worry; or if we deny that it’s even happening and that our human centeredness is causing it; or if we throw up our hand and say, there’s nothing I can do about it; then we’ve lost. These responses to the on-going climate crisis are finally acts of hopelessness.
But there is hope. Jesus says, “All of the nations of the world long for these things.” He’s talking about food and clothes of course, but we can expand this thought to include clean water and clean air, a diverse habitat for all of God’s creatures, billions of new broad-leaf trees that will produce more oxygen and absorb more carbon dioxide. There is hope! And we can propagate this hope if we’re accountable to the future rather than the present. We can be this hope if we would choose to make every important decision, (politically, communally, and personally) with the next seven generations in mind. There is hope! If we, as a people, can reduce our preoccupation with getting stuff, and instead, respond to God’s giving by being generous to the earth and those who live upon it, then we will, as Jesus said, get the “very kingdom itself.” There is hope!
Do you see how this text encourages us to look past our worry and put away our panic? Do you see how it can help us to take on an urgent situation, any situation, personal or global, by calmly envisioning a solution? Worrying, excessive worrying anyway, prevents us from taking the initiative and using the tools that God has provided.
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it was taught, and if not, how shall I correct it? Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better? Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless. Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia? Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning and sang.[v]
My friends, may we go out into the morning of this new day and sing a song of faith, a song of God’s provision, a song … of hope.
[i] Mary Oliver. I Worried (lakesidemusing.blogspot.com) 2011
[iii] Eugene Peterson The Message (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005) pg.1608
[v] Ibid. Oliver