Psalm 104 (Selected Verses) and Matthew 6:25-34
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
Let my whole being bless the Lord!
Lord my God, how fantastic you are!
You are clothed in glory and grandeur!
2 You wear light like a robe;
you open the skies like a curtain.
3 You build your lofty house on the waters;
you make the clouds your chariot,
going around on the wings of the wind.
10 You put gushing springs into dry riverbeds.
They flow between the mountains,
11 providing water for every wild animal—
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 Overhead, the birds in the sky make their home,
chirping loudly in the trees.
13 From your lofty house, you water the mountains.
The earth is filled full by the fruit of what you’ve done.
14 You make grass grow for cattle;
you make plants for human farming
in order to get food from the ground,
15 and wine, which cheers people’s hearts,
along with oil, which makes the face shine,
and bread, which sustains the human heart.
16 The Lord’s trees are well watered—
the cedars of Lebanon, which God planted,
17 where the birds make their nests,
where the stork has a home in the cypresses.
31 Let the Lord’s glory last forever!
Let the Lord rejoice in all he has made!
(Psalm 104 [selected verses] – CEB)
25 “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are?
27 “Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. 29 But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 30 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith?
31 “Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’32 Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34 – CEB)
Last week, we heard John’s Jesus telling the disciples not to let the world rattle them. This week, we’re listening to Matthew’s Jesus say a similar thing, but to a very different audience in a very different context.
Back in John, Jesus tries to assure his disciples at the very end of his ministry. In Matthew, Jesus is giving his sermon on the mount to the crowds right at the beginning of that ministry.
In John, Jesus has just told his disciples a lot of disturbing stuff about what’s going to happen in the next few days. In Matthew, Jesus has just told the crowds what makes for true blessedness. Then, he basically re-writes key points in the law by saying, for instance, You’ve been taught to love your friends and hate your enemies. And I say, love and pray for even those enemies. Only that will bless you both.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus isn’t preparing his listeners for his absence. He’s preparing them for living a life that doesn’t look like the grasping and fearful lives of those who are privileged and powerful. Those who have more than their share almost inevitably end up, like the hideous Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, worshiping and guarding their possessions because they’re terrified of losing any part of them. Instead, Jesus is preparing the people for a simple life of gratitude, generosity, and joy. And while that’s wonderful, the simple life requires trust—and lots of it. And the kind of trust that leads to and nurtures faith in the goodness and grace of God, begins with a basic awareness of God at work in the Creation.
Look at the birds, says Jesus. Look at the lilies of the field and the grass. They don’t worry!
One can imagine that Jesus read or heard Psalm 104 just before saying these things. That ancient hymn praises God for the gift of the Creation and for God’s faithfulness in sustaining and delighting in all that God has made.
While most of us can appreciate these earthy images, we’ve also seen how, during drought, flowers pale, bow toward the dry earth, and die. We’ve seen how quickly lack of water can turn grass into fuel for devastating wildfires. We’re also seeing now how much more frequent all of that becomes as our climate deteriorates from humanity’s lack of faithful stewardship.
As for the birds of the air, I’ll say this: We don’t have a cat anymore, but when we did, during nesting season, we had to keep our sweet kitty in the basement so he didn’t kill every fledgling in the neighborhood and leave the carnage scattered in our driveway. All of that is to say, unless you’re drought-resistant, or occupy a higher link on the food chain, Jesus’ advice not to worry may ring hollow.
Parents who live in poverty and struggle to feed their children can’t imagine a place or a time when worry is not part of their reality. Those who suffer abuse or violence of one kind or another may never return to a place of un-worried peace. Many soldiers who survived the dehumanizing brutality of war, and even more of the innocent people who watched loved ones suffer, die, and then get dismissed as “collateral damage” often sneer at the very idea of God. And who can blame them?
So sure, consider the lilies, the grass, and the birds. Lilies and grass may face threats to their well-being. But they don’t worry. Birds can be stressed, but do they really know fear as human beings do? Jesus’ audience are people who constantly confront the merciless manipulations of the emperors and his minions, all of whom are willing to abuse and kill to maintain their power.
For us, these are days of relentless worry and fear. Wars and rumors of warsare always with us. In recent years, an exclusive and violent hyper-nationalism has found traction in our nation, and around the world—even among many who call themselves Christian. Inflation and the threat of recession keep us on edge. Politicians, TV networks, advertisers, and anyone else who has something to gain or lose will exploit the anxiety and distrust in our culture to achieve their selfish ends.
And let’s be honest. As an institution, the Church has always used fear to help keep itself awash in money and influence. Indeed, many within the Christian family have done as much to keep people terrified of and bound to a vengeful God and a bloodied Jesus than all the Mother Teresas and Martin Luther Kings have done to reveal the compassionate, liberating, and fearless Christ.
Under the influence of fear, evangelism gets reduced to, basically, Believe as you are told, or go to hell. Now, vote this way, put your paycheck in the basket, and don’t worry about anything. God will provide.
Because of this kind of abusive theology, more and more people who used to be involved in the church are leaving it. They’re tired of being associated with such worrisome speech and behavior.
Worry does not have to define us, though. Anxiety and fear are not the last words. Jesus’ assurance that God can be trusted to respond to the needs of the Creation means that, in the end, love wins, and God’s shalom will prevail.
You and I, we’re more than flora and fauna. And while, as Jesus says, every tomorrow holds worry of its own, we are, nonetheless, God-imaged creatures with creative consciousness, and a spirited unconscious, as well. Through these gifts, we can do wonderful things, deeply spiritual things—holy things. We can imagine, dream, create, and love.
Our call as the church, then, is to model an alternative way of living in a world racked with worry and enmity. Our call is to trust God, and through that trust, to seek, find, and share God’s realm of grace which permeates every here and every now in which we live.