Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
Do not worry, Jesus says. If you’re worrying about anything right now—and you’re human, so chances are you’re probably worrying about something—a phrase like that can sound flippant, entirely dismissive of your concern. Don’t worry. Let me get right on that, Jesus. It sounds as uncaring as telling someone battling depression “Just think happy thoughts” or telling someone with stage four cancer “keep your chin up!” It sounds like a canned phrase, a sentiment just tossed out there when someone doesn’t know what else to say.
If you think a phrase like that in the mouth of Jesus sounds dismissive, like He doesn’t care about you or if He has forgotten about you, you’re not alone. Read the Psalms! David and the others who composed the Church’s first hymns knew what it was to experience that same feeling. In Psalm 31 David says to God, “‘I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from Your sight.”’” In Psalm 116 the Psalmist said “I believed, even when I spoke: ‘I am greatly afflicted’; I said in my alarm, ‘All mankind are liars.'" You can relate! You know what it’s like to be neck-deep in a situation, and to feel like no one has your back and even God has decided to take a day off. You know what it’s like to feel surrounded by evil with no one to fight for you. You know what it’s like to worry about today, let alone tomorrow! You know what it’s like to feel like the Prophets, to feel like Elijah fighting solo against the hordes who follow after false gods. There’s no point in sugar coating it. Life, on this side of eternity, is filled with plenty of no good, awful, very bad days. Days where you just can’t take it. One more thing will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Days where you feel like you’re asking, seeking, knocking and no one is answering. And then comes the answer—do not worry, saying what shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or what shall we wear, or when will it end, or how will I pay the bills, or how how how. Do not worry. Really?
Really. Trust me! I know! I’ve been there. I know what it is to be at the bottom, the lowest of the low. You do, too. We’re in good company. Like I said—David knows what it’s like. The prophets know what it’s like. The whole company of heaven, those who have gone before us know what it’s like. And most importantly, Jesus knows what it’s like. Remember His cry on the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He sympathizes with us in our weakness. He knows how easy it is for the things of this life to cloud our vision, for worry about them to completely replace trust in God’s loving care.
When the words “Do not worry” come from the lips of Jesus, they are the purest Gospel. It is like Him saying to you “Do not be hungry” while He hands you a plate at the wedding feast. Remember how powerful the Words of God are! In the beginning everything came to be simply by His speaking it into being. When He says “do not worry” He backs it up with action, with complete divine power. He does not expect us to create this lack of worry on our own. He points to completely inconsequential things to prove that He will always takes care of us.
Let’s just look at one thing from Jesus’ list of examples. Take lilies for example. The Greek word there is less specific than our English translations. It is better translated as “wildflowers.” Think about what you see along the roads. Those flowers bloom and grow year in and year out without a single action on our part. They do that because God gives them to us for our enjoyment, to find beauty in an otherwise unattractive place. They endure drought and flood and the death of winter, all by God’s care. Could we exist without wildflowers? Yes. But God gives them to us and takes care of them. If God takes care of flowers, that only live for a few months, do you think He’s going to completely abandon you? Of course not! It may seem like He has, but He has promised that He never will. He will not leave you helpless. How can He be Emmanuel, God with us, if He doesn’t do the very thing His name says He will do?
Remember those Psalms I talked about earlier? They didn’t stop there, with their expressions of pain at feeling forgotten. In the same breath as saying “I am cut off from Your sight” David confesses “But You heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to You for help.” After expressing his alarm that “all mankind are liars” the Psalmist confesses God’s amazing love: “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?” Even Psalm 22, where Jesus gets His question “Why have You forsaken Me” turns around: “For He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and He has not hidden His face from him, but has heard when He cried to Him.” God never leaves us in our despair or anxiety. He comes speedily to help. When times of anxiety come, reflect. Look back on life. This isn’t the first time you’ve worried, the first time you thought you were in over your head. You’ve had this feeling before, and you’re still alive. God brought you through. He cares for you! He loves you and He will never abandon you. He allows these times of anxiety to come to teach you that He is in control. He works through the pain and fear and everything else to give you future comfort.
When you walk through trials, do what Jesus tells you to do: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The simple truth is that our lives are controlled by that about which we care. When life is going wrong, set your heart and mind on what God has done for you, and what He still does for you. If all you focus on is what is wrong, all you see is evil. But if you focus on God and His loving care, if you immerse yourself in Scripture and prayer, in recalling the glorious benefits of your Baptism and ingesting those same benefits in the Lord’s Supper life will look drastically different. It won’t turn life instantly from disaster to the scene at the end of The Sound of Music, but it will give you the strength to endure. When life is awful, seems like it couldn’t possibly get worse, and like there’s no hope for the future, look to the cross. If you want to know what God thinks of you, look at Jesus there on that cross. He was so insistent on loving you, on giving you a hope and a future, that He died for you. That image there is the proof that you can endure, because your God has endured everything, even death and hell, for you.
“Do not worry” may be easier said than done, but you will never be left on your own to do that. You are Baptized into Christ. You have the Holy Spirit who will continually point you in the right direction, who will refocus your gaze when it’s looking in all the wrong places. You will see the ending of all your life’s distress. And until that day, Jesus is with you, just as He has been with you every day, every moment so far. Nothing will ever change that.
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Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.