This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. I left the lectionary behind today, and used this gospel text: Matthew 6:25-33.
Jesus tells us not to worry. Don’t worry about what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will wear. Consider the lilies of the field. The birds of the air. Do they worry? No, and they are nonetheless taken care of.
This isn’t news to us. We know we are not supposed to worry about money, about food. We know we are not supposed to worry about how we look. About what others think of us. About what tomorrow will bring. And so forth. We know it’s not helpful to worry. Yet we do it all the time. It’s really hard not to.
For some of us, all this worry is caused by an anxiety disorder or another mental health condition. These diseases can be managed with therapy and medication, but it’s always a challenge.
But even those of us without diagnoses still find ourselves worrying a lot, despite Jesus’ command here. Because giving up all of our worries means either pretending that nothing matters, or having radical faith. Truly radical faith, faith that God really will take care of everything, and that kind of faith is so very hard. I think that’s why the sentence “Do not worry” or “Do not be afraid” is in the Bible over a hundred times. God knows that we worry. So God reminds us over and over and over again.
And every now and then, we actually hear and trust God’s words. Every now and then, in moments of sheer grace, we experience the faith that tells us, “God loves you and all will be well.” Those moments don’t last forever, but they are miraculous and holy. And in those moments, we can strive for God’s kingdom and righteousness, just as Jesus says.
I want to talk about a particular worry that many of us share today. Many people these days worry about the future of our country. Many of us in this room share that worry. The interesting thing, or perhaps the frustrating thing, is that we have different reasons for this worry. Some of us worry because we are convinced that the Democrats are destroying everything good. Some of us worry because we are convinced the Republicans are destroying everything good. Some of us worry because we are convinced that they’re all crooks, and there’s nothing we can do to stop them. And some of us worry because of all the hatred, the mistrust, the contempt, on all sides.
These are real worries. And I believe that Jesus says to us the same thing he said in the gospel:
“Do not worry, for indeed your heavenly Father knows what you need. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
It’s tempting to think we can just ignore politics, and focus on God. Some Christian groups have taken that tack in the past. But I don’t think we can do that as Lutherans. Our understanding of God tells us that God’s righteousness includes justice and wholeness for all people. Our faith tells us that God is not partisan, but that God is certainly concerned with political matters, matters like how we treat one another and how we take care of one another. Our faith tells us that God has given government to us as a gift to accomplish certain things, and we know that as faithful disciples, we are called to be involved in our government, if only as voters, as conscientious citizens.
But how can we do this? How can we possibly work together on this? When we know that there are people in this very room who disagree with us completely on political matters?
For years I have dreamed that the church could be a place where we could have civil and productive conversations about very difficult topics. I have learned that that is much harder to do than I originally thought. But maybe today I am learning what could be just the very start of such conversations.
Jesus said, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
How do we strive for the kingdom of God? Perhaps it starts with prayer. And perhaps that’s precisely where we can start.
The past few weeks have been incredibly worrying to so many of us for many reasons. And if we tried to talk together about Justice Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford today, we would almost certainly start arguing and getting angry with one another. But I wonder if we could pray together about what’s behind those worries.
Can every one of us, no matter our political views or party affiliation, can all of us pray together that women be kept safe from sexual assault?
Can all of us pray together that men be kept safe from false accusations?
Can all of us pray together that Justice Kavanaugh and the whole Supreme Court might make wise and compassionate decisions?
Can all of us pray together that all lawmakers will put their party loyalty aside, and do what is right for the nation and its people?
We in this room disagree with one another about what God’s will is in certain circumstances, such as abortion, LGBT rights, immigration, and so on. But even though we disagree on what God’s will is, can we all pray together that God’s will be done? And can we all trust that God knows God’s own will better than we do?
If we can, then maybe, just maybe, that prayer is the beginning of striving for God’s kingdom. And maybe through that prayer we can begin to trust that God’s will might actually be done in our world, and in our country. And maybe we can find some hope in our future. Maybe our worries about the future of our country can subside just a little. And maybe, over time, we can become a witness to the world, a people who are not overtaken by worry in the face of difficult times.
I don’t know for sure. But let me ask you this: do you think it’s worth a try?
If so, then I invite you to join me in this prayer:
O God of mercy and grace, we thank you for all of the blessings you have given us, especially the blessing of your Son Jesus Christ.
We pray that you bless our nation, the United States of America. Heal our divisions. Calm our fears. Enlighten our struggles.
We pray that you grant safety to all women of our country. Keep them from those who would harm them. Turn those who would commit horrible crimes away from that sin.
We pray that you would grant safety to all men in our country. Keep them from false accusations. Turn those who would make such accusations away from that sin.
We pray for the Supreme Court, for the nine justices who administer the law. Give them honesty, fairness, wisdom, and compassion.
We pray for our elected officials, especially for our President and Congress, that they might be loyal to their oaths of office and to their constituents, that they might hold more loosely to their political party. Give them honesty, fairness, wisdom, and compassion, O Lord.
And above all, dear Lord, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Your will be done, not ours.
And finally, give us the faith to trust that you are at work, that you are breaking into our world. That you are turning despair into hope. Death into life. Misery into grace. Discord into unity. All this we pray through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who told us: Do not worry. Amen.