21 September 2020

Homily for Trinity 15

"Liberated from Anxious Worry"

Matthew 6:24-34

A Swedish proverb says, “Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” How true that is! This odd year called 2020 is conditioning us to make and live in lots of big shadows. Remember when the pandemic started and we endured the big shadow of toilet paper and paper towel shortages? I still have no idea what a run on paper goods rolled on cardboard tubes had to do with COVID, but there it was—that big shadow.

One anonymous source tried to calculate just what makes people anxious. According to that source,
40% of the average person’s anxieties focus on things that never happen;
30% of a person’s anxieties focus on things of the past, things that cannot be changed;
12% of one’s anxieties are over criticisms, which are mostly untrue;
10% of a person’s anxieties are over health issues, and those health issues only get worse with stress; and
only 8% of the average person’s anxieties are about real problems.   

We fallen creatures seem to relish giving small things a big shadow. Or, how about this picture for your worries and anxieties: Worry is like a rocking chair. It may give you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.

Our Lord knows this. He also knows how His disciples, both then and now, are so very prone to anxious worry. So He invites us to learn from the little birds and the tiny lily. He woos and invites us to be liberated from our anxious worry.

First, Jesus gives us an “either/or” lesson for looking at the world. Just before our text, He said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:21). Then with His first words in our Gospel, He says: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” You cannot divide your loyalties. You cannot simultaneously serve God and money. You cannot simultaneously serve God and anxious worry. There is only room in your heart for one lord and master. Will it be God, or will it be your anxious worry? As Luther said, “The confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol…. [W]hatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god” (LC I:2-3).

Next, Jesus gives us His wonderfully simple object lessons of the little birds and the tiny lily.

What can we learn from the little birds? One time Martin Luther was overwhelmed by the vast variety of birds in God’s creation. He pondered how much it might cost God to feed them all with so many different kinds of seeds and berries. Wouldn’t a few standard types of birds be more economical?, Luther wondered. There are robins, ravens, jackdaws, crows, canaries, cardinals, wrens, finches, and so many more. Yet God knows each and every one of them. And no petite hummingbird falls to the ground dead without God knowing it. They neither grow nor harvest their own crops, nor store their food in barns. “Yet,” Jesus says, “your heavenly Father feeds them.”

So who among you, people of God—people more valuable than those little birds, people bought back with the blood of Christ—who among you can add a mere 18 inches to your long-distance marathon of life? After all, you live your lives under the Father’s care. You live your lives with the Son’s cross-won forgiveness. Why be anxious? Why worry about a new disease that we now know has a 99% survivability rate? Why worry about destructive riots and devastating wildfires? Oh, I know, many in the media and some of our leaders keep stoking the fires of fear and anxiety. But they cannot overrule your Father’s promises in Jesus.

As Proverbs reminds you: “Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (12:25). That good word is your Father’s love through Christ crucified for anxious sinners. The psalmist also reminds you: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Ps. 127:2). You may rest safe and secure in your Father’s care.

What can we learn from the tiny lily? Now this is not the splendid, fragrant Easter lily, tall and proud. No, this is the tiny little flower you see growing in bunches in the grass along the roadside. This tiny lily grows as a creature of God. This miniature flower does not make itself grow, but God makes this lily grow. It is entirely dependent upon His goodness and provision. So it waits on God for its growth and strength. And it accepts God’s good design. It knows it is not a mighty oak tree. The tiny lily is not impatient. It has no hurry or fluster. It has a deep quiet and a strong peace.

We might think also of Mary’s Baby—quiet, hidden in her womb for nine months, and growing as God provided. Then after He was born, He grew into a young boy, He would go to school, play, help around the house, and perhaps play with the tiny lilies, without a care in the world. Remember this when you get flustered, impatient, and overshadowed with anxious worry. Remember the tiny lily. Especially remember the lily of the valleys, your Lord Jesus, who came from Mary, the rose of Sharon (Songs 2:1).

Not only is this tiny lily in Jesus’ object lesson a creature of God; it also lives solely to God. It has no anxious toil for security and safety in life. It does not spin or store up in banks or retirement funds. It does not worry about where to get clothing, food, drink, or toilet paper. It simply finds its fulfillment in living with the design and purpose given by God. Even its appearance and beauty is a gift from God. That’s what makes it more splendid and beautiful than Solomon in his luxurious glory.

But notice what else Jesus says about the tiny lily: today it’s alive and tomorrow it’s thrown into the oven. The lily can die quietly and without complaint. In death as in life, the lily lives only by God’s design and only with God’s purpose.

So too, the lily of the valleys, our Lord Jesus. He came into this sin-cursed world, this creation that groans under the weight of sin and death, to live God’s purpose of rescue and healing. He was crushed by the curse and thrown into the oven of crucifixion. He died without complaint, as He died for you and your salvation. And you know the rest of the story. He also rose again! His resurrection means your resurrection. His life restored means your life restored and creation restored for all eternity.

When it’s your time to die, you may die quietly and without complaint. This is true whether you die from natural causes, from COVID, in the path of a riot, or a wildfire, or a hurricane, or from something else. No need to be anxious, because your Father cares for you.

Jesus is drawing and wooing and inviting you to be free from all anxious worry over all of your needs. How can you do this? “Seek first the [reign] of God and His righteousness.” Receive His blessing and His calling that come only through Jesus. Keep seeking Jesus where He promises to be found. Keep seeking His gracious rule in the forgiveness of sins. You seek His reign when you seek His Gospel in the Scriptures and the Sacraments. You seek His reign with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Together you are joined to Jesus in your Baptism. Together you gather to hear His Word of life that makes anxiety dissipate. Together you receive His Body and Blood for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3). Amen.

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