Toorak Uniting Church

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Does worry add anything to your life?

Matthew 6:25-34
Rev. Dr Christopher Page
16 March 2014

Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these

Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch woman who helped hide Jews from the Nazis during the Second World War. "Worry," she said, "does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength." The author and self-help guru Leo Buscaglia said something similar, "Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy."

It’s remarkable that we have just read an ancient text written almost 2,000 years ago and it deals with one of the major issues in Western life in the 21st Century – Worry. Perhaps it demonstrates that we may have progressed in many ways but our fundamental response to life’s concerns remains the same. From Matthew’s gospel, here in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, there is some very practical advice about not wasting your time and energy by worrying.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Of course it is easier said than done. In fact, almost everything in this collection of the sayings of Jesus is easier said than done. And that is the very point. They are not trite sayings; or easy to live by quotes and aphorisms. They are drawn from the deep and at times the dark experiences of living. Now before we delve too deeply into this topic I did find what is called the Worry Chart. It goes like this:

So that leaves about 4% of your life where you can deal with your worries; and perhaps with a bit of guidance and wisdom find solutions to them.

Worries, Concerns and Cares
Mark Twain said, "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles in my life, but most of them never happened." There is of course in every life the need to take seriously our cares and concerns. We have responsibilities to those around us. To our families, our children, our work, just to name a few. But I think this passage in Matthew is talking about something very different.

Like any of the other sayings, there is a sting in the tail of these sayings and that sting may be more painful for us than for many others in the world. It surely doesn’t take too much of a stretch to see how our consumerist culture is designed to breed anxiety about not having enough and worry that we will not have what all those around us have.

Here is an alternative view of life; what you might call a minority report on the state of the world. And it uses our daily observations to rescue us from worry.

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

Earlier we are told to look up and appreciate the birds of the air; and in the passage above to look down and see how the flowers and grasses of the field grow. I am continually amazed at how often the natural world is used in the gospels to illustrate a spiritual truth. There is the image in this passage that we actually live in a world of abundance but are continually told that everything is scarce and must be rationed.

Now, does the passage suggest we should walk around naked? Or that we just wait for our clothing to fall from the sky? No, of course not. But it does say something profound and that is you are more than the clothes you wear; you are more than the food you eat, and that it is the inner life that forms and shapes who you are: "Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be yours."

Vision and the Inner Landscape
I read a remarkable little book this week which Anne lent to me. It is titled Invisible. It is the story of Hugues de Montalembert, a French writer who in 1973 lost his sight after having paint stripper thrown in his face in an aborted house burglary. This remarkable man, who becomes totally blind, decides after some eighteen months of rehabilitation that he will begin to travel the world unaccompanied. He had been a documentary film maker, so he was keen to go back to some of the places he had filmed. However, he also wanted to visit places where he had never been before.

While he was in Bali he wrote a book. This man who is totally blind says this about the book he wrote:

I just describe very precisely what I see – [the] inner landscape – without giving much explanation. So the editor would write all the time in the margins of the manuscript: "How do you know?" How do I know? That was exactly the purpose of the book!

Blindness is a drastic face-to-face with yourself. It forces you to look inside yourself, and if it is dark, you see nothing. My vision is based on [the] inner landscapes. Many people don’t see inner landscapes because they don’t look inside. They think, since it is inside, it must be dark, so there is nothing to see.

I wrote about a trip I took to the Himalayas and described very precisely what I saw – which I didn’t see at all – but rather my visions.

I think what was so remarkable about this man and the book he wrote was that he was able to overcome the most powerful worries any of us could ever have and in the process he saw what few of us can see. Worry is a sort of blindness that keeps us from solutions to our problems, but perhaps more importantly robs us of the joy we could have in life. Perhaps I am saying that happiness is an inside job.

So do not worry about what you will eat or drink or what you will wear. But rather seek first what is within and then everything will be yours. So don’t worry about tomorrow; worrying about it won’t add an extra hour to your life and you certainly won’t live a fulfilling life.

© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2014

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