Today, we’re taking a short break from the gospel of Mark, and jumping over to the gospel according to Matthew, where we encounter Jesus in the middle of his Sermon on the Mount.
“‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
There are three things going on in this part of Jesus’ sermon, all interwoven together: a conflict, a comfort, and an invitation.
In the course of about two minutes, Jesus manages to name the inherent tension between serving Mammon, the ancient god of wealth and extravagance, and the true God, who is caring and generous. Jesus offers us the comfort of knowing that this one true God is enough—more than enough—to satisfy our needs. And because this is true, he tells us to not worry so much. After all – God feeds the sparrows and colors in the lilies and daisies and hydrangeas.
Let’s start with the conflict.
In the arena this morning, we have two competing figures: Mammon (which is translated as ‘wealth’ in verse 24), represents extravagance, wealth, and greed. Mammon’s power lies in an insatiable appetite: no amount of money, no number of status symbols, no rank or position will ever satisfy. If you decide to follow this guy’s advice, you may very well wind up with some really good-looking stuff. But be warned: you will only ever hear the word ‘more.’ To attempt to satisfy the demands for more and more and more, might do significant harm to you, and to others.
In the opposite corner, we have Jesus. He’s effectively homeless, he relies mostly on gifts and support from others. His work doesn’t produce much in the way of material goods, but he teaches, he heals, and he works the occasional miracle. He’s also the One True God. His power lies in his grace, his wisdom, his generosity and humility. If you decide to follow him, you might not wind up with everything you think you want. You might have to walk the hard road of forgiveness and sacrifice. You might feel more vulnerable than you ever have, but you’ll also have this security to rely on: Jesus’ love and care for you will never fail. He promises to shepherd you, to feed you, to shelter you from the storms.
In asking the people to make a choice – to choose between the One True God and the false gods of wealth and materialism, between seeking that grace, generosity and humility or focusing our time and energy on accumulating possessions, Jesus harkens all the way back to Joshua. After the Exodus and 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Joshua brought the Israelites to the edge of the Promised Land and said:
“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
As hard as it might be to let go of our dreams of riches, power, and status, there is an incredible comfort here: our God can be trusted to provide for us. The gods of wealth and materialism rely on our fear of scarcity – of not having enough, of not being good enough, of running out of something we need to survive.
Jesus, on the other hand, says: “do not worry; God knows what you need, God is powerful enough to provide it, and God cares enough about you to do so.”
And I know that at least some of you are thinking: “but there are people all over the world, and even in our own community, who don’t have enough to eat. There are people who don’t have enough to buy clothes.”
But here’s the thing: where God doesn’t provide directly, God raises up faithful people to make sure no one is left behind. On Thursday, more than 500 children in elementary schools all over Licking County received backpacks full of food for the weekend – thanks, in no small part, to the churches who deliver and pack that food. Our own chancel is full of our offerings to the Pleasant View food pantry. On the first Thursday of every month, our Clothes Closet hands out clothes and diapers for free.
A generous God raises up communities of generosity.
A greedy god raises up communities that say “not in my backyard” and “that’s your own problem.”
This is what Jesus means when he says “seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness – and all these things will be given to you as well.”
So, knowing this, Jesus invites you to set down your worry—to stop running on the hamster wheels in your brain that say “not enough.”
If only it were as simple as that, right?
The Rev. Katherine Bush says it best: “Worry has no boundaries: where the next meal will come from, if a cure can be found, where a child will go to school. Worry lives in the homes of the poor and the wealthy, the young and the old. Worry is a part of the lives of people of every race, in every region. Men and women worry; married folk and singles worry. Worry is a part of distracted days and sleepless nights. Worry takes on the past and the future. It is to everyone then that Jesus preaches with image-rich assurance, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear” (v. 25). While these verses are clearly directive, they are intended to offer freedom and release. A question for the preacher, the teacher, and the congregation is whether this passage feels like an invitation to live in a new way or criticism about the way we live—because, of course, it is both.”
To give up worry, to trust in God and rest in our God-breathed worth, is no small task. We all have different hamster wheels: not enough money, not enough space, not social enough, too big or too small, clothes or cars or house not good enough.
And although Jesus speaks primarily of wealth and material possessions, I think the most common story of scarcity we face today is time. We are busy people. We have work and school, sports and homework, clubs and organizations, fun and games and errands and appointments. We give our time to our families, our vocations, our friends and the causes we care about, and yes, to the church.
But somehow, there is never enough time. There is never enough energy to do everything, to be everywhere, to feel like we’ve done enough.
Has anyone else ever looked at their calendar or to-do list and thought to yourself: “there is not enough coffee for this—not in the entire building.”
That’s scarcity talking.
And here’s the thing: the opposite of scarcity is not riches—it’s contentedness. It’s “enough.” The antidote to scarcity is not more—it’s gratitude.
The temptation, when we find ourselves saying “not enough,” is to start hoarding what we have. And that’s not a bad plan in a scenario when you know you’ve gone over budget—but when we start hoarding our time, we also hold back our energy and our love, and we lessen our ability to be fully present in this moment, with these people, in this place.
Our fear of scarcity is so easy to get stuck in, and when that happens, we get stuck in the past or the future—that worry about what could happen cuts us off from our contentedness, our belovedness, and our capacity for gratitude.
So I want to try something with y’all – it’s a grounding exercise, something to help us get un-stuck, whether we’re worried or frustrated or anxious, that I learned from my own therapist and tweaked a little bit. Now, the key to this exercise is to be as specific as possible – to zoom in, so to speak. I’m going to ask you to notice the things around you using the five senses, and practice gratitude for them. We’ll move through it rather quickly, so don’t think too much about it – just go with the first things you encounter. You don’t need to respond out loud, just follow along silently.
Get comfortable, and take a deep breath.
I want you to notice, first, five things that you can see. Remember: be as specific as possible. As you notice each thing, thank God for it – for its beauty, or its usefulness, or its presence.
Now, notice four things you can hear. As you notice each thing, thank God for it.
Now, notice three things you can feel or touch. Thank God for each thing.
Now, notice two things you can smell. Thank God for each.
Finally, notice one thing you can taste. It might be a memory or the snack you brought. Thank God for it.
Take one more deep breath.
Friends, we are surrounded, in every time and place, by the glory of God. The birds of the air, the critters that sneak along the ground, the flowers, the changing leaves, the rain and the blue sky. Whenever we gather with others, we have the opportunity to see and know the presence of God within them.
Your heavenly father knows what you need even before you recognize it, so seek first the kingdom of God—and all of these things will be given to you as well. Amen.
 Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson. Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 1: A Feasting on the Word Commentary (Kindle Locations 4950-4957). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.