For many years I listened to Garrison Keiller’s weekly radio show, The Prairie Home Companion, and remember that each week he would wrap his monologue by saying, "Well, that's the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average." I wonder if our culture does not drive us toward living Lake Wobegon lives on steroids. We live in a time where it seems that our daughters cannot just be daughters, but are supposed to be Disney princesses. Our sons are not just supposed to achieve, but become the best of the best. When you walk through the mall it has become clear that our children are not supposed to dress like children, but as little adults. But the pressure is not on them alone. Adults are no longer allowed to show our age. Commercial after commercial promotes products designed to make us look younger than we are. If we are not careful we find ourselves on an rabid pursuit of an obsessive life – obsessed with becoming who we think we are supposed to be – obsessed with looking the way we are supposed to look – obsessed with having what we are supposed to have – obsessed with living where we are supposed to live – obsessed with this life that awaits us; just ahead of us, always just out of reach. This obsessive life is in grand pursuit of perfection. Everything part of our life is supposed to be storybook perfect. We drive and strive and fill our lives with could haves and should haves. This drive for the perfect life means that despite our greatest efforts we can fell like we have fallen short and failed, so we dive in again, trying harder and harder to make it all work. It can be a brutal and destructive way of life.
A recently ran across a PBS report that offered some interesting observations. It reports; Most of us have a mental list of what would make us happier. Our culture celebrates the pursuit of money, fame, good looks, material possessions, health, love and power. Yet we’re often disappointed—even when we do get what we want. Research confirms that some of the things we think will make us happy don’t, and researchers are learning more and more about why that is….The report finds, Chasing—and achieving—wealth, fame, and good looks may actually make us less happy. Researchers asked young adults for two years after graduation from college what they wanted in life and categorized the answers as intrinsic or extrinsic. They also asked the young people how much progress they had made toward their goals, and asked them to rate their well-being and happiness. The researchers found that young adults who valued intrinsic goals, such as personal growth, close relationships, and community involvement, were more satisfied with their lives than those who had extrinsic goals, such as wealth and “achieving the look I’ve been after.” Even the young people who had achieved their extrinsic goals reported more negative emotions like shame and anger, more physical ailments, and less satisfaction with life. It seems that happiness really does come from within.[i]
Do their findings sound familiar? Happiness does come from within. But that happiness is not something we conjure within ourselves. It comes when we let God speak into and shape our lives. The Word of God speaks into our longing for happiness and to the anxiety we feel living out our obsessive lives. Our focal passage emerges from a passage that is a part of what has become known as The Sermon on the Mount. It is easy to picture Jesus standing and preaching to the crowds. But the crowd was not his audience. Scripture tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds he summoned the disciples up the hill. He sat down and invited them to come around him. These were not words shouted to the masses, but an intimate time of teaching for those that walked at Jesus’ side and would lead this redemptive movement in the days ahead. We join Jesus and the disciples’ midway through the discourse as he speaks to the heart of our pursuit of storybook perfect and a better way – the only way – to life as it was meant to be lived.
We heard Victoria read Jesus’ words from the New International Version earlier in our service. Hear it again, but this time from the perspective of the Contemporary English Version. It reads: 25 I tell you not to worry about your life. Don’t worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food or clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky! They don’t plant or harvest. They don’t even store grain in barns. Yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren’t you worth more than birds?
27 Can worry make you live longer?[or grow taller] 28 Why worry about clothes? Look how the wild flowers grow. They don’t work hard to make their clothes. 29 But I tell you that Solomon with all his wealth[b] wasn’t as well clothed as one of them. 30 God gives such beauty to everything that grows in the fields, even though it is here today and thrown into a fire tomorrow. He will surely do even more for you! Why do you have such little faith? 31 Don’t worry and ask yourselves, “Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?” 32 Only people who don’t know God are always worrying about such things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these.33 But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well. 34 Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today.
I really like how David Ewart, a minister in Vancouver, Canada sees this. He states; “The teaching in Verses 25 to 34 is about worry: anxiety, fear, fretting, fussing. It is NOT about planning, being responsible, caring. It is not encouraging us to have a laid back, "whatever" attitude. Notice the strong verb in Verse 33 - strive / seek / desire / endeavour. The opposite of worry / fear / anxiety is faith - or better still - trust. If we were to trust God as simply and completely as the birds of the air and the flowers of the field do, we would not be anxious. We WOULD still have responsibilities but would not be anxious about them. And more than this, if we set our responsibilities within the framework of first and foremost desiring God's realm and its justice, then our intentions don't get confused with our expectations. Having our intentions aligned with God's desires plus trusting God frees us from being anxious / worried / fearful about what will happen next; allows us to let go of expectations.”[ii]
This week Barbara Ward reminded me that as we began this year I had called our church and the staff specifically to embrace the call from the Lord’s Prayer to “give us this day our daily bread.” It was and is a call to live in the now of God’s provision and direction rather than living in the ongoing anxiety of living for our tomorrows. She asked me with a smile, “so how’s that working out?” The miracle of this summer is that there have been daily stories of God’s incredible provision and direction. We have not had to worry which way to God because God has clearly been a step ahead of us, showing us the way. We have not had to worry about resources to do what God has called us to do because within and outside of these walls God has brought resources to bare at just the right moment to meet our every need – and more. God will do the same in our personal lives that we have seen God do in and through our congregational life.
Jesus reminds his disciples that the story is not about food or clothing – the stuff we hold in our hands and that fills our stomachs. He teaches them using the birds in the air above them and the flowers that surrounded to point them to that God takes care of them and makes them things of beauty. If God provides for the birds of air, how much more willing is God to provide for you - one he calls His very own? If God dresses the flowers with beauty, how much more will he dress you - the ones that are fearfully and wonderfully made? Beth and I love to drive through Texas when the bluebonnets are in full bloom. Their beauty is truly amazing. When God looks at you God sees you as more beautiful because you have been loved and redeemed by Jesus. He tells them, 31 Don’t worry and ask yourselves, “Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?” Then he speaks words that chill my soul. He reminded them, and reminds us; Only people who don’t know God are always worrying about such things. Ouch!!! When we find ourselves anxious and pursuing the obsessive quest for the perfect story book life then we are running the wrong direction. The obsessive way of life the shapes and defines us is counter to all that God means for us. This quest to have and to hold all that we believe we are entitled to is counter to all that God means for us. All the stress and anxiety we feel from this never ending quest for a perfect storybook life is counter to all that God means for us. It is a storybook perfect because it is just a myth. God's plan is for us to fully live out our story in the midst of His story.
Jesus speaks; But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well. 34 Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today. We were not meant for an obsessive life defined by the anxiety to strive to be or become this perfect story. Our story is supposed to be the story of a people that walk with God. We are supposed to so focuses on following God’s lead that we find ourselves living lives that draw us to God’s feet and trusting in God’s direction. It is time to stop chasing that illusive perfection. It is time to let go of our anxiety and our fears about our tomorrows. It is time to stop living that obsessive life. It is time to learn to live fully in our today, and only today, trusting in God’s direction and provision. And in regards to tomorrow? It will have to wait. Today is enough on its own.
[ii] "David Ewart, www.holytextures.com."