Do Not Worry! (Kingdom Living #6)
Kingdom Living #6 - Do Not Worry!
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Oct 26, 2015 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
Good morning and welcome! I’m so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th time, we are glad that you are here today in our community. Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or you already knew the way, we are grateful that you are here today. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, that you would experience acceptance, and that you would find space to encounter the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!
Today, I wrap up our Kingdom Living sermon series. I hope to come back to the Sermon on the Mount and tackle it verse by verse. As I was discussing my sermon planning with our board of directors, they suggested that I lay out the path we are on and where we are going between now and the New Year.
We launched the fall with our current Kingdom Living series to give us some insight into what it means to be people of the King. As we have discovered, Jesus accepts as we are, and simultaneously calls us to follow him through the narrow gate into life. This call is costly and we won’t follow Jesus unless the life he offers is better than the one we are currently living. Next week, we continue our consideration of living within the Kingdom as we consider the story of Jonah representing the voice of the marginalized seeking reconciliation. We will be here for the next four weeks leading up to Advent. Nigel Berry, our youth director, will assist me in the Jonah series. From Jonah, we will enter Forgiveness for Advent and use the four weeks before Christmas to not only prepare room for Christ to come to us, but for us to continue our journey towards trying to live as reconciled people. These three sermon series were intentionally planned and laid out as they were intended to help build the groundwork for our “Evil and the Justice of God” sermon series that we are planning for the New Year.
I hope it’s helpful to see where we have been and where we are going as we unfold these sermons over the next 14 weeks.
This morning I want to wrap up our Kingdom Living series with a passage from the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 6:25-33 that I’ve struggled with.
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 important than food, and the body more important 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? (Matthew 6:25-27)
Let me tell you a story.
As you may know, we had our third child, Alyvia Sophia on September 11th. After we arrived at the hospital, they didn’t even check Maria in, she was rushed to a birthing room, and Alyvia arrived about 17 minutes later. At Alyvia’s six month check-up, her pediatrician noticed a growth-related issue and alerted Maria. Maria asked what could be causing her growth issue, and the doctor said it could nothing or it could be a tumor.
Yup, a tumor. Cancer causes tumors. Our daughter may have cancer.
Maria called me that afternoon after the appointment. Maria told me that she had to get Alyvia’s blood drawn so that they could start to rule out things. Alyvia’s blood sample would also have to be sent the Mayo Clinic for testing. So, this was serious, if U of M was sending the sample to one of the best clinics in the world.
I was scared. And I couldn’t do anything.
I was afraid for my precious daughter.
I was afraid for the pain that I imagined was coming: the hospital visits, the doctors, the specialists.
I was wracked with fear.
I was overwhelmed.
I sat at my desk in my office, shell shocked.
This was April.
We were just four months into our leadership transition. I figured the hardest thing I would face this year would be helping the church avoid disaster–losing our building because we couldn’t make the mortgage payments or having to layoff staff because of low giving.
I had already figured I would have to put in long hours to help ensure that we could heal, and continue to grow as a church community. I figured I would work hard on preaching every week, preaching sermons that would be good, engaging, helpful, and maybe a little insightful and certainly enjoyable.
But a sick and potentially dying child during the hardest task I’ve taken, seemed like too much.
Sure, I felt supported and sustained through the initial stages of our leadership transition, but how could I manage the transition of the church, if my daughter was dying?
“Why was God doing this to me?” I cried.
“Why was God doing this to my daughter?” I lamented.
“This isn’t fair! She doesn’t deserve this?” I yelled.
“God, if you need to punish someone, punish me instead.” I pleaded.
“Why? God, why?”
I just couldn’t make sense of what was happening. It seemed so unfair.
Wasn’t I already doing what God had asked me to do, helping to lead the church through the leadership transition? The pay cuts, insurance worries, risks, haven’t I already sacrificed enough? Isn’t this task already difficult enough in its own right? Why God, why push me past my breaking point?
Do Not Be Anxious About Anything
Saint Paul, the new testament church planter echoes Jesus in Philippians 4:6-7,
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Empty words? Impossible words? Or, words of life?
Does Jesus know just how awful, painful, and overwhelming this life can be? How is it just that a six month old gets a diagnosis that could potentially end her life? How is that fair to her? What did she do to deserve this?
If Jesus truly understands how difficult this life is, how on earth can he call us not to worry.
“Okay, Jesus. I won’t worry, if you promise to unleash your Kingdom into this broken, hurting world, despairing world.”
“No Jesus, if you’re not willing to do that then the least you could do for us is allow us to worry.”
What a helpful companion worry can be, especially when nothing else is going right in the world. Worry creates the illusion that you are actually doing something, anything… like planning for every possible eventuality and outcome. Worry allows us to mask our hurt, pain, and disappointment.
But worry, coupled with fear and insecurity threaten our willingness to follow Jesus into life through death into a new reality, a new world order, learning to live with the Kingdom of God.
Maybe this is why he says,
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life ... Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matthew 6:25-27)
Learning to Die
It’s a bit paradoxical that it is in losing ourselves that we are truly able to find ourselves.
Jesus says in Luke 9:23-25:
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? (Luke 9:23-25)
If you have been hanging out with us over the past several weeks, you know that I’ve been on a mission to get us see something, to understand something what it means to live in God’s Kingdom. There’s tension. It’s the tension of the already, and the not yet. It’s the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God into a world that is resisting the Kingdom, the King, and his rule and reign.
Jesus predicting his own death says in John 12:23-26:
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:23-26)
“Those who love their life will lose it,” there it is again. In order to discover live within the Kingdom of God, it requires a death. A daily dying to our false self, so that our “vulnerable self” might emerge.
This is the power of the passage in Luke 9:23-25, Jesus is inviting us to live within the Kingdom of God, which requires a daily dying. A daily surrender, a daily dependence on God. Without overstating it, there is no other way for us to live within the Kingdom.
The goal of the Empire is to keep us dependent on ourselves, not God. The Empire feeds on our worry, our fear, our doubt, and our insecurity trying to convince us to trust the Empire for our needs, our safety, our security, and our peace.
Like a good father, I couldn’t stop worrying about my daughter, her health, and well-being. It was starting to arrest me, paralyze me, and prevent me from doing what I called to do: follow Jesus through the narrow gate and trust that the life he has for me is better than the one I’m currently living. I had to die.
The first step in my surrender was telling someone else about what was going on with Alyvia. I had to break the false narrative that we are alone “quietly living lives of desperation” as Henry David Thoreau calls it.
Finally, I shared the news with my men’s group, then one of the guys offered to pray for me one Sunday morning after I had just finished preaching. I had had a debilitating panic attack. We sat in my office. He said a few words about how this is the world that God has created and we have to figure out how to live within it. He then proceeded to pray, what was easily the most ordinary, boring, and uninspiring prayer anyone has ever prayed.
You know what? it helped.
Right after he prayed for me, my worry, which was manifesting as stress and anxiety started to subside. It hasn’t come back. I’m still concerned for my daughter.
Whatever is Pure, Whatever is Lovely
In August, we finally got in to see a specialist and after examining Alyvia, the doctor wasn’t concerned at all. Out of an abundance of precaution, she ordered some new tests and we are waiting to hear those results, but for now, everything is okay.
Jesus knows the truth. Jesus knows that worry is about our state of mind, what we think and believe. It’s like playing the wrong audio tape over and over again. This is why Saint Paul is also helpful here, he encourages us to break our allegiance with the Empire by renewing our mind by focusing instead on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right. As he continues in Philippians 4:8-9,
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
There’s something about knowing that the God of peace is with you. This a promise that God will be with us, not that God will magically give us what we want.
I want to close by unpacking just a little bit of the church-related stresses that I referenced earlier in the sermon. In addition to worrying about my daughter and her well-being, I’ve been worrying about the future of church too. I absolutely hate manipulation, especially about financial things, so I’ve been reluctant to talk more frequently about our current financial situation. This harms you and the church because many of you may not know how much you are needed as partners as we continue the healing, growth, and transformation of the church.
I’ve been reluctant to talk about it more because I grew up in a family of origin that used manipulation as a means of control. And the bags that you inherit early in life, you tend to carry around with you. This has cause me to struggle with how to openly talk our financial needs with you. Just even explaining the current situation feels like manipulation to me. One of the most powerful lessons that I have learned this past year is I do not have worry and I don’t have to carry burdens alone. We are in this together. It’s been helpful to meet with the staff, board, and finance committee and learn that it
So, I need to improve my communications with you about what’s going and I have trust that as I clearly lay out the situation, you won’t feel like you are being manipulated. I need you. The church needs you. We need every one of you to help the church succeed.
To this end, the Finance Committee has written a cover letter to my first congregational newsletter. We’ve printed it for you and it’s being distributed right now.
We are a great church, we have accomplished a lot in the past year, but there’s a lot of work before us, including continuing to secure our financial future. A small group of congregants (about 50) have been giving sacrificially to ensure that the church survives and now it’s time for all of us to join them. This is our church and we are its stewards, and its success depends on all of us contributing. We are asking everyone to participate in giving and get involved. We have one goal, and it’s simple: 100% giving involvement from the congregation.
In September, we approved our fiscal year budget of $570,000, which comes out to about $10,900 a week. As of today, we are about $5,000 behind in our income targets and when you get behind, it can be come harder and harder to catch up, so we want to communicate clearly about the need and invite you to participate today.
The invitation is simple, we have one goal, 100% giving. If we are all giving and participating and sharing the burden, we will be fine.
Read the newsletters from the Finance Committee and from me, Pastor Donnell on giving and the future of the church.