8 Epiphany Proper 3A
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 3:24-34 Sermon
February 27, 2011
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
44 "Ye Lands To The Lord Make A Jubilant Noise"
342 "Chief Of Sinners Though I Be"
403 "Saviour Thy Dying Love"
361 "O Jesus King Most Wonderful"
“HAVE YOU HEARD THE WORD ABOUT THE BIRD?”
TEXT (vs. 25-27): “ 25 "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 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? 27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
Birds. How much have you thought about birds lately? If you're like I am, you don't give a whole lot of thought to them. They seem to be around everywhere, especially in the warmer weather. We hear them singing and chirping, we see them flitting around from tree to tree or sitting on a telephone wire, and we see them splashing in a puddle or standing by a lawn sprinkler enjoying the water. Birds are everywhere around us; and we're so accustomed to them, that we hardly even notice them or pay them any attention.
But there are those times when we do notice them. If you walk outside just about daybreak, you can hear them breaking the silence of night with their own unique songs. This is especially noticeable if you're out camping or away from the noise of the general population. And if you happen to be in a different area from where you usually are, you might experience some birds singing that you normally don't hear, and it makes you notice them even more.
Almost everywhere you go in the world, you will find birds of some description. There are the more exotic tropical birds in warmer climates, the robins and blue jays and cardinals in the temperate climates, and even the penguins in the Antarctic. There are birds all over the place.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is talking about birds. He is using them as an illustration of how God takes care of his creation, including creatures the likes of you and me. In verse 26 Jesus says: "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them."
Yes, look at those birds, those birds we hear and see every day. They're all over the place! How in the world do they survive? What keeps them going? They certainly can't survive on the odd bird feeder here and there, or the bits of bread we might throw out to them. They have no means to produce anything. How have they been able to exist from millennium to millennium?
The answer of course is God himself. That's what Jesus is telling us today. The whole point of comparison between human beings like you and me and the birds is brought out by Jesus when he asks the question in the last part of verse 26: "Are you not of more value than they?"
And so based upon this, I'll ask the question I borrowed from an old 60's "do-wop" song, "Have you heard the word about the bird?" Keep that question in mind as we look at our Gospel lesson for this morning.
Today we are continuing with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The topic addressed here is "being anxious," which is another way of describing what we know as worry. Before we get back to the birds, we need to establish a few things first.
There's an old story that describes a young boy sitting in a Sunday School class. The teacher asked the question, "Where in the Bible does it say that a man should have only one wife?" It was quiet for a moment, then the little boy put up his hand. "I know!" he said. "No man can serve two masters!"
Of course this is humorous. But even so, there's a whole lot of truth to this as well. Divided loyalties do not work. You can imagine the friction in a home where a man would have more than one wife, or a wife would have more than one husband for that matter. In any sort of disagreement, which side would a person take? It would be one of those "no-win" situations, like being between the proverbial "rock and a hard place." Jesus describes this in verse 25: "...for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other...." That's what happens when loyalties are divided.
It is impossible for a human to maintain two "number ones" in their life. Sooner or later one of them has to go. Sooner or later, we will love the one and hate the other. Either God occupies the number one position in our lives by himself, or he's not number one at all. He will not share that number one position. Either we believe that Jesus earns our salvation or we believe that we earn our own salvation, but we can't believe both.
At the beginning of his lesson, Jesus uses the word "therefore." This indicates that this is a conclusion, or an end to a particular train of thought. This is the bottom line for everything that has gone before. And that takes us right back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Throughout this sermon, Jesus is telling us all of the ways God has blessed our lives.
And then as we get into our Gospel lesson for today, he reminds us that God is the one who has to hold the position of "number one" in our lives. Nothing can be put ahead of him or before him. But when we add worry to the mix, we are in effect making our own idol. The first commandment forbids any form of idolatry. And worry is probably one of the sneakiest, if not the worst form of idolatry.
When we worry, we are really saying one of two things about God. Either he is not powerful enough to help us; or he is powerful, but he just doesn't really care about what happens to us. Either way, worry shows that God is not number one in our lives. Worry shows that we do not trust God above all things.
Worry interrupts our relationship with God by erecting a type of roadblock in our spiritual lives. In addition to this, it is both physically and emotionally damaging to us in our day-to-day lives here on earth. So it is in no way helpful; in fact it is harmful.
In verse 27, Jesus asks the question, "And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" That's a nice way of saying that worry accomplishes nothing at all. Worry cannot change things. In fact, it has been proven that worry causes a multitude of disorders, like ulcers, high blood pressure, and other things that affect us in a negative way and threaten to shorten our lives. So why then, in spite of all the harm that worry does, do we still worry?
Worry is one of those things that is a reflection of our sinfulness and what sin does to us. It's like Satan is whispering in our ear, "God doesn't really care about you. God doesn't love you. Maybe if you sit and stew about something, it will get better. Maybe you can change the outcome of something that's completely out of your control if you fret and fuss and lose sleep over it."
It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But yet, that is the type of logic we use when we worry. Many students will tell you that if they worry about an upcoming exam, it interferes with their study and preparation. People who worry about passing their driver's test will often get so rattled that they wind up making stupid mistakes. People who worry about getting up in time in the morning will often lie awake all night thinking about it. It's a vicious circle.
So what do we do about all of this? Maybe at first glance, it would appear that Jesus is simply telling us to change our attitude. You know, pick ourselves up by the bootstraps, quit acting like a fussy mother hen, buck up and get with the program. Just put on a happy face, think positively, and all our worries will go away. But if that was what Jesus was driving at, then it would drive us to despair even more, because we still worry. Even considering our best efforts, worry still creeps into our lives.
Thankfully, Jesus has a deeper, more spiritual answer in mind. The Apostle Peter knew this when he wrote in his first epistle, chapter 5 verse 7: "...cast[ing] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." So Jesus doesn't just tell us not to worry, but he lets us know where to put those worries. When worry and anxiety threaten to overtake us, we can do something about it. We can turn all of that over to our God who loves us, cares for us, and looks after us.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus also talks about clothing. He uses flowers, or the lilies of the field for his illustration. In verse 30 Jesus says, "But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"
When we read this, we're tempted to immediately think of the clothes on our backs and in our closets at home. God provides what we need. But there's also a much deeper meaning here, one that describes what we receive through faith in Christ Jesus our Saviour.
In Isaiah chapter 61 verse 10, we read: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."
God has given us a type of clothing that is far greater and better than even the finest robes worn by King Solomon. He has given us clothing that will last into eternity, and not just here today and gone tomorrow like the flowers in the field. This robe is what has been given to us by Jesus himself. God has clothed us with the righteousness of Christ, which will be ours forever.
Christ Jesus earned this robe by what he did for us. He lived a perfect life and sacrificed his sinless body so that our many sins would be paid for. Our worries, our idolatry, and our other many sins have been covered over by Christ's righteousness. This is what we inherit through faith in him alone, and not by being anxious or worrisome.
Jesus gives us some great assurance in our Gospel lesson for today. He not only tells us not to worry, but he also assures us that we need not worry about anything, because he has already taken care of it. We don't have to worry about tomorrow, because God is already there.
Our Gospel lesson for today isn't the only place that Jesus uses birds as an illustration. Later on, when Jesus is sending the 12 disciples out into the world, he reassures them (and us as well) with the words recorded in Matthew 10 verses 29-31: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows."
The words of the Trashmen's 1963 song "Surfin' Bird" that I quoted at the beginning "Have you heard the word about the bird" were originally written to go with a popular dance of the day called "The Bird." But I think those words have a special and particular application for us today.
The next time we find ourselves worrying, perhaps repeating the phrase "Have you heard the word about the bird" might bring us back to our Gospel lesson for today. Because if we've heard the word from Jesus about the bird, then we know that we do not need to worry. The word about the bird tells us that God takes care of us, even more so than the birds. And like Jesus reminds the disciples later on, not one of those birds dies apart from God's knowledge. If God is that involved with each of our lives, what's the point in making ourselves miserable by unnecessary worry? Since Jesus has our future secured through faith alone, what is there to be anxious about?
This past week, I received an Email containing an item written by Erma Bombeck, an American author and humorist, who always had a unique way of writing about everyday life. She wrote this after she found out she was dying of cancer, and gave it the title "If I had my life to live over." I believe it's very appropriate for our topic today, so I'll close this morning by sharing it with you.
I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren't there for the day. I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage. I would have talked less and listened more. I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained, or the sofa faded. I would have eaten the popcorn in the 'good' living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace. I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth. I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband. I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed. I would have sat on the lawn with my grass stains. I would have cried and laughed less while watching television and more while watching life. I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn't show soil, or was guaranteed to last a lifetime. Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I'd have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle. When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, 'Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.' There would have been more 'I love you's' and more 'I'm sorry's.' But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute. Look at it and really see it; live it and never give it back. STOP SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF!!! Don't worry about who doesn't like you, who has more, or who's doing what. Instead, let's cherish the relationships we have with those who do love us.