Some people are truly gifted at worrying. My dad has a PhD in worry. I like to tease him that he’s a worrier in search of things to worry about. And I’ll give you a recent example. My sister was looking for a job this fall, and just around Christmastime she found one. I was in the room when she told my parents the good news. My dad said to her: “Wonderful news, honey! Congratulations!” And then he turned to me and said, “Now that Stacey has a job…I can worry about you!” I was amazed. It took five seconds to make the switch. Like I said, he’s a worrier in search of things to worry about.
Presumably, Jesus could have spent his time preaching on any number of human emotions that affect our spiritual lives. But it is worry that he spends the most time on, which is here, in Luke 12. As I was doing research this week, I discovered that this text isn’t even in the regular set of readings most churches follow. That tells you something, doesn’t it? Isn’t it bad enough to worry? We shouldn’t have to hear about it in church! But Jesus thought worry was important. Jesus thought it was important. And I think I know why. Do you? I think it’s because worry is a thief of so many good things. It can steal away joy and happiness. Of course, peace and contentment. And certainly, it can steal away trust and faith.
In this sermon on worry, Jesus doesn’t bother to tell a parable. He can’t afford to be indirect when so many of us worry, worry, and worry some more. Instead, he goes for the pummeling effect. You can hear that if you read the text fast enough:
“He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than
clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor
barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any
of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, 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…”
I could go on. Can you hear the breathless quality to this text? I think it’s there. And it’s there because of the kind of questions Jesus is asking here. “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” That’s a rhetorical question, right? The answer is, obviously, no. If worrying added to our lifetimes, some of us would live to five hundred! No, it’s a rhetorical question. Not a question you’re supposed to ponder for a long time. A question you need to think about, journal about, or take home with you. It’s more like the question an exasperated parent asks of a toddler who’s melting down in the grocery store: “Are you finished yet?” Rhetorical questions are not about soliciting a response so much as making a point. In the words of Dr. Phil: “How’s that working for you?”
So Jesus is making a point here. He’s saying that worry, at some level, doesn’t make sense. The birds don’t worry where their next meal is coming from, and yet God provides for them. The lilies grow without effort and labor, and yet God clothes them in just as much finery as the richest of the rich. Our constant worries undermine the constant flow of goodness flowing throughout all creation, which includes us. And more than that, constant worrying is a sign that we’re not living in the flow of faith, like the “nations of the world,” as Jesus said. When we worry, we are practical atheists. Ouch.
So, there are a lot of good reasons not to worry. But no one can be commanded not to worry. That doesn’t work. It’s as if I said to you: “Whatever you do, don’t think about the cookies we will eat at coffee fellowship.” Suddenly, it’s all you can think about—which kinds of cookies we will eat at coffee fellowship. Will we enjoy chocolate chip, peanut butter or frosted sugar cookies? We cannot be commanded out of worry. Plus, Jesus didn’t have the language we have now for mental health conditions. Many of us struggle with anxiety and depression, and worry is often a huge piece of being anxious and depressed. Several of us spent time over the last couple of weeks attending Mental Health First Aid training, which was so worthwhile. And I was reminded that just as we cannot command ourselves not to worry, we cannot command ourselves not to be anxious or depressed. If you are struggling, please talk to a professional, if you haven’t done so already. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. And you have the support of your church.
For all of us who worry, there are practical, evidence-based ways to curb it. It may surprise you to learn that research shows that worry is a learned behavior. Just as we learn how to tie our shoes, we also learn to worry. It can be challenging to unlearn a habit. It can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. So if you worry, here are practical things you can do to unlearn the habit. Are you ready? The first thing you can do is to simply notice when you’re worrying. Do you tend to worry first thing in the morning, as you’re staring up at the ceiling, willing yourself to get up? Are you an evening worrier, preoccupied with thoughts before bed? Do you wake up in the middle of the night, worrying? When do you worry? That’s an important thing to notice. And likewise, many of us worry in specific places. The bed, the couch, the car. We might even feel worry in our bodies in the same kinds of ways. A sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach, for example. Once you notice when you worry, where you worry, and how it feels to worry, then you can start changing your environment. If you’re sitting down and worrying, maybe you can take a walk. If looking at your bank statements makes you worry, you can put on a favorite piece of music. If your thinking is on overload, a relaxation technique might be helpful. When I was worrying last week about something, this image came to me: of an electrical plug being pulled out of the wall. I needed to stop thinking. I needed to unplug my mind and emotions from worry. And you know what? The image helped.
Whatever else you can say about worry, it is a massive waste of good energy. If you’re worried about gun control, why focus on arming teachers? A better thing is to work for concrete change. If you’re worried about a family member or a friend, why focus on worse-case scenarios? Why not spend your mental and emotional energy praying for them, writing them a note, reaching out? If you’re worried about your own life, don’t keep it to yourself. Tell someone you trust. Tell me.
Whatever else you can say, when we worry we’re not using that energy to build up the kingdom of God. And that’s what Jesus wants, ultimately. Of course, he wants our personal peace and happiness. But he doesn’t stop there. He wants the peace and happiness of all. The realm of God, here on earth.
Can any of us by worrying add a single hour to our span of life? No, Jesus; I guess you’re right. It doesn’t work that way. Worrying takes away life; it doesn’t add to it. Okay then, he could have said. So what would you like to do about it? Amen.
 Martin Copenhaver, “Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered” (Nashville, TN: United Methodist Press, 2014), 45.
 Taken from here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mood-thought/201307/four-tips-habit-research-reduce-worry-and-rumination. Retrieved on 3/5/18.