Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 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.
Of all the harrowing issues we’re all experiencing at the moment, financial insecurity ranks right up near the top; as livelihoods, careers and businesses, from the smallest food trucks to the largest global corporations, try to cope with the stress of uncertainty. As one whose future is now more tied to the fluctuation of stocks and bonds, I’ve been more than a bit interested in the roller-coaster financial ride of the past few weeks. Our financial advisor contacted me along with his other clients, to calm our frayed nerves by assuring us that this, too, will pass. I appreciate his calm optimism. But the truth is, I probably need to be paying more attention to Jesus’ words for today. They are the guides to help us understand this and all times.
This part of Jesus’ sermon is a collection of teachings on various matters. However, there is a unifying theme that has been at the heart of this sermon; that is, to be conscious of and diligent toward seeking the Kingdom of Heaven above all earthly matters. He tells us to “not worry.” Perhaps, he was addressing concerns described by a contemporary phrase, “worried sick.” Jesus employs the famous rabbinic method of arguing from the lesser to the greater: “If God takes care of birds, won’t He take care of you?” He makes this argument in several different and poetic ways, and he sums up this portion of the sermon with a verse that has been a guide-verse for me since college, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.”
My friend Scott Walker, who used to pastor First Baptist Waco, once told of a man he remembered from his days as a son of missionary parents serving on the Philippine island of Luzon. Their friends were the Harolds, who had moved to the Philippines to serve as teachers right after the Spanish American War when the Philippines became an American protectorate. Thousands of young Americans were recruited and sent to the Philippines as teachers. But the teachers wound up doing just about everything. Mr. Harold was assigned to the Mountain Province and put in charge of building the first road over the mountains. The task was made almost impossible by the lack of equipment. For example, there were no earth-moving vehicles. They had dynamite to blast through the mountain, but nothing to remove the loosened dirt and rocks. Consequently, mountain tribesmen were recruited, and these strong and lean men worked long and hard. In fact, these short, muscular warriors seemed tireless, but the progress was snail-slow. Every bit of dirt had to be shoveled into buckets and carried off by hand. During this time Mr. Harold had to periodically ride his horse down the mountain for supplies. After he arrived in Baguio, the town at the base of the mountain, he would borrow a truck, load it up, and bring the newly purchased supplies back over what passed for a road. Then he would drive the borrowed truck back to Baguio, return it, and ride his horse back to the camp. On one particular trip he discovered some bright, shiny wheelbarrows from the United States. Hardly able to believe his good fortune, he bought them, loaded them up, and delivered them to the work site a day’s drive away. The next morning the tribesmen unloaded the wheelbarrows, and he began the long journey back down the mountain where he then delivered the borrowed truck to its owners. He then got on his horse and began the three-day trip back up the mountain to the work site. When he arrived, he almost fell off his horse with laughter. There before him were the dozen new wheelbarrows safe and sound. In fact, they were not only safe, the tribesmen were already energetically and enthusiastically using them. However, having never seen a wheelbarrow, the foreman had assigned four men to each wheelbarrow. With shovels they would quickly fill the wheelbarrows to the rim with rock and dirt. Then the four men would each grab a corner of the wheelbarrow, grimacing as they lifted it on their shoulders, and carry it to a ravine where it was dumped. For them, a wheelbarrow was simply a large metal container to carry dirt. They knew nothing about the leverage and the power of the wheel, which is, of course, the genius of the wheelbarrow.
Scott made the point that this story is a parable about the way we try to handle our fears and anxieties. We shovel them into our wheelbarrow of concern, try to lift it on our shoulders, to carry it by ourselves to the ravine in order to shove our fears and anxieties over the side. No wonder we break down so often in the doing of it. We have forgotten the leverage of prayer and the wheel of trust.
I think Jesus is calling on us to be realists, but to be realistically trusting. When our worries and anxieties seem to want to overwhelm us, Christ calls us to go to God for the strength and courage that can sustain us.
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
- It’s interesting to see what we save, isn’t it? My mother saved Christmas creches. She must have had over twenty of them when she passed on. My father-in-law collected coins. And I think of my own collection of first-edition books. What do our collections say about us? Spend some time with God, thinking about your own earthly treasure and how it relates to the Kingdom.
- Annie Dillard wrote a wonderful, insightful book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, where she spent time purposefully paying attention to nature. Here is one of her recorded thoughts: “It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale. So many things have been shown so to me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.” Take time to go outdoors, whether physically or mentally, and consider the lilies of the field, taking in the wonder of God’s creation as a guide to your prayer today.
- With so much to be concerned about, place your worries in the presence of the One whose love and understanding knows no bounds, so that you may embrace the life you have in this very moment.
A Poetic Guide for Prayer: William Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much With Us”
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.