"Divine Favour / Human Fretting"
October 8/06 Thanksgiving Matt.6:25-34
When was the last time you saw something in nature that caught you by surprise? Something that nearly overwhelmed you with its beauty...its grandeur filled you with a sense of awe? Maybe you were driving along a road in Nova Scotia, came over a rise on the highway and the median was carpeted with a hundred hues of tall stately lupins. Maybe you were closer to home and suddenly came upon an exotic splash of tiger lilies roaring silently over in the ditch. Perhaps you rounded an embankment, and a royal blanket of crown-vetch in full bloom grabbed your vision.
This is a special time of year when nature explodes into a last grand outburst of colour before settling into sombre winter shades. Even the foliage of modest hostas, shyly green all year now burns bright gold. But maple trees have got to be the highlight. I remember my Sunday morning 64 kilometre commute to Goulais River from our home just east of Sault Ste Marie; heading north from the city, about 10 a.m., you'd round a curve to be struck by a high solid wall of maples at the peak of their colour. And there was just something about the angle of the early morning sun form the east striking those leaves that seemed to make them fluoresce, so you didn't just see colour, they practically glowed. You were swamped in a sea of brilliant yellows, vibrant reds and oranges, burnished gold. You wanted to just pull over to the side of the road and take it all in - no, soak in it. It was absolutely glorious.
What's going on there? That's pretty amazing when you think about it - that to us creatures, it's more than simply an attractive arrangement of various bandwidths of colour. God had planted something in us that perceives such a sight as truly beautiful, something to be noticed and treasured. There's something innate deep in our soul that responds to such epiphanies in nature 'out there'. As if our Creator had programmed us and arranged such vistas to flag us down, cease our hurrying and just savour the beauty of the occasion, be invited to reflect on our relationship to eternal things - what's 'beyond' our ordinary mortal sphere and focus. To be convinced that such show-stoppers couldn't just arise from atoms and molecules colliding by accident.
"See how the lilies of the field grow," Jesus said. "I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these." (Mt 6:28f) In the Greek, "splendour" is doxa, "glory": more than just surface beauty, this is something that takes your breath away; the lexicon interprets it as "magnificence, excellence, preeminence, dignity, grace, majesty". Better than the climax of the fireworks at Canada Day. You drop your mouth open and say, "Wow!"
These little flashes of a beauty from beyond, these glimpses of glory or splendour, are little foretastes of the enjoyment we would have of God, could we see Him as He truly is. Heaven isn't going to be wonderful because of streets of gold, the best harps, or mansions finer than those of Louis XIV. The exciting part about heaven is that we will be able to see and savour God's glory. The worst part about hell? Paul says those who refuse to believe in Jesus "will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed..." (2Th 1:9-10) In eternity, the never-ending occupation and privilege of Christ's people will be to be absorbed in admiring and worshipping the beauty, the glory, the absolute splendidness of God in the Trinity. And it will be more blissful than that first glimpse of any of earth's finest glories. "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." (John Piper)
We serve and are "in" that kind of a God, who wants us to discover the joy of being fully satisfied in Him, the contentment of His supply. That should make Thanksgiving easy, regardless of external circumstances. One of the most basic commands for Christians is to be thankful. Colossians 3:17, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." 1Thess 5:18, "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." In Ephesians 5 Paul relates being filled with the Spirit in v18 with "always giving thanks to God the Father for everything" in v20.
Conversely, in Romans 1, Paul describes the downward spiral of depravity as people reject God's sovereignty, which ought to be plain enough as seen in creation around them. Refusing to give thanks plays a key role in their path toward damnation. Vv20-21: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-- his eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made [remember we talked about that breathtaking beauty pointing to something beyond?], so that men are without excuse.For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."
We are commanded to give thanks; and given the mercies extended to us, that ought to be easy. But something causes us to hold back from wholehearted thankfulness if we don't have what we suppose we really need. There's always that little bit of a grumble or grudge at the back of our mind because we don't have _________(you fill in the blank). The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus' introductory "speech from the throne", His overview of the Kingdom project, His terms of reference announcing God's claim on our lives and how to let His power take hold in us. In it He gets at the issues of the heart that block us from experiencing God's blessing and unhindered relationship. From the get-go, the Beatitudes reveal hints on how to become truly happy: blessed are those - who know their need of God; who are gentle and lowly; who hunger and thirst for righteousness [remember that, it'll come up again later]; blessed are those whose hearts are pure (clean, unmuddied), for they shall - what? "see God" (Mt 5:3-8).
To be truly thankful, we need to understand and deal with whatever is sabotaging or hijacking our heart away from God's pleasure. Our passage today begins with 6:25, "Therefore I tell you..." Someone has said, whenever in Scripture you see a "Therefore", you should go back and see what it's 'there for'! Here Jesus is referring back to vv19-24. What follows in vv25 on builds on what was in 19-24; and what's that? There He identifies a choice we've got to make between Mammon and our Maker. 24, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth" which get stolen or rusty or (in this our technological age) become 'legacy' and 'unsupported' or just plain quit. Jesus goes on to say our heart will be where our treasure is. What do we treasure? We can't serve two masters, He insists (24); either we'll love and serve God, OR money: if we're tied to our possessions, we'll despise God. You can't have it both ways: the heart's not built that way. It's a choice between - on the one hand - meaningful servanthood and sonship/daughterhood with a lasting inheritance from a loving heavenly Father; and, on the other hand, bondage to Satan, enslavement to passing pleasures and eternal anguish and disappointment. Suddenly those toys don't look so shiny. Which master will we let capture and captivate our heart? What's truly secure, or what's second-best?
What are you really seeking? V32 cautions against what the pagans "run after", v33 urges us what to "seek first" - the Greek reveals the same root for both verbs, zeteo. The lexicon defines the first as "to enquire, seek for, search for, wish for, crave, demand, clamour for". In today's terms, it's the latter half of the engine that drives the market, 'supply and DEMAND'. Jesus is warning us not to let consumer items compete with the claim upon our life which should be God's alone. Blessing requires being sold-out to the Lord, instead of seeking or running after mammon, what's second-best. McGarvey comments: "By single-mindedness we can find peace, for God is to be relied upon. By double-mindedness we fall to worrying, for mammon may fail to supply those things which we feel we need."
The main theme in 25-34, mentioned six times, is worry. A businessman ran into a friend of his - a stockbroker who had always had problems with ulcers and high blood pressure. "How's your health?" the man asked his stockbroker friend. "Great, My ulcers are gone and I don't have a worry in the world!" The man asked "How did that happen?" The stockbroker said, "It's easy, I hired a professional worrier.Whenever something comes along that I need to worry about, I tell him about it and he does all of my worrying for me." The business man couldn't believe it. "That's incredible.I'd be interested in something like that. How much does it cost?" The stockbroker replied, "He charges $100,000 a year." The businessman then asked, "How in the world can you afford to pay him $100,000 year?" The stockbroker said, "I don't know, let him worry about it."
That kind of fits in the Scarlet O'Hara department - "I'll think about that tomorrow!" For many people, worrying is a habitual problem - but the Lord wants us to have freedom over it. Remember, what His Word commands, it also conveys the creative power to bring about, by His Holy Spirit. The root word for "worry" used here repeatedly means to "be anxious, troubled with cares". The Greek root is derived in turn from another that has the idea of division or distraction. Same as in Luke 10(41) when Mary is listening to Jesus, but Martha is distracted by the meal preparations; Jesus tells her, "You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed."
What do we tend to worry about? What gets us distracted, side-tracked - with what do you find yourself pre-occupied? Such interference usually produces negative effect, it's counter-productive. In Martha's case, it robbed her of being able to focus on the Lord, which was more important.
Myron Augsburger comments: "Jesus presents evidence that worry is irreverent, for it fails to recognize the God who gave us life and is sustaining it. Worry is irrelevant; it does not change things, nor does it help us in coping with problems. And worry is irresponsible; it burns up [mental] energy without using it to apply constructive action to the problem."
What is it Jesus says people are tempted to worry about here? What they eat or drink, what they wear. But running after these "consumables" quickly becomes a rat-race, directs us into selfishness, and diverts us from the satisfaction of serving God and loving others. Life is more, much more, than food; the body is more than clothes. You'll miss it if you focus on the fliers. JL Bond wrote the following poem which at Thanksgiving reminds us we are responsible to be stewards not just consumers.
I am troubled by 3-car garages, by our many pairs of shoes, by the fact that we seldom walk anywhere
I am troubled by our lack of hesitation to buy another white blouse when we already have 12 in our closet
I am troubled by the food that is rotting on the shelves of our refrigerators
I am troubled as we brush our teeth or talk on the kitchen phone, we let clean water run and run away
I am troubled we view blood, guns and gore as entertainment, that sex is a sports activity, that Mafia men and desperate housewives infiltrate our lives
I am troubled we lavish gifts on our pets, even treat them to gourmet meals, while we neglect the poor, who feed and live off garbage dumps
I am troubled that too few handbags or back pockets carry a paperback book
I am troubled when we are nudged to call or visit someone, we allow trivial matters to override
I am troubled that homemade hospitality is an endangered species
I am troubled when we walk by homeless people, we tend to think their condition is their own fault
I am troubled we see our work as a means of money and not ministry
I am troubled that immoral behaviour or relationships once declared wrong according to Holy Scripture, are now accepted, even applauded
I am troubled the expression o-m-y-g-o-d is not seen as blasphemy, that we give honour to l-u-c-k and not God's blessing
I am troubled we declare cosmetics, restaurants, foreign travel as essentials and suffering as not
I am troubled we treat nature as a candy store and the Creator as a renter
I am troubled we trust economics, technology, the justice and medical systems more than we trust God
I am troubled we do not listen to God's voice, that we discard His Word, then complain He is silent."
Worshipping and worrying about material things lands us in 'trouble', because God has designed the moral structure of the universe in a way that leads us to acknowledge our need of Him. If we heeded Him more, let our conscience 'trouble' us appropriately, we'd be less anxious about secondary things.
What's Jesus' main point in the passage? Not that worry is wrong; but that we can learn a lesson from the birds and wild-flowers, that don't fret or stew in a rat race, but trust God to feed them(26), to clothe them in a splendour surpassing Solomon's(29). The maple leaves that are so glorious now will in a couple of weeks be compost. "If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" (Mt 6:30) Hear the "much more"? God's lavish care provides an abundance. 32f, "Your heavenly Father knows that you need [all these things the pagans run after]; but seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
Make God's Kingdom, what He's doing, priority; pay attention first to your character not your clothing. Are you letting the Lord rule your life? Is the territory of your inner nature subject to His power? Do you give thought to your degree of righteousness - integrity, virtue, purity of life, correctness of thinking feeling & acting; "the condition acceptable to God"? Or are you more obsessed with buying those tickets for that performance, paying off that vehicle, or landing that deal on eBay? Wake up! See the eternal significance of your decisions - and the glory and security God has waiting for you!
If we overlook God's sovereignty and reject His dominion in our lives, we will be confined to the dungeon of our individual petty concerns and worries. We will miss out on so much.
Mickey Rivers was an outfielder for the Texas Rangers pro baseball team. Although he doesn't sound too highly educated or refined, he wisely saw how useless worry was, how it was a matter of control. He said: "Ain't no sense worrying about things you got control over, because if you got control over them, ain't no sense worrying.And there ain't no sense worrying about things you got no control over either, because if you got no control over them, ain't no sense worrying." (Dallas Morning News, May 20 1984) Seek first God's Kingdom - let Him who knows your deepest needs be in control - and everything else will fall into place, without your having to worry about it.
ChristianWeek columnist Patricia Paddey spent time this summer with her family at a Christian camp. I close with her highlights that remind us what delight can be found in such natural things as birds and lilies.
"Among the August memories I'll be giving thanks for this coming holiday are my 'super cool' 14-year-old son's delight at rescuing a tiny, dirt-covered turtle from a dusty road. Together with his cousin, he carefully placed that little turtle in a bucket with water and a rock to climb on, then hiked to the local frog pond where they released the small creature into its safe, new habitat. I watched my 10-year-old daughter collect wildflowers in order to offer their nectar to 'Willy', a monarch butterfly with a wounded wing. I saw my 16-year-old with her girlfriends as they spun in dizzy circles on the beach one evening at sunset, twirling, arms flung wide in delicious abandon until they collapsed in giggling heaps on the sand. I sat outdoors with all three children one clear night, staring speechless, with awe-filled eyes into the starry heavens until our necks hurt."
You won't find any of those things on a shelf in a store, or to be ordered online. Price? Absolutely free. Value? Incalculable. Provided by a heavenly Father who delights in lavishing good gifts upon His children - to elicit our thanks for His goodness, and that we might see beyond the gift to appreciate His glory. Let's pray.