Don’t Worry!

A sermon preached at St Paul’s Church Bantam Connecticut on August 8, 2010, by the Rev. Christopher L. Webber.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  St. Luke 12:32

it seems to me in the nature of things that sermons are designed to make you worry.
The preacher’s professional responsibility, I sometimes think, is to make people worry. Either there is something you’re supposed to learn or something we’re supposed to do or maybe other people we should worry about because they aren’t up to snuff or need converting or something. So the sermon gets us to worry about it.

I guess it goes with the territory.  All this last month, we’ve been reading passages that set standards and point directions: “Love God,” “Listen to God’s word,” “Don’t set your mind on wealth” – – that kind of thing: things to worry about.

So it’s nice to come to church in the middle of August and hear a gospel that says, “Don’t worry.” The Gospel said, “Don’t be afraid, little flock…” but right there is one of the things we worry about: we are a little flock. 25 or 30 people on a typical Sunday is not much more than one Bantamite in a hundred.  And just to keep the church doors open takes a certain number of committed people, and generally just a few more than seem to be on hand.

So we do worry. We’d like a bigger flock. Even on a national basis, two or three million Episcopalians in a population of over 300 million is not good odds. And worldwide, 70 or 80 million Anglicans in a population of several billion is even worse. But even if you take the biggest church, the Roman Catholic, maybe one third of the world’s Christians and easily a third of the population of Connecticut –  with all those people they don’t have enough priests to hold services in many of their churches nor can they avoid really serious divisions over the direction the church should go. They have lots of numbers but still lots of problems.  Even if you take the whole Christian population of the world, maybe one third of the world’s population, that sounds good until you realize that a lot of them are not really involved or committed and those that are are badly divided, even hostile to each other.

So Christians are, and maybe always will be, a little flock: seldom overwhelming in numbers, divided, conflicted, and seldom seeming to have the resources or manpower needed, and yet here is Jesus saying, “Don’t worry.”

It’s not surprising actually that Jesus would need to say this. Jews had been worried about numbers for centuries before Jesus came. Way back in the Book of Deuteronomy we find Moses saying, “It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples.” There is a feeling of smallness and inadequacy right from the beginning, but always the reassurance that God does not save by numbers. So relax; God promises that we will always have the resources we need. Not the resources we might like to have or the resources that would make us feel confident about doing the job. But enough.  And it always has been enough. That’s why we’re here.

They say that God made the universe – – the sun and stars and planets beyond any counting – – out of a tiny ball of matter which exploded out into everything that exists, and here is this tiny earth floating along in infinite space, a mere grain of dust in the expanse of the universe, but big enough, big enough for God’s purpose. Don’t be afraid. It’s enough.

We have a way of borrowing trouble, fearing possibilities rather than realities, and it’s probably part of the human tendency to want to be independent and self-sufficient and in charge of our lives. But we’re not. We are not any of those things. We are not in charge. Neither Barack Obama nor Bill Gates is wise enough or smart enough or rich enough or powerful enough to control events, much as they might like to, nor are we. But we keep trying and keep scaring ourselves to death at the thought that the situation is not really under control. But you know, what’s scary is not the situation but our presumption. If we hadn’t been trying to go it alone, if we had accepted our status as totally dependent beings, we would have had nothing to worry about except the nature of the One who is in control. And the evidence of that is what the Bible is all about, what the Gospel is all about: that God is good and is in charge and loves us and can be relied on.

Don’t be afraid.  that comes first, and why? Because “It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” I wish all the worried people in the world could hear this, really hear it. You know, there are people out there with guns and dynamite who think God’s will depends on them. In the name of God they blow up federal buildings and abortion clinics and airplanes and villages because they don’t trust God, don’t believe God’s promise, or have never heard it. And so they create the violence that is absolutely opposite to all that God wills and promises. Does that make any sense at all?

God promises to give us the kingdom. It’s a gift; it would have to be. We ourselves can’t take it or make it. Human beings have been trying to do that now for thousands of years, trying to create the ideal society, and you see what we’ve got. And the societies that do best if you notice, are the ones that are so set up that it’s almost impossible for human beings to get anything done. Dictators can get the trains run on time, but not democracies. Dictatorships can reduce crime and produce unity, rallies of people all shouting the same thing, whether it’s “Heil Hitler” or “Down with the great Satan.” Some churches try just the same. The worst moments at the last Lambeth conference, from what I hear, came when some bishops tried to coerce other bishops, tried to coerce rather than understand, tried to enforce their vision of things rather than wait for God’s vision. So we need to hear this Gospel and live by it.

Of course, that’s the part where we begin to worry: “What do I have to do?” “When do I have to do it?” Again, there are churches with answers. I was talking about that several weeks ago. Do you remember hearing about Pelagius and the idea that we can save ourselves? I was talking about churches that set rules to follow about doing this and not doing that, and they may all be good things but they don’t save us. God saves us. And see what Jesus tells his little flock to do? Wait. Just wait. Be like servants waiting for their master to come home. Yes, be on the lookout, stay awake and be alert, remember who you belong to and what you ought to be doing when he comes; don’t wander off and get so engrossed in your own concerns that you forget your primary allegiance. But basically, have an attitude of expectant waiting, joyful expectancy, because what’s going to happen? When the master comes, what will happen? Everyone will run around in a dither trying to meet all his demands? No, not at all. They will open the door and then, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.” Now isn’t that incredible! He will serve us!

It’s amazing, but that’s the promise: he will serve us. And it must be true because it’s happening already. Every day we wake up and find air to breathe and water to drink and the sun to warm us and it’s all free of charge, and when we come here to give thanks for all God’s gifts, what happens? God gives us still more: feeds us at God’s own table. And, you know, if we happened to whisper to others what kind of God we know and invited them to come and share the gifts instead of worrying so much, we might even become a slightly bigger whole flock.


Audrey ScanlanAugust 8th, 2010 at 11:14 am

thank you, Chris. Always a joy reading what you write. Audrey

Karen HenrySeptember 18th, 2010 at 1:37 pm

I agree with Audrey. Refreshing to read your sermons, though I missing hearing you preach.

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