Don’t Worry!

A sermon for the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, on August 11, 2019, 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 should make you worry. My job as a preacher, I sometimes think, is to make people worry. Either there is something you’re supposed to learn or something you’re supposed to do or maybe there are other people we should worry about because they aren’t up to snuff or need converting or something. So the sermon tells us things to worry about.

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, you know, right there is one of the things we worry about: we are a little flock. 25 or 30 people on a typical Sunday is what percent, do you suppose, of the neighborhood. Does anyone of our neighbors on this street come here on Sunday? 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, 85 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 quarter of the population of California – 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. And they are closing churches.

I talked last week to a friend who spent most of his life in Pittsburgh as an active member of a large Roman Catholic parish with multiple priests – it’s closed.

So Christians are, and maybe always will be, a little flock: seldom overwhelming in numbers, 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 the 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 the President of the United States, 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 shoot down dozens of innocent people 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.”

And yet we worry: “What do I have to do?” “When do I have to do it?” Again, there are churches with answers. One of the first great heresies to shake the church was preached by a man called Pelagius who had the idea that we can save ourselves. There are churches that set rules to follow about doing this and not doing that, and they may all be good rules but they won’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 (well, sometimes the fog breaks and the sun is still there) 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 little flock.

Leave a comment

Your comment