August 20, 2017

Monday Word: Moving from Angst to Thanks

Thanksgiving Lesson: Matthew 6:25-33

[sermon originally preached at St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church, Sandy Springs, GA]

God, we give you thanks for the many blessings of this life, and most of all we thank you for the opportunity to praise and worship you. Please let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing to you. In the name of the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. Amen.

Now, hear these words from today’s gospel reading: Jesus said, “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? … The text then goes on to instruct, “Do not worry.”

When I prepared to talk to my students at the campus ministry about this lesson, I did so with some real trepidation. I wasn’t quite sure how stand up in front of a group of college students to say, “y’all need to stop worrying.” The statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health indicate that 30% of people in the US between the ages of 18 and 29 have issues with worrying — 30% of young people in America have some type of anxiety disorder. So, I started worrying about upsetting or heaping guilt on top of young people who most likely were already wrestling with their worries.
So, I decided to use this fancy technique that I learned in seminary. There’s not a name for this technique, but the method is simple: Whenever you need to say something that might make people uncomfortable, hide!  So, I made the clear decision that I would hide behind Jesus by saying, “Jesus says, do not worry…” Not, “Mother Kim says…” nope. “Jesus says…”

Thankfully, God was merciful and with further prayer and study, it became clearer to me that Matthew’s gospel lesson for today was not written to incite more worry within us – or guilt for spending lots of time in our closets looking for the perfect thing to wear. No, this text isn’t about heaping on guilt. Matthew’s gospel lesson today is meant to be a liberating word — a word that calls us into a re-orientation of our hearts and minds.

See, friends, these are the designated lessons that we were to read on Thanksgiving day. This call to avoid worry is supposed to help us celebrate Thanksgiving more fully. So, someone is asking, “Kim, how does this Jesus telling me not to worry, help me celebrate thanksgiving?” Good question.

You see, I’ve learned from my own life experience and from being a part others that when we are worrying, we aren’t able to be thankful. Worrying, friends, albeit a natural tendency, inhibits our ability to give thanks. Indeed, worrying inhibits our ability to see the countless ways in which God is already doing amazing work here on Earth.

Let me tell you a story:

I have a dear friend who grew up with her sisters playing this game called, “Queen of the Yard.”  The way the game worked is that every sister got an opportunity to put on a “robe” (of course it was bath towel), they had a special stick for the scepter, and a small tiara was passed around as the crown.   Whoever was the “Queen of the Yard” on that day, essentially got to tell all of the other children what to do.  A child would say, “Do cartwheels until I say stop,” or “jump up and down.  I’m Queen of the Yard.”

As my friend Darlene tells the story, all of the neighborhood children loved it when she was the “Queen of the Yard” because during her reigning of the yard, she was very generous and very kind.  A child would say, “Queen Darlene, may I…”  “Yes, my child.”  “Queen Darlene, can I.”  “Yes, your wish is granted.”  One day, it was Darlene’s turn to be queen of the yard again, and this time she decided to do something special.  Queen Darlene gathered all of the neighborhood children around the porch, sat down on her “throne,” and then in a very courtly gesture, she began to throw out money into the yard.  As the children laughed and gathered up the nickels and pennies, Darlene shouted, “I’m Queen Darlene.  This is for you, my subjects.  I’m Queen Darlene.”

The money that she poured out to her neighborhood friends belonged to the entire family –   they’d been collecting change for a long time – saving every extra penny and dime in order to be able to afford to go on vacation. When her parents learned of “Little Queen” Darlene’s actions, they were furious. Darlene says that she could tell that they were worried – they were fretful and agitated by her actions, but she couldn’t understand the source of their discomfort.

You see, Darlene’s father was a pastor and he always told his congregation to give to God generously.  He told them to give of their time and money freely because God had given so freely to them. Her courtly gesture that day had been an attempt to respond to God’s abundant blessing of so many wonderful friends.

Her parents were so worried about the loss of funds — they were so caught in worrying about a vacation delayed — that they couldn’t see that the Holy Spirit’s gift of generosity was at work within their child.

Friends, I offer that story, not to promote some kind of robinhood-esque approach to life. No, I offer the story for two reasons: First, because little Darlene gives us a glimpse of what it means to ‘seek first the kingdom of God.’ She didn’t just look for a kingdom in which God’s children were equally cared for and blessed — NOOO, she creates a Queendom (albeit imaginary), a queendom in which generosity and kindness towards all of God’s children reigned.

Secondarily, I offer this story because it highlights for us just how blinding worry can be. Her parents, so caught up in their worrying, almost missed the righteousness of their daughter’s actions. I say, “almost” because they did end up talking to her about her actions, and when they learned of her desire to share — to give thanks through generosity – their eyes were opened to the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit into their child’s life.

So, friends, back to the text, “Jesus says, ‘Do not worry.” So, let’s get practical. How do we stop this very natural tendency to worry about food and clothes, money and children? Well, I believe that it starts with practicing gratitude. Instead of worrying that you don’t have the right tie for your new shirt, how might your life and heart be different if you simply gave thanks for the ties that you do have? Instead of worrying that giving a full 10 percent of your pay to God might make things a bit tight at home, would your outlook be different if you thanked God for the 100% of the income that you’ve received?

My friends, the gospel lesson for today calls us to practice re-orienting our thoughts to thoughts of gratitude and not worry — to thoughts of thanksgiving and not fear. Because we live in such an anxiety ridden society, we must practice this re-orientation. We have to practice.

And because I believe in preaching sermons with applicable messages, let me offer a few suggestions on how to practice moving from angst to thanks.

My grandfather used to sing this song that says, “Count your blessings — name them one by one. Count your many blessings see what God has done!” Take some time one day and try it. Try counting your blessings — maybe count with your spouse, family, or close friend?

If you want to move from angst to thanks – perhaps you might take on the practice of keeping a gratitude list. I have one at my house that stays on the mirror. So, just when I’m about to start worrying about my hair and my clothes, my vision is captured by this list of wonderful things that me and my spouse are thankful for.

Or try setting an alarm on your phone that sends you a text reminder to be grateful. Such an interruption to your day will always be welcomed.

Draw a picture or make a list of someone or something that you are grateful for — save it as the wallpaper on your phone, tablet, or computer.

Part of my own work towards moving from angst to thanks has become the practice of writing thank you notes. You know, the kind that you have to put a stamp on — I recommend trying it. Send one to your friend, your spouse, yourself — how about God?!? (My students put those notes in the offering plate or leave them on the altar after service.)

Finally, in all of our practicing of gratitude, let us also be about helping God create a Queendom (or Kingdom) in which no one has to worry anymore about bombs being dropped on their homes, rockets launched into their villages, and children starving on the streets. As we respond to God’s generosity towards us, let us generously respond to one another by being generous with our love, with our gratitude, and even with our money.

Let us pray:

In the midst of the frenzy and busy — calm our hearts, O Lord. Help us to be grateful for all that you’ve done. Amen.



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