I met a woman on the internet. No, worries, I didn’t actually meet her. I don’t know who Vicki Dubinsky is, but earlier last week she left a comment on a website dedicated entirely to tv commercials.
I am 70 years old and have been watching TV since 1947. This is the BEST commercial I’ve seen in all these years. The dog’s “acting” deserves an “Oscar.” Whoever wrote this commercial, singer, song and music deserves a “Grammy Award,” and I can’t tell you how many times I have watched it. In fact, I get on my computer just to go to the site to watch it. … It is wonderful. Please, keep it on the Internet so I can keep watching it or please tell me how to get a copy of it.
I’m not nearly as excited as Vicki, but I do smile every time the little dog and its precious bone come on the screen, Ray LaMontagne singing Trouble in the background.
The dog is worried, its pretty bone is just perfect – somebody might take it. We watch the pup hide the bone in a basket of dirty laundry and behind a pillow on the couch – not safe enough. So it takes the bone outside, digs a hole in the backyard, and buries it there. The little pup’s still worried. You can see it through the window, staring at the pile of dirt in the middle of the lawn – not safe enough. Next you see the dog at a bus stop; it’s dark. Then you see it sitting on the bus, staring out the window – that bull dog on the sidewalk sure looks suspicious. The trip ends at a bank, where the bone goes into a safe deposit box behind a heavy steel door. Now the dog is back home, but there’s no peace for the little pooch. You watch it tossing and turning on its pillow, haunted by night mares – the bone’s just not safe enough.
Worries, worries, worries – the last thing you need when you’re worried is somebody telling you not to worry. And yet that’s exactly what Jesus does. He looks at his band of disciples and says, “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, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.”
Perhaps you think that’s easy to say for a bachelor who is hanging out with his friends on the sunny shores of Lake Galilee, while a group of wealthy women are taking care of their food and clothing (see Luke 8:1-3). But Jesus is talking to a wider audience, an audience that includes you and me; he’s talking to men and women who long to see God’s kingdom on earth; men and women who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
I wonder if he could imagine that one day there would be Weight Watchers, and that “worrying about what you will eat” would take on a whole new meaning.
I wonder if he could imagine that one day some of his disciples would live in houses with walk-in closets, and every morning, they would stand in front of racks of clothes, worrying about what to wear.
“Is not life more than food?” he asks. Yes, but life certainly is food. And water. And clothing. And housing.
And medical care.
And college savings.
And retirement plans.
And student loans. And budgets. And business regulations. And collective bargaining rights. And can somebody please stop that mad man in Libya? And what is happening in Egypt?
Oh my, you start with food and water, and before you know it, all you can do is try to stay afloat amid waves of anxiety. It doesn’t take much to slip into worry mode, does it? We know exactly how that little dog feels, only we don’t feel half as cute.
Jesus talks about birds and lilies, well-fed and beautifully clothed. He’s not trying to talk us into living like creatures of the wild, though; he is talking to women and men who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and he urges us not to confuse our priorities in times of anxiety: strive first for the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. The trouble with worries is that they create a whirlpool that has nothing but our needs at the center. The trouble with worries is that they take over our whole being: how we perceive the world, they invade our thoughts, our actions, even our dreams.
The word translated worry in this passage from Matthew actually has a broader meaning. It does mean to be anxious; to give way to anxiety or unease; to allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles – but it also means to care for; to be concerned about something. That other flavor comes to the fore when you shift the emphasis just a little.
First you hear, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink." Then you shift the emphasis just a little and you hear, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink." Strive first for the kingdom of God and its righteousness; let the reign of God shape your perception of the world, let it invade and shape your thoughts, your actions, even your dreams.
We hear echoes of this plea in another passage from Matthew, where the king says to those at his right hand, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, … I was naked and you clothed me (Matthew 25:35-36).”
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Yes it is. Life is trusting in the abundance of God’s creation and responding to the needs of those who despite that abundance go without food and water and all these things we need to thrive.
I meant to say some more about that, but I threw away the rest of my sermon notes. I threw them away because I got an email from our friend Lorraine in New Zealand. At this moment, I cannot think of anyone to better express what needs to be said than she does in this note:
Hi there from Christchurch, New Zealand!
I thought I should send out an email with a request for prayer support for our congregation following Tuesday’s devastating earthquake. We are elders and members of a wonderful part of Christ’s body which is situated in the hard-hit south-eastern suburbs, right on the fault-line which runs between the epicentre of the earthquake and the 1/3 destroyed Central Business District.
Our members and supporters take very seriously our role as ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in this community. Our witness as a serving, loving, worshipping gathering of God’s servants is well recognised in this community.
I have spent the past three full days searching by phone computer for our Linwood Avenue church members. We are very happy that all are now accounted for. Two are in Hospital but will be OK. Another is sitting with her dying husband in a relocated hospital!
50 members have had to leave the city to stay with friends and family away from Christchurch until things improve. We have had a family of 4 here this evening to shower and relax, and we have done a week’s laundry for them - 6 full loads! It was the parents’ Silver Wedding party this evening - cancelled of course, so we had a small celebration dinner for them here instead. We have a young woman from our congregation whom I mentor staying with us for the foreseeable future. Lyndsay mentors her boyfriend, who is a member of one of the search and rescue teams.
Also my twin sister and her husband (Yvonne and Ron Laing) are here from Napier (North Island, East Coast) for 4 months. When this new earthquake struck they were crossing on the Inter-island Ferry, on their way down to Christchurch for Ron to audit repairs to government housing following the September earthquakes.
Please pray for us here. Our congregation is truly a mission-minded church with a massive heart for the many poorer and needy people of the suburbs we serve. We have a wide range of ministries with children and youth, elderly and poor, and many people with special needs. So many people have found a caring and supportive Christian home within our church community. We love being elders and members of this congregation! I used to be the pastoral care minister of the congregation 20-25 years ago, However right now our minister and all our elders except Lyndsay and me and one other have had to leave Christchurch because of earthquake damage or ill-health, so I am having to step back into that role urgently, and build a new pastoral care team. More prayers needed!
Also 50% of our congregation have had to escape from Christchurch (probably for weeks and maybe many months), so those of us who remain are very much in need of prayer and practical support.
But it is also very likely that we will have many ‘refugees’ from neighbouring destroyed churches. Probably half and maybe many more of the churches throughout the city are unable to be used temporarily or permanently!
Tomorrow Lyndsay and I will lead worship outside on the grass! We are prohibited from entering churches and other public buildings until they have been fully inspected by the earthquake engineers. We are taking in our RV loaded with folding chairs because we can’t even go into the building to bring out chairs! But it’s really important to be there for all the traumatised people. (Our piano and organ, pulpit, coffee-station, and who knows what else, have all been tossed upside down! What force that earthquake had!)
I would be very glad if you shared our very real and urgent ministry needs with people in your church on Sunday. We are so far away from you physically, but spiritually we are immediate neighbours, brothers and sisters!
I need to phone our young minister now and update him on the needs of all our members!
We know God’s grace and love fills you, surrounds you and undergirds you in your own ministries, and we pray that the same grace and love will strengthen us in these very demanding and challenging days.
Your partners in sharing Christ’s love for the sake of God’s world.
We are anxious about many things. It is good to remember that it doesn’t have to be that way.