Saturday, February 26, 2011

Counting our blessings instead of our worries

Matthew 6:24-34
Today we conclude our focus on the Sermon on the Mount. In the reign of God which Jesus has been describing, there are blessings for the oppressed and those who help them, there is salt and light, there is justice, and there is mercy. If we have blessings, salt and light, justice, and mercy, what do we have to worry about?

Recently, Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and Watson the IBM computer, competed on the TV show Jeopardy. Since the competition was taped a while ago, Jennings spent the week before promoting the show in various radio and TV interviews.
Besides the mechanics and electronic processes which helped Watson seek out the answers more reliably and more quickly in most cases, Jennings noted that Watson had one other advantage: Watson has no emotions, no fears, no worries.
Those exact feelings are what make the competition interesting among human competitors. Humans naturally notice what other persons are doing and try to guess what they are thinking about. Worry makes contestants afraid they don’t know the answers. Worry helps contestants make wise – or foolish – wagers in Final Jeopardy.
In the Gospel reading for today, human worry is contrasted with God’s providence – or provide-ance: God provides the birds with nourishment, the lilies with clothing, knows the needs of humans, and is concerned with tomorrow’s bread.
It’s not that we shouldn’t be concerned about our daily needs; the problem is how much attention we give to them. Too much focus on what ifs takes back from God those concerns we have once – or more often – given over to God.
Instead of worrying about what we don’t have, what might happen, trusting in God means celebrating what we know about God, how God has loved and provided for us, today and in the past. God cares for us as a nursing mother cares for her child, as we read in Isaiah and the Psalm.
 As your pastor I can tell you it is foolish to worry. But you will still worry; it’s part of human nature. I can’t make you stop worrying, but I can suggest that you might try turning the focus of your thoughts to something positive.
Worry is often based on the finiteness of our world. There is only so much money; there are only so many open places in the college we want to attend, and only so many available jobs in our current economy. Our bodies are finite: as we age, we can’t move as well, see as well, eat everything we used to be able to eat.
Yet, there is an abundance given to us by God. Counting up what we do have helps us see the infiniteness of God’s provide-ance. We have enough money; we can go to college somewhere; we’ll get a job somewhere; we can still move, see, and eat, until our life comes to an end.
About 20 years ago (when circumstances in China were rather different than they are today), a friend of mine was showing a visitor from China around her town. As they drove through her neighborhood of 3 and 4 bedroom ranch houses, the Chinese friend pointed at house after house and asked, “Who lives there? How many people?” My friend replied for each house, “One family, two parents and two or three children.” The Chinese visitor was amazed. “In China,” he said, “Five families could live in that house, one room for each family, including grandparents.” How blessed we are is a matter of perspective.
You probably remember an old song from the movie White Christmas. The refrain goes like this, “When you’re worried, and you can’t sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep, and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.” Counting our blessings reminds us of the abundance God has given us. Counting our blessings helps us trust in God to provide what we need and helps us recognize that everything we have is God’s gift to us.
Counting our blessings can also lead us to share what we have with those who have fewer blessings than we do. The Abigail family looked at an empty cupboard last weekend and wondered if there were any soup kitchens around. Unfortunately, there are few soup kitchens, none very close to us. Getting to them takes gas, which the family didn’t have. And they are not the only struggling family in our neighborhood.
How much food is in your cupboard? How much gas is in your car? How many rooms do you have in your house? Do you have enough gifts from God to share some of them with those who have less?
I suggest that this week, every time you find yourself worrying about what might happen, you turn your worry over to Jesus, who promises to take care of you. Count your blessings instead of your worries. Count the number of ways you have seen God at work, and give thanks for them. 
·         Give thanks for family and friends
·         Give thanks for your pets
·         Give thanks for Social Security and Medicare – even if it’s not enough, it’s better than nothing
·         Give thanks for the freedom to worship however you want to
·         Give thanks for your job, even if there are some problems
·         Give thanks for your teachers
·         Give thanks for sanitation workers, grocery store stockers and cashiers
·         Give thanks for truckers who move goods and food from around the country to our local stores
·         Give thanks for peaceful revolution in Egypt, which is changing the way the whole region thinks about itself
·         Give thanks for Jesus, who lived and preached and healed and died and was raised so we might know how much God loves us and cares for us

How much more can you give thanks for? I invite you to bring in photos of those things you are thankful for and attach them to the cross set up in the sanctuary. Bring in pictures of your family, your home and garden, your checkbook – with identifying numbers hidden, of course, your car, your full grocery cart, whatever you can think of. As our photo collection grows, we will discover just how much God has given us, just how blessed we are, and how little we really have to worry about.

Please pray with me: Gracious God, you give us so much. Help us to trust in you and be grateful for how much we have, instead of worrying about what we might not have, and about what might happen. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.