When did we get to be so afraid?
Anxiety, worry, a lack of confidence in ourselves or the world around us, many - and real - are our fears. It doesn't help that we're still in the longest election campaign since 1872. If it's not the outrageous promises, it's all the things that you should be afraid of and what will happen if - insert person or party here - gets elected. And it'll be another year of that for our friends to the south.
And it's Thanksgiving this week, the day of, well, giving thanks. How do you do that when there's so much fear and anxiety in the world?
There's lots of people who will struggle to find something to be thankful for this weekend. And some who won't succeed. There's a great many people who will sit around the great Thanksgiving feast and find that things to be thankful for come more readily to mind. When they think about them. But they have to try.
And, sure, there may be some people who find it easy to be thankful because gratitude comes easily to them. They aren't as anxious and fearful, but readily embrace the world as it comes, looking for the goodness they know is in all life. I know these people exist because I live with one. It's a gift that not many have. Thank goodness they share it.
But Jesus knows that so many of us are afraid. "Don't be afraid" is one of the most common themes in Jesus ministry. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus has some words during the famous Sermon on the Mount for those who struggle with fear and anxiety, worry and confidence. He says, "don't worry about your life … look at the birds of the air … consider the lilies, how they grow" (Matt. 6:25-29). If God takes care of such as these, then God will take care of you, too. Life is about so much more than just stuff, he says.
Great. That's very comforting. And we've often heard that as simply "don't worry, be happy" (thank you Bobby McFerrin) or "don't worry, God will take care of you. You don't have to do anything."
Oh, yes, we do. We need to choose. All of this "don't worry" business comes after this one key statement: you can't have two masters. You must choose which will govern your life, God or stuff (Matt. 6:24). Wealth, riches, money, the King James bible calls it mammon, the desire for material things.
I don't think that Jesus is saying that having wealth, money or things is inherently bad. But when we let those material things rule our lives, we value all things in that context and our lives become an endless quest to meet a need for more stuff that we can never achieve. We begin to see life in the context of what we don't have, rather than what we do, what we want, rather than need, and what we fear losing, rather than what we're willing to share. The fear of scarcity overwhelms the joy of abundance and we seek to acquire more and protect what we have.
But what happens when we choose God? We choose love. We value our selves more than our stuff, and love our neighbour as we love ourselves. We choose compassion and care and we share that with others. And when we all share love, we create a world in which all that we need is shared. We feed and care for each other, we nurture confidence and we encourage and inspire creativity and, most important of all, we are not afraid to engage others in a relationship based in that love.
I know that all sounds very idyllic or utopian, a perfectness that we might think is beyond us. But I bet Jesus would say "don't worry. That love is already in you. Stuff is not. Share that love that's in you. Don't be afraid."