‘Therefore 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? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.'
It was two weeks before Christmas and ice covered the streets of Oklahoma City. It was dark that night and quite cold as several vehicles pulled into the parking lot of a downtown church. People exited their warm cars and quickly entered the side of the church, their hands filled with trays of salad, dishes of piping hot lasagna, bowls of fruit and plastic containers of the finest of store bought cookies.
Nearly 20 people ran in and out of this pint-sized kitchen in the basement of this old church. Everyone was scurrying to make sure that the food was ready and to make sure that their church family members had all arrived safely. You see, the church they were at was a church well known in the community for its mission work and, in particular, its warm meals on a cold, blistery winter Saturday night. Teams from churches around the state signed up months in advance to help serve a Saturday night meal to the homeless and the hungry at Skyline United Methodist Church.
For one person, a young woman, who had never been to Skyline before and who had never served a meal to the homeless, this night was going to be filled with new experiences that she could not have even imagined. Oh, she knew God was going to do great things that night, but she had no idea just how clearly God was going to talk to her.
Before the meal was served, the pastor of the church led a beautiful service complete with music and a message of Christmas hope. There was also a time of offering. As the young woman looked around the room, she couldn’t imagine that these people had much to give. She was sure all they were wanting was warmth and comfort and food. And she was sure the offering plate would be the only empty plate that night. But the pastor announced a different kind of offering. He passed out prayer cards and asked that each person right down a prayer request and that if they did not want it read aloud, to write “For Pastor Only” at the top. After the offering had been collected, the pastor began to read the prayers. There were prayers for health and prayers for shelter, prayers for food and prayers for jobs. But there was one prayer the young woman was not prepared to hear.
“Dear Lord,” the pastor read, “I’ve been living under a bridge for the last two weeks. It’s been cold and lonely and miserable. But I know you will meet all of my needs. I pray that if I could have just one thing for Christmas, it would be a comb, as I have not been able to brush my hair since I was kicked out onto the streets.”
A comb. All this woman wanted for Christmas, when it would have been understandable for her to ask for the world, was a simple, solitary, comb.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we find our scripture situated in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. The disciples are worried and have great anxiety about the future and what is to come. This worrying and anxiety is causing the disciples to waver in their faith and to question that which may lie ahead further on down the road.
In our lives, we can find two prominent levels of anxiety. The first is minor anxiety, like where we misplaced our keys, or deciding what outfit to where for the upcoming Christmas party. The second level is of major anxiety. In our scripture, Jesus talks about this kind of anxiety in the idea of the trinity of care: eat, drink and wear.
To this, Jesus responds to the disciples by doing what he does best and asking them the tough questions. You know, like about the birds. They neither sow nor reap; yet God provides for and takes care of them and they are fed. Are you not of more value to God than the birds? And what about those lilies of the field? If God clothes the grass, will the Lord not clothe you? How much more will God provide for you than for the birds and the lilies? How much more? If you believe, if you have faith that you are of a great value to God than the birds and the lilies, why worry about what you should trust in God to provide? If God says our needs are known and will be provided for, why worry at all?
In five verses of this 10-verse portion of scripture, that’s half of this lesson mind you, Jesus talks about worrying. In three of those five verses, Jesus tells us clearly, “do not worry.”
It is said that 85% of all that we worry about, never happens. Of the 15% that does, worrying never changed the outcome.
In verse 27, Jesus asks the disciples, “and can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
The reality is that not only is it impossible to add time to our lives, by worrying, we in fact subtract time from our lives. Worrying affects our health, mental and physical, not to mention, spiritual. Worrying steals time from our lives and from the lives of those around us. When we worry, it consumes us to the point of being the first and the last thing we think about every day. Worrying separates us from God and debilitates our ability to trust and to serve.
Worrying often places an undue focus on possessions and our ability to control or not control certain circumstances. Worrying throws off our balance of needs and priorities.
Jesus was teaching the disciples that worrying displaces what should be their one priority, to seek first God’s kingdom and will. Rather than worrying, the disciples should be focusing on doing God’s will. Following God’s will is a call upon all of us and in focusing our attention on God, not on ourselves or our worries, we can see better that the one who has called us to this organic and progressive lifestyle is the Creator and Provider of all. In following that call, we are trusting in God our Creator and Provider and we are trusting in God’s providential care.
Our faith should not be something we do as a ritual to get what we want for ourselves. Rather, our faith is to be a symbol of our obedience to ABBA’s will and our subsequent trust that God will take care of us and satisfy our needs. Our faith is our belief that God will quench our thirst, fulfill our hunger and clothe us in righteousness and warmth. It is our trust that God’s ways are greater than our own and greater than the ways of our world.
When we trust, when we are focused on the glory of our Lord, it is hard to be anything less than thankful and abundantly grateful.
A study conducted by two professors, one at the University of California, Davis and the other at the University of Miami; found that gratitude and thankfulness are integral components of health and overall well-being. Here are some interesting results of this study:
· Those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.
· Those who kept gratitude lists were more likely to make progress towards personal goals.
· Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families.
· Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions and lower levels of depression and stress.
· Those who regularly attend religious services and engage in religious activities such as prayer and reading religious material are more likely to be grateful.
· Grateful individuals place less importance on material goods; they are less likely to judge their own and others success in terms of possessions accumulated; they are less envious of others; and are more likely to share their possessions with others relative to less grateful persons.
· People with a strong disposition toward gratitude have the capacity to be empathetic and to take the perspective of others. They are found to be more generous and helpful.
· Those with grateful and thankful attitudes were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another.
It wasn’t shocking to discover that those who were more grateful for the blessings in their lives and their needs, which God had provided for and fulfilled, were both happier and more likely to serve others.
It’s like cracking the special code at the end of the mystery novel. God tells us over and over again through the Bible to give thanks and to be thankful. God also tells us repeatedly that we are to love others and give to others and serve others and do all the good we can for others. Is it no wonder than that being thankful leads to happiness and happiness leads to serving and serving leads back to happiness, which connects back to us giving more thanks. It’s a beautiful woven tapestry; an intricate gift from God to us.
I think back to that woman who had one simple wish for Christmas. A wish for a comb to brush her hair. I remember being that young woman who stood wide eyed in the back of the sanctuary hearing God’s voice so clearly in this prayer request. You see, the simple gift of a hairbrush touched me greatly. But it was what she said before that that transformed my thinking. She said, “Dear Lord, I’ve been living under a bridge for the last two weeks. It’s been cold and lonely and miserable. But I know you will meet all of my needs.” Even in her condition; homeless, hungry, and cold, she had faith. She had the hope and trust that God loved her and would take care of her because God loved her that much.
She was right. God would provide for her. That night she had a warm meal in belly. A warm coat on her back. And she left that church with a smile on her face, “thanks” on her lips, a meal in a to go box for her new outdoor neighbor and…a hairbrush in her pocket.
God will provide for us. God always has and God always will.
Let the spirit of Christmas fill your hearts and quench your worries, for there is no greater proof of God’s attentiveness to our needs than the indescribable gift of His only Son who is the eternal hope of this season and our lives. God loves us that much. How much more do you need?
 Emmons, Robert A. (UC Davis) and McCullough, Michael E. (U of Miami). Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness. (http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/labs/emmons).