If there is one thing most human beings are good at its worrying. Even a day set aside to give thanks can become a day set aside for extra worry. Every year our family has a Wednesday Thanksgiving dinner with another family. It started out as a kind of Friendsgiving before there was such a term. This year we were to be in charge of the hors d’oeuvre and cocktail side of things. So last Sunday after 4 church services I began to worry about where to buy the oysters and when to get to the ABC store during a short and busy week.
A certain person I live with suggested that I have a propensity to take something fun and turn it into a burden, draining the joy out of what is supposed to be a nice, relaxed time. As you might imagine, I received this bit of “constructive criticism” less than cheerfully, but as usual, the person I live with was right on the money.
Had I taken to heart the gospel appointed for this Thanksgiving, I might not have needed the “truth spoken in love.” Employing his ability to speak directly to our deepest selves, Jesus says, “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?”
Is not life more than food? The answer to that question is debatable on Thanksgiving Day, especially when there are oysters, turkeys and martinis involved. (Now I’ve got you thinking about your own Thanksgiving menu, which is clearly not the intent of Jesus’ question.) His question is eerily prescient, for in the absence of God food has become the great new religion, with celebrity chefs our new great high priests. Foodies are the new disciples and hot restaurants the new cathedrals.
In the absence of God there is a tremendous amount of sense in making life about food. After all, King Solomon and the prophet Isaiah said as much. So did Dave Matthews in his song Tripping Billies. Summarizing the wisdom of the kings and prophets he sang, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” At least the first half of that injunction is on everyone’s agenda this Thanksgiving Day.
To be honest, hedonism isn’t a bad start. However, a hedonistic emphasis on living life hasn’t done anything to solve the worry problem. So, Jesus says something different. “Do not worry about your life.” Some 2000 years later the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea said, “The entire world is worried.” He was talking about the fallout from the bickering between the US and China, but it also serves as a pretty good blanket statement of the human condition in all times and all places.
The entire world is worried. What kind of help is there for our worry? I used to read Mad Magazine growing up. Do you remember the iconic cover of Alfred E. Neuman, a redheaded, gap toothed boy whose motto was, “What, Me Worry?” Al Feldstein, Mad’s editor, talks about his famous cover boy.
“I want a definitive portrait of this kid. I don’t want him to look like an idiot—I want him to be loveable and have an intelligence behind his eyes. But I want him to have this devil-may-care attitude, someone who can maintain a sense of humor while the world is collapsing around him.”
What – me worry? There is great wisdom in maintaining a sense of humor while the world is collapsing around us. I highly recommend it. Not only will having a sense of humor help you when you are seated next to angry Uncle Ralph later today, but humor will be an essential coping mechanism when the deeper problems of life come knocking. The problem is that most of us can’t pull it off, especially when we are bogged down in worry.
Humor is closer to the heart of Jesus’ teaching than hedonism, but we still need more help. So Jesus tells us to become birdwatchers. Birds don’t gather food, he says, and yet our Heavenly Father feeds them. In actual fact, Jesus is a better theologian than ornithologist, because chickadees, nuthatches, jays, and crows can store thousands of seeds per year. Maybe he was just thinking about doves and sparrows – birds that don’t store food. His point, of course, is that, the only real counterpunch to worry is knowing – I mean really knowing – that God will provide all that we need.
Jesus says that the world is worried because the world (i.e. “Gentiles”) needlessly strives after all the things that God is going to give to us anyway. “Indeed, your Heavenly Father knows you need all these things.” To stop striving sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Striving and worry are birds of feather. The cessation of striving might land you peacefully and happily at place where you can open your eyes and see the kingdom of God. And as Jesus says, why not have a look around there first? You know the song: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.”
The kingdom of God is a place to eat and drink and be merry. It is a place where humor is high on the list of virtues. And most of all, it is a place to give thanks to God who has already given us everything we need. Most of all – His Son. For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, so that all who believe in him may not perish but have everlasting life.