Seek God’s Kingdom First

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on November 16, 2014)

In today’s section from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will eat, drink or wear.

But watching tv this week, I discovered a whole new way to worry about food that I didn’t even know about. Aubrey and I were doing something we never do, watching the tv news…but you know, we had to, what with “Snow-maggeddon-apocalypse-Arctic-Blast” on the way. We had to get our info.

While we were waiting for the weather report, we got to watch a hard-hitting journalistic report. A reporter had gone to the home of a family in Portland to bring to light their amazing struggle…to find the right lunchbox to hold a healthy lunch for their children.

I had no idea the perils involved with this. We are so out of it, we are just putting lunch in a brown paper sack. But the perils involved in finding a lunch box!! Some of them couldn’t even be opened by their five year old. Another didn’t keep the different foods separated and they got all mixed together. I don’t know how the kid even survived THAT one. Another worked great, except that it was so very hard to get all the different little containers packed back in the larger container.

I have great anxiety and worry just telling you about all the difficulties here. This family finally found a $39 lunch box that met their needs…but then I forgot to write down what it was, so now I’m all worried I’ll just have to stick with the brown sacks and just hope Aubrey can survive. But now I’m worried about things I didn’t even imagine just a few days ago.

It is SO hard to follow Jesus’ teaching!

Part of my point in being so sarcastic here is that we live in a world where it is really easy to worry.

And it isn’t always like the little story on lunch boxes. There are so many very real worries that we are made aware of in our world. The downside of the ease of communicating worldwide today is that we hear about wars and famines and disease outbreaks all around the world. We hear about studies on all kinds of carcinogens, the dangers of our water supply…the list goes on and on.

The more we learn about our world, the more there seems to be to worry about. Which does make it difficult for me to figure out the best way to approach this section of the Sermon on the Mount.

I don’t want to be negative, or simplistic and shaming. Just giving a message like, “Don’t worry, you big baby, God is taking care of everything” is not a helpful thing.

Worry happens. Anxiety exists and we all face it to varying degrees. I’d like to look for ways today to find how Jesus’ teaching helps us with anxiety and worry, not causes us more worry because we feel like we worry too much. Turn with me to Matthew 6:25-34

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
‘ And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34, TNIV)

The good news here is that Jesus is being incredibly consistent.

It’s helped me to go back and read the entire Sermon on the Mount, to read chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew and see the hopeful themes that work all the way through. The theme I see Jesus weaving is that God is, and God will be good and gracious to the ones who seem to be on the bottom of the social ladder.

Many who sat to listen to Jesus teach were poor. Many were the outcasts. Many probably were actually hungry, not just neurotically worrying about food. In verse 32 Jesus says these are real needs and reminds all of us of the goodness of God: “your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

Here, just like in the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us about a good God who provides what is truly needed, and who provides for ones that many in society think don’t deserve it or won’t get it. The Beatitudes radically turn things upside down. In them, we have the strong message of God’s goodness. Those who mourn will be comforted. The meek and stepped on will inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. The merciful will be shown mercy, the pure in heart will see God.

When everything is going wrong, when you are persecuted and falsely accused, rejoice! You will be rewarded by God…who is good.

The theme comes again in the Lord’s prayer. You and I can talk to our good God. We ask for God’s kingdom, God’s goodness, God’s rule to be done on earth. We ask and can trust that God will give us the bread we need to eat today.

And then last week’s words: there are good things, eternal things, which God will never let waste away or rot or be stolen.

All of those things lead to today’s teaching at the end of Matthew chapter 6.

The message not to worry is a message of hope and of God’s goodness. Even though the big paragraph heading in my bible says “Do Not Worry” for this section, there are other words of hope here too. Look at the birds and how God takes care of them. Look at creation and how beautiful God has made it. Remember that you are valued and loved by God even more than the things which are only temporary!

God knows what your needs are, and has promised to meet them and has told you to ask him for what you need each day. These are words of hope, and words to orient our priorities. Seek God’s rule and goodness first, and you will see how God gives you what you need.

One of my favorite songs in the last decade is Switchfoot’s “We were meant to live for so much more.” There is hope in putting God first. There is direction and purpose and meaning in getting the orientation of our lives right. There are things which last, things which matter. God defines what those things are, and rather than worry about all the zillions of other things we can worry about, we are better served to orient our lives around seeking God’s direction.

So if the focus is seeking God’s direction, trusting God…what does it mean to trust God and put God first? Does that mean making sure to only do certain spiritual things?

I don’t think so! I love being a part of Quakers, who have always taught that there isn’t really sacred and secular, but instead that God can speak through all things.

God made EVERYTHING! God made this whole world with everything in it. Seeking God’s kingdom is not limited to certain career choices. It is not limited to certain prescribed “spiritual activities”. No. In all things, in every part of day to day life, God is alive and at work. In the goodness of relationships, God is calling us to lasting love. In the goodness of art, God is calling us to his creative work in others.

This doesn’t invalidate the reality of needing things to eat and clothes to wear and a roof on our heads. Jesus acknowledged that long ago, probably as he saw with his own eyes people who didn’t have enough to eat. We still need to eat today, and there are some in this room who may be worried about what food will be on their table by the end of this week.

Yet in some ways we can take worry too far, and trust can get buried. We have made food a pastime and an industry, and fashion a status symbol, and homes are idealized as a wealthy street of dreams. God will give us what we need; and we are freed to remember that we are made for more than just these things.

Trusting God does not always come instantly or magically.

It can take practice and effort and a slow building of trust over time, as we take some risks and see God work to provide for us. In almost every area of life, we have to build capacity.

I don’t just go out and run a marathon. In fact, the older I get, I don’t just go out and run a couple miles. My ankles, calves, hamstrings, lungs and heart all need practice to build up the strength to do it.

I want to show you a 19 year old video today, and it’s full of cuteness.

This is our oldest daughter Natalie when she was 16 months old. Watch what she’s learning to do. She’s learning to jump off things, in this case a stool. She did it about a dozen times at least, but you can thank me because I edited it down to just one to show you today.

Just a little jump, but she had to work up the nerve to do it. And it’s clear she loves it! She loves accomplishing it, she loves the little rush she gets with this risk.

Now, look at the video she posted this week, from South Africa where she’s studying in a semester abroad.

I love them both! Like so many things in life, over time she risked more and more things until jumping off a bridge was something she could try without fear. I love, as her dad, seeing the same joy and passion, the same intensity, the same smile. It’s the same rush, the same jump…just on a bigger scale. Success in the small ones led to the joy of the big one this last week.

Spiritual things, things like trusting God, are not any different. 

We have to build up to it. We have to try. We have to take steps toward being obedient, toward putting God first, and watch God provide when we don’t think it’s possible.

Sometimes it’s little steps, like feeling that nudge to listen to someone you know is going to take a lot of your time. It’s taking the risk to give that time because God is asking you to do it, knowing your to-do list is a mile long, trusting that God will still help you accomplish all the other things you need to do. Those steps of obedience can build trust.

One of my steps in building trust in God, in learning to move past worry and toward trusting came in college. College didn’t cost as much when I went to school as it does now, but it was still plenty stressful for me. I had barely been allowed to register for classes because I was so behind on my payments, and now, partway through the semester, I was falling apart.

I had been working at UPS, loading trucks early in the morning…and this was the money that was going to pay my tuition bill. But twenty hours a week of work and getting up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning was taking its toll. What good was it to be able to pay for school if I bombed all my classes?

I prayed, I sought advice from people I trusted, and I finally decided to take the risk to quit. I was worried about how I was going to pay for school, but I just couldn’t keep working. I asked God to somehow come through, that I was doing my best to seek God’s direction. But I’ll admit, I worried a lot.

A week later, my grandparents let me know out of the blue that for the first time in my college experience, they were going to give me money for school. They said they were mailing a check for $3000-the exact amount that I was expecting to earn if I would have kept working for the rest of the year.

For me, that was one of my risks to seek God and trust God instead of being consumed by worry. And it was one of my first big lessons that God does take care of us, God does provide.

Now, I would be lying if I said I never worried after that point. 

I would be lying if I said God has always provided in such a clear manner. I just said this week to someone, God is providing for college payments for our daughter. It’s been more work and stretching than the miraculous scholarships and gifts that I would have liked, but what I said was true: God is providing.

I’m not going to be one to turn this into a magical “name it and claim it” thing, or pretend like trust instead of worry is easy.

But I will be a voice along with Jesus to say that God is good. God does care for us.

I will be a voice along with Jesus to say that there are lasting things, eternal things, good things that are more important than a life focused on food or clothes or…to preach to myself here…or the next big device that Apple will create.

I will be a voice to say that taking the risks and building up our trust step of faith by step of faith is worth it! Taking Jesus at his word, and testing out seeking God’s will for our lives is worth it!

The solution to worry is found in taking ever bigger steps to put God first, to trust and see how God provides.

What is your small step of trust today? The small step that could lead to a leap of faith tomorrow?

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One thought on “Seek God’s Kingdom First

  1. Pingback: Trees and Fruit | Out of doubt, out of dark, to the day's rising…

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