I just read this great article on preachingtoday.com. It's by Brian Lowery, and it's a meditation on Matthew 6:25-34. He approaches the financial downturn with wit, wisdom, and best of all, a fresh application of God's Word. Enjoy...
I always do something different after I've spent a little time in the Word each morning. Sometimes I'll read a chapter from a book. Sometimes I'll jot down a few thoughts that have been rolling around in my head—sermon ideas, article ideas, ideas for ingenious inventions to be sold on the Home Shopping Network. Sometimes I'll turn on the computer and skip around the Internet for a while. Last week, after pondering the words of Matthew 6:25–34, I chose that last option. I closed my Bible, fired up my laptop, and poured over CNN.com, USAToday.com, Time.com, and other news-related hot spots.
I only needed to visit one site, because they were all talking about the same thing—the economic crisis. The headlines were endless and exclamatory: "Stock markets respond poorly to latest financial news!" "Vice President says bailout plan only has 30 percent chance of working!" "Experts claim 'no end in sight' for financial woes!" The imperative was singular: "Be worried—very worried." The doomsday chorus was almost enough to make me wonder if I should be paying better attention to those Cash4Gold.com commercials. But then I remembered that I don't have any gold objects at home. And I remembered what I'd read long before Wolf Blitzer started barking in my ear.
Perhaps the greatest witness we can offer is to refuse to bow at the altar of anxiety.
Humbled, I once again considered the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. It was a little hard to do in the midst of a Chicago winter, but I was able to use my sanctified imagination. I reminded myself that Solomon probably did have quite a wardrobe. I weighed carefully the line of reasoning that says leave tomorrow alone, for today has enough trouble of its own.
All these things were comforting—as warm as those Snuggies they sell on the Home Shopping Network (which I totally could have come up with if I'd been more disciplined about jotting down my ideas in the past). Comfort was what I needed, I suppose. But God didn't stop at comfort. He seemed to think I needed a swift kick of conviction too.Don't act like a Gentile.
Here's the section of Matthew 6:25–34 that I felt the Spirit poking me with until it cracked open my heart: "Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things." And here's the part of that section that was particularly convicting: "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things." Among all the birds, lilies, and talk of Solomon, I had missed Christ's potent word about living as a "Gentile."
The Greek word (ethnos) that hides behind the English word "Gentiles" is most often translated as "nations." Why the decision by most translations to translate the word as "Gentiles"? Because within the larger New Testament context, ethnos is often used to identify nations that are set apart from the nation of Israel. Keeping this in mind, you begin to see that Christ is saying something quite significant: among all the nations, Israel ought to stand out as the one that doesn't worry. After all, she carries with her a story that ought to bat away the slightest notion of anxiety. Israel's rich history speaks of a God who has broken the back of political figureheads, split a sea in two, toppled kingdoms, and started revolutions out of a remnant time and again. As for the Gentiles? Well, they are the ones who have been broken, swallowed up, toppled, and rendered powerless by a nation that looks like a Chihuahua among Great Danes. It's easy to see why Christ offers the imperative "do not worry" at the beginning, middle, and end of the pericope. Israel's narrative demanded that she have a backbone. Hers was a God-filled story—quite the opposite of the Gentiles' godless tale.
Of course, all my reflections on this passage thus far are highly contextualized. As you well know, a great light has now been seen by the Gentiles, and Jews and Gentiles have become one in a grafting together of the nations in Christ. Now all believers share the same stunning narrative teeming with God's providence. In turn, this shared narrative means having a backbone in the face of fear is demanded of every believer, no excuses.
This is where the conviction really begins to settle in for me, for you, for all of us. Why wouldn't we show a little backbone when the rest of the world has gone limp with fear? Our great God deserves this credit. His track record is very good; even when his actions have seemed sketchy in the moment, they have proved brilliant in hindsight.
Let's go a step further. In these troubled times, perhaps the greatest witness we can offer as the people of God is to refuse to bow at the altar of anxiety. Wouldn't it speak volumes if we didn't tremble like schoolchildren when the market takes another bear-ish turn? Isn't it crucial that we don't embrace the Gentile spirit? While countless others flit around without an anchoring narrative (besides the decidedly American narrative), wouldn't it be nice to stand out as a people who cling to a reassuring story that fuels nothing but confident expectation?
As of late, I've been forcing myself to read every section of the Sermon on the Mount in the cool shadow of how it begins—namely, the Beatitudes and the missional call toward being salt and light and a city on a hill. In keeping with that practice, I cannot help but offer this word to you and to those to whom I'll preach in the months ahead: a city on a hill should not be worried, especially for the sake of the surrounding cities watching it closely. If those who have hope lose hope, what witness is there for the hope that is in Christ.
Rudyard Kipling writes, "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs … you'll be a man, my Son." Should the church keep her head when all about her are losing theirs, she'll be much more than Kipling gets at in his poem. She'll be the very witness she's called to be in a trembling world filled with troubled headlines—and who knows how many headless people will suddenly find their souls by way of that witness.
Brian Lowery is managing editor of PreachingToday.com and co-editor of 1001 Quotations That Connect (Zondervan, 2009).