Tools Of The Trade
As the story goes, the Devil himself was having a garage sale. There, displayed on a table were all of his bright, shiny trinkets. There were tools that made it easy to tear others down and use as them as stepping stones. There were lenses for magnifying one's own importance, and, if you turned them around and looked through the other end, for belittling others.
Hanging in back was the usual assortment of gardening implements designed to help one's pride grow by leaps and bounds: the rake of scorn, the shovel of jealousy for digging a pit for your neighbor, the tools of gossip and backbiting, of selfishness and apathy. All of these were pleasing to the eye and came complete with fabulous promises and guarantees of prosperity. Prices, of course, were steep; but not to worry! Free credit was extended to one and all.
"Take it home, use it and you won't have to pay until later!" Satan cried out as he sold his wares. Browsing the display, a visitor noticed two well worn, nondescript tools standing in one corner. Not as tempting as the others, he found it curious that these two items had price tags higher than any other. When he asked why, Satan just laughed and said, "Well, that's because I use them so much. If they weren't so plain looking, people might see them for what they are. You see, that one's Doubt and the other Worry -- and when all others fail those work every time."
In today's Gospel lesson, we listen in on a conversation between Jesus and his Apostles that is filled with doubt and worry. It is the evening of Holy Thursday, and Jesus tells the apostles that he is about to leave them. He knows that his hour of crucifixion is drawing near, and the Apostles are filled with anxiety. In the verses immediately preceding today's lesson, the Apostle Peter tells Jesus that he will follow him wherever he goes. Jesus answers, "Where I am going you cannot follow me now ..." Peter replies, "Why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." And Jesus replies, "Lay down your life for me? I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times." Then, right in the middle of this heavy exchange, Jesus says to the Apostles: "Do not let your hearts be troubled! Trust in God still, and trust in me."
Worried about the future? Jesus says: "Do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself. Jesus is telling you that he will support and sustain you in the concerns of a single day. Jesus is telling you that you can "master the demons of worry" if you confine them to a single day. He is telling you to leave yesterday's guilt and tomorrow's fears to God. In actuality, if you go to tomorrow to borrow worry for today, you're going to find that the interest is astronomical. It just grows and grows. "I will help you live today," Jesus promises. Do not let your heart be troubled! Believe in him!
Indeed, the constant worry we carry around with us robs life of its joy. We're so full of anxiety and worry all the time because we don't know where life is taking us, really: "What's going to happen if I do this? ... What's going to happen if I don't do that? ... How can I be sure? ... What if he does this? What if she does that?"
Each question is like an S.O.S. which, we have determined in advance, will never be answered. Well, Jesus had Good News for his disciples, and I've got Good News for you now: God is listening, always listening. He knows where you're hurting. He is onto every one of your problem areas. He hears each S.O.S. before you can send it out. And if only you let him, any time, any place, in any situation, he will come to your rescue.
Dr. Charles Mayo, of the famed Mayo Clinic, said that he had never known anyone to die from overwork but he'd known many people who literally died from worry. The poet Robert Frost wittily explained why. "The reason why more people die from worry than from work is that more people worry than work!"
The legendary comedian Jerry Lewis was suffering from anxiety and sought the advice of his doctor. The doctor tried to reassure him saying, "Jerry, please don't worry" Jerry snapped back, "Doc," how do you don't worry?"
If worrying is not helpful, then why do we do it? Perhaps the biggest reason we worry is because we don't know how not to. We don't realize that there is an alternative.
A financial consultant answered an ad to work with a business owner. At the interview, the owner explained that his company was struggling and was fast losing money. The harsh reality was he didn’t have time to worry and do the work that was necessary to save the business. And so he told the consultant that he wanted to devote himself to the positive aspects of building his business and that he would pay the man to do all the worrying -- about quality control, accounts receivable, profit-and-loss ratios and all the rest. Moreover, the owner was willing to pay handsomely for the consultant's work. After much negotiation, they settled on an annual salary of $200,000, a generous expense account, full health care benefits and six weeks paid vacation.
Of course the consultant was interested but had some reservations. "If you’re in such trouble," he asked, "where are we going to get the $200,000 to pay me -- plus all the extra money for the benefits we agreed on?" To which the businessman answered, "That’s your first worry!"
Someone has observed, "It doesn't pay to worry. If you went through last year's files marked IMPORTANT, chances are the only things you'd keep are the paper clips!"
Chances are, if we were to review all of last year's important matters, we might not think they are so important today. And in order to appreciate the importance of what Jesus is telling us about handling our anxious worry, we need to hear it in the full context of his teaching. His whole life and ministry is about the love of God for you and for the whole created order: the fact that God loves you so much, every moment of your existence; that he is always working to give you wholeness of life. In the Sermon On the Mount, Jesus is telling us how to respond to this tremendous reality, how to make it real in our lives. And what he is telling us in the passage about "anxious worry" is that we will overcome it, that it will not weaken and destroy us and rob life of its joy if we will respond to the loving God with absolute, unconditional trust. "Do not worry about tomorrow," he tells us, "tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
"Trust God!" "Have faith in God!" These may sound like tired clichés in today's world. We hear them so often that we really don't hear them anymore. Jesus is telling us that "Trust in God" is not just a pious phrase. It is not some superficial pronouncement to be spoken in times of trouble when we can't think of anything else to say. It is, rather, a style of life. It is trusting yourself completely to God moment-by-moment and, in so doing, receiving the power to handle your anxious worry.
It is possible to live with such complete trust in God that you are able to handle your anxious worry and get through the storms in a way that doesn't tear you apart and destroy you.
In this moment at least, think of the one anxiety that is pressing in on you more than any other. Think of the one anxious worry that is causing you to lose your vitality and is robbing you of the joy in life. Think of that one thing and then let go of it! If you will trust God in this way, you will discover that not only will you experience wholeness in life, but you'll be also able to communicate your joy to others who are burdened with the very same sort of anxious worry!
Of course we must always work hard at the business of living, and also our plans for tomorrow. But in order to find joy in the business of living, we must be willing to say "Lord, I'll do the work, and you do the worrying."
E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org