Sunday, May 25, 2008

What, Me Worry? -- A Sermon

The Gospel According to Alfred E. Neuman.  "What - Me Worry?"  

For those of you who didn't waste your youth as I may well have, Alfred E. Neuman is the gap-toothed, big eared, ever-smiling cover boy of that American Icon, Mad Magazine.  His signature saying is, "What - Me Worry?"  

And it is Alfred that we can look at, for he is -- or is not -- what Jesus was talking about when he says, "Don't worry about what you will eat or drink or wear."  Or when he says,  “Don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today."

The question is, is Alfred E. Neuman that smart?  Did he really get what Jesus  was saying and turn it into his motto?  

Well, I have to confess, as a childhood patron of Mad, I never thought of him in those terms.  Rather, I thought of his as being oblivious to what was going on around him -- he sort of did his thing and couldn't be bothered with the consequences.  He didn't worry because he didn't care about anything or anyone.  

On the other hand, worry itself is a preoccupation with a trouble or a problem.  It doesn't seek solutions but simply allows the situation to overwhelm.  As the dictionary puts it, Worry is "the state of allowing one's mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles."  It's being so focused on a negative thing that you can't see anything else.

But I don't thinkJesus had either of these in mind.  He's is in the midst of his sermon on the mount, and he has been talking about priorities.  No man can serve two masters.  Jesus is not saying we shouldn't care, but that we can make our lives needlessly miserable by losing our focus.

When he says you can either serve God or money, but not both, he's helping us understand that we are only so big and can't possibly make everything our priority.  So what is our priority?  Where are we going to expend our spiritual and emotional energy?  Will we make power, possessions and wealth our priority?  Or will we make loving God and other human beings our priority?  

It's that simple, really. Nowhere does Jesus suggest that we shouldn't make our livings so we can feed, clothe and house our families.  Jesus is a smart guy - he knows we need those things and wouldn't suggest we can just snap our fingers to get what we want.  He knows nobody would listen to him anyway if he suggested such a thing.

But he does suggest that making these things the focus of our lives will lead to more harm than good.  To put it quickly, when those things become our focus, we can no longer see people -- our families and neighbors near and far -- as gifts.  Rather, we see them as tools or liabilities.  When those things -- what the Gospel calls mamon -- become our focus, we can no longer see God.  And that's when we start to die inside.

We can expand this out, by the way.  Some folks worry about relationships.  The Israelites worried that God did not care about them anymore.  They weren't actually relating with God anymore, they were just worrying.  That's when Isaiah said, "Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me."

That's another way of saying, "You don't have to worry about God loving you -- that's a given.  Just take part in the relationship."  

The truth about life is that it will always include hunger, and pain and fear.  This is Memorial Day weekend when we consider the countless lives -- usually young -- wasted in wars.  These last three weeks we've seen news of something like 150,000 people killed in China and Myanmar through natural disasters.  Every day countless others die of starvation and disease.  

To say, "Don't worry," does not mean to turn into Alfred E. Neuman and close your eyes to your needs or the needs of others.  It is to say, get your focus straight.  Look to the creator and loving parent of all, and you will find the peace, strength and courage to live in the world while at the same time helping your brothers and sisters.

Get caught up in worry, and you will achieve little of any true meaning and will burn yourself out faster than a Fourth of July firework (to mix my holidays).  Give up and quit caring like Alfred and you'll -- well you lose your soul.  

So don't worry, but don't quit caring.  Inbetween the two there is God, always holding you in the palm of his hand, always caring for you, always providing what is most essential in this short life we live.  Love.