Embracing the Uncertainty of Worry

Embracing the Uncertainty of Worry

Luke 12:1-3

Last week, we started a new series for Lent called “Embracing the Uncertain.” Just turning on the evening news shows that we live in uncertain times. Things like economic instabilities, eruptions of violence, natural disasters can alter the lives of entire communities. And our individual lives are often just as unsteady: Relationships break, plans crumble, confidence fails. Most of us find uncertainty uncomfortable, therefore we’d happily take stability and a predictable future over an unknown fate any day.

“Embracing the Uncertain” invites us to take a different perspective this Lenten season. Instead of ignoring or hiding life uncertainties, we can actually engage them with confidence and find a stronger faith in the process.

So, to do so we’re exploring six stories in the Gospels as Jesus travels towards Jerusalem where He will be crucified. These stories are like markers along the road to Jerusalem because they point down at a world filled with uncertainty, but yet point us toward a cross that can show us how to follow Jesus with courage, obedience, and the hope of the resurrection.

It is only when we embrace the uncertainty of who we are and the uncertainty of this world, that we can fully acknowledge the power and proof of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. So over the next several weeks leading up to Easter, we are going to examine and embrace some uncertainties in our lives – things like faith, worry, forgiveness, our mortality, surrender and obedience to Christ.

In our fast-changing, unpredictable world there are few guarantees. But those who are willing to embrace uncertainty, and make the risky decision to follow Jesus despite the many unknowns, will reap the greatest rewards.

Last week, we looked at the story in Mark 9 of the father who brought his demon possessed son to Jesus. He believed in Jesus, yet understood that He didn’t understand it all and still had uncertainties in his faith. But uncertainties are not always a bad thing. Struggling with what we know and don’t know doesn’t mean that we are weak, but simply reminds us that we are human. Faith is not the absence of doubt, but rather the embracing of doubt, and ultimately the transformation of it. It’s like courage. Courage is not the elimination of fear, but rather the choice against it.

Life will not always meet our expectations. We will not always understand life, but by committing to Christ we can trust that those moments of uncertainty may actually strengthen our faith and be for our good.

Today, we going to look at the uncertainty of worry by studying Luke 12:1-34. In the middle of this scripture, there’s a man in the crowd who somehow thought he could pull Jesus into an episode of “The People’s Court.” He was in a legal dispute over the division of the family inheritance with his brother, and he naturally wanted Jesus to take his side and resolve this.

But Jesus, being wise when it comes to earthly disputes, saw something deeper, something more spiritual in the man’s question, so He took the opportunity to teach him, the observers that day, and all of us about the human tendency to worry.

Jesus responds to the man with one of His better-known lessons involving lilies of the field and birds of the air. This scripture is known for bringing comfort. Maybe you’ve turned to these scriptures in hard times just like countless Christians throughout history have done.

Luke 12:24-28
24 Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! 25 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? 26 And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

27 “Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 28 And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.

And just before the man’s interruption, Jesus had shared this…

Luke 12:6-7
6 “What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. 7 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

Consider the ravens, God feeds them. Consider the lilies and how God clothes them. And how about the sparrows that cost only a few coins? God keeps track of them. If God cares for ravens, lilies, and sparrows, God most certainly cares for you.

If there ever was a passage in the New Testament that paralleled the comforting power of Psalm 23 in the Old Testament, surely these verses in Luke would fit. When we read these words, we imagine fields full of beautiful flowers, birds singing happily nestled in the tree branches without a care in the world because God meets their needs.

These words inspired songwriter Civilla D. Martin in 1905 to write one of the most famous gospel tunes ever recorded, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” The song was inspired by a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle. They were both long-time sufferers of poor health. Mrs. Doolittle was essentially bedridden for twenty years and her was husband confined to a wheelchair. Yet, their spirits were relentless, which inspired Civilla.

On day, on a visit to their home, Civilla asked the Doolittles the secret to their tenacity and courage. Mrs. Doolittle responded with a confident statement that alluded to Jesus’ words in Luke 12:6, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” And the song was written.

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Civilla’s lyrics offer an important reminder. Rather than long for “heaven and home,” for a better time and a better place way beyond the miseries and sufferings of this life, we can instead focus on the presence of God right here and now.

This is an important thought when reading this teaching from Jesus. To be comforted by God does not mean that we are removed from the suffering. It means that we are given new ways of seeing God’s presence right in the middle of the suffering.

Let’s take a wider view of this story. When we widen the perspective on Luke 12 and consider the other teachings within it, we discover that these words of Jesus are not just a kind of soothing and consoling lullaby for our brokenness.

Luke 12:1-12
Meanwhile, the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and stepping on each other. Jesus turned first to his disciples and warned them, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy. 2 The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. 3 Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!

4 “Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. 5 But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.

6 “What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. 7 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
8 “I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels. 9 But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels. 10 Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

11 “And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.”

So Jesus is in the middle of a crowd of thousands upon thousands that had gathered so tightly they were crushing each other. This is no calm, seaside scene or a spacious area on a grassy hill. This was a congested, tension filled crowd. He begins not with soft-spoken soothing words, but with a harsh accusation against the Pharisees, bringing to light their sinful actions and motivations that they prefer to keep hidden in the dark. And He warns everyone that whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear! Not, exactly the best way to warm up the crowd for a comforting word.

Then Jesus tells them that following Him might cost them their lives. They may be hauled into the synagogues, before the authorities, where they may need to make an account for their allegiance, and what they say could get them killed. But don’t worry about that, the Holy Spirit will tell you what to say. Jesus follows that by saying not to fear those who can kill the body, but instead fear the One who can cause suffering after death. It’s as if Jesus takes the body’s suffering as a given. It’s just going to happen, like there’s no way around it.

After verse 12, we read this random man from the crowd who asks Jesus for a totally random request, to tell his brother to divide their father’s estate with him. Where’d that come from? It obviously was something the man was worried about, so Jesus being Jesus, uses it and teaches the parable of the rich fool, which is a story of a man who was concerned with trying to eliminate any chance of hardships in life by accumulating more and more possessions, only to discover that he still cannot escape death. God called him a fool, which is not exactly the kind of set up for the comforting images of ravens and lilies in the following verses.

Then Jesus says, Luke 12:33-34
33 “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. 34 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

After verse 34, Jesus tells another parable of a master who returns at an unexpected hour (which is God) to observe the behavior of his servants. Those who were faithful and ready for their master, among their uncertainty, will be rewarded. But those who disobey their master’s wishes, believing that the master is not watching, will suffer a brutal punishment. Again, the image of God here is a far cry from what we would associate with lilies and birds.

The chapter concludes with some of the most cryptic (puzzling) messages of Jesus. “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other!” (Luke 12:51) Father vs. son, son vs. father; mother vs. daughter, daughter vs. mother; mother-in-law vs. daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law vs. mother-in-law; family vs. family. Then He rounds out His teaching by accusing the crowd of being like the Pharisees, as hypocrites.

So, let’s review. In just one chapter, Jesus went on the offence against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the people, He told the disciples that the world would be out to kill them, He declared the pointlessness of chasing earthly possessions, He reminded the people that being unfaithful and not being vigilant will bring about judgment, and He reiterated that He was here to cause division, not peace. And right in the middle of all of this, we receive the words that we have too often turned into a soothing lullaby about God’s comfort and care for ravens, for lilies, and for us.

When we look at Luke 12 from this high-altitude perspective, we see that the comfort of God does not transport us away from the darkness of this world, but actually drills us more deeply into the midst of it. To consider ourselves as lilies and ravens does not mean that God will make life easier for us. Think again about Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle. God was watching over them, but Mr. Doolittle was still confined to a wheelchair, and Mrs. Doolittle remained bedridden until she died.

To receive the care of God does not mean we are lifted out of this world. It means learning to perceive God’s presence and power in a new way, that He is right here with us in it all.

When Jesus talks about the comfort of God, He’s actually offering a challenge. The challenge is for us to see the condition of the world in such a way that we can notice the presence, activity, and provision of God in the midst of it all. The challenge is to see the conditions of the world, how broken, ugly and hard it is, so we can notice the presence and work of God in it all.

We worry about the things in our lives we cannot see. We worry about things we cannot control, and sometimes we just worry about not being in control. Many times, we simply worry for the sake of worrying. We worry about the future. We worry about our food and our clothes. We worry about our houses and how we fit into society.

This text reminds us that what is important in moments of worry is getting our perspective right. We are human, and we are going to worry, but in that moment what makes the difference is getting our perspective right. It involves a change in the way we see the world. It involves a change in the way we see God. It involves a change in the way we see ourselves.

With a few casual, but critical references to flowers and birds, Jesus challenges us to shift our attention away from a future that we cannot see…to a present that we can see. Instead of worrying about the unknown, He is inviting us to seek the beauty of the known. He is calling you to see the incredible beauty and splendor of what God is doing in your life right now, that you may be missing.

Essentially, Jesus calls us to exchange our crystal balls for kaleidoscopes, to stop trying to predict the future and start seeing the details of God that we are prone to miss. Jesus challenges us to encounter God’s love, grace, and work in our lives right now and the spender and beauty of it, which is more beautiful than flowers in the field and the carefully designed feathers on a bird.

I found this sermon illustration of a man who was seeking the perfect portrait of peace. Not finding one that satisfied him, he announced a contest to produce this masterpiece. The challenge stirred the imagination of artists everywhere and paintings arrived from far and wide.

On the day of the reveal, many paintings were of things like a soothing, reflecting lake water under the soft blush of the evening sky. But the last painting to be revealed made the crowd gasp in surprise. It was a waterfall cascading down a rocky cliff, penetrating spray far and wide, showing the strong power of water. The crowd could almost feel the water’s coldness. The painting had stormy gray clouds threatening to explode with lighting, wind, and rain.

But amid the thundering noises and bitter chill, a skinny tree clung to the rocks at the edge of the falls. One of its branches reached out in front of the torrential waters as if foolishly seeking to experience its full power. But if you looked closely, on the elbow of that branch was a tiny, little bird who built a nest there. Content and undisturbed in her stormy surroundings, she rested on her eggs. With her eyes closed and her wings ready to cover her little ones, she manifested peace that transcends all earthly turmoil.

The look of shock on the faces of the observers shows our human tendency to focus on the broad picture of our lives (the hardships), not really looking at the finer details, not looking at the subtle but steady presence of God’s peace right in our midst. This is the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that springs up from the truth that God is powerful, and God is present.

The reminder from Jesus to consider the ravens and the lilies is a critical one for our Lenten journey. And it’s possible that it’s the very reminder you need right now. It’s not just to remember that God cares for you, but to actively notice the ways that God is caring for you. Instead of focusing on the torrent of the waterfall and the harsh spray of anxiety, notice the protective covering of God’s wings that shield you even when you don’t notice them.

Ultimately, this is about recognizing that when we go through the toughest struggles, we can know that God is at work. That work may not be fulling revealed until later, but know that God is at work. We can believe that God is in our midst no matter what.

You may be going through struggles so intense right now that it is hard to see through the thick fog of your suffering, but that does not mean God is not here with you. God is at work, moving in ways that you just may not see.

The good news is that God’s activity is not contingent on our ability to see it. That is, after all, how God often operates, just beyond our senses and comprehension. But take heart. Amid the cold, harsh spray of hardship, you are being cared for under God’s protective, nurturing wing.

When you realize that, then you can sing you are happy and free.

I encourage you to go home today and think about the blessings that God gave you that you could not have achieved on your own. Write them down, and consider this list to be your “Lily and Raven” list, which you can refer back to (and add to) as you go through episodes of worry.