Reggae legend, Bob Marley, wrote a song about worry. Maybe some of you know it. It goes,
“Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright. Woke up this morning, smiled with the rising sun, three little birds pitched by my doorstep, singing a sweet song, a melody pure and true: ‘This is my message to you . . .’”
Marley grew up in a Kingston, Jamaica slum in the 1950s. A child of an 18-year-old black girl and a 50-year-old British navy officer, Marley experienced poverty, racism, and violence. Through his music he became famous worldwide as a voice for peace and justice. He died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 36. Bob Marley knew what it was to be at the bottom of the heap and the top of the world. When he sings, “Don’t worry about a thing ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright,” I hear it as a word of encouragement to all of us who struggle with everyday cares of keeping body, soul and family together.
Jesus talked about worry with some of the same words many years ago. He said, “Therefore I say to you, ‘Do not worry about your soul-life, what you will eat or what you will drink, neither your body-person, what you will wear.’” Now, this is a conundrum. It sounds like an impossible command. Life has so many unknowns, so many risks. We care about so many people, and so many things are not in our control. Don’t worry? If only it were that easy. “Do not worry,” sounds like a command—one more thing on my already long “to do” list. So now if I worry, does that make me a bad person since Jesus said not to? Now I’m worrying about my worrying. How is that helpful? Answer: It’s not. So please don’t hear Jesus’ words as yet another thing to worry about. Hear them instead as an invitation from a friend to take a step back from your life and look around you. What do you see?
We’ll get back to that question. First let me say that we worry about so many things: our health, our families, our jobs, our finances. We worry about our safety, climate change, and disasters. Which reminds me of a little story . . .
An airplane was cruising at 40,000 feet when one of the engines blew up. The passengers left their seats and came running over to look out the windows; suddenly the aircraft was rocked by a second blast as yet another engine exploded on the other side.
The passengers were in a panic now. Just then, standing tall and smiling confidently, the pilot strode from the cockpit and assured everyone that there was nothing to worry about. He grabbed several packages from under the seats and began handing them to the flight attendants. Each crewmember attached the package to their backs.
“Say,” spoke up an alert passenger, “aren’t those parachutes?” The pilot said they were. The passenger went on, “But I thought you said there was nothing to worry about?” “There isn’t,” replied the pilot as a third engine exploded. “We’re going to get help.”
The good news is that unlike that pilot, God isn’t stupid and God won’t leave us up in the air. This is a casual way of saying that God provides for us. The idea that God provides for God’s creatures is called “providence.” It’s what the founder of our city, Roger Williams, believed in. It’s an argument that has been going on since ancient times: Is there a God who provides? When Jesus says, “Do not worry,” he is arguing for a God who provides.
In Jesus’ day, people were having a hard time believing in a God who provides. The dominant reality of Jesus’ day was the Roman Empire, which made a small ruling elite very wealthy while millions suffered in poverty. The Roman system improved the fortunes of some, but for many, things just got worse. People felt stuck and helpless to do anything to improve the situation. The crisis in their communities cause a crisis of faith for some.
I know what it’s like to question God’s providence. I was raised with a strong belief in God’s providence. No one every said, “God will make you rich,” but there was a belief that if a person worked hard, God would provide the necessities. But when my parents divorced and my family was in chaos, I questioned all my beliefs, including whether there was a “Heavenly Father” who cared for me. Looking back, however, I can see how God provided the support I needed to get through. Then again, during the last recession, when Nicole and I found ourselves without jobs and without a home, I was very worried and afraid. But God’s providence led us here.
When Jesus says, “Do not worry,” he is saying that there is a fundamental goodness to the universe that we can count on. The Bible speaks of that fundamental goodness when it tells us that “God saw all that God had made, and behold, it was very good.” When Jesus says, “Do not worry,” he is not telling us to ignore suffering. He is not telling us to simply let come what may. Living care-free is not the same as living carelessly. We have responsibilities. Jesus is not telling us to turn away from them. We have hopes and dreams. Jesus is not telling us to give them up. We have families and friends, churches and communities, Jesus is not telling us to walk away from them. What he is saying is to do our best, to give it our all, and then trust that God’s power, provision, and goodness will ultimately bless our efforts.
Make no mistake; humans can thwart God’s providence. The Bible says that God has created the world with enough for everyone, but when some take more than their share, others find themselves having to go without life’s necessities. God hears the cries of those who have no food, shelter, clothing, and calls those of us who do to do something about it. If you are one of those people God hears you and we hear you. We will do what we can to help.
Which leads us to Jesus’ answer for worry. As a counter-move to the pain and burden of worry, Jesus proposes, “’Seek first’ or ‘strive first’ for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well”—“these things” being life’s necessities. The kingdom of God simply means the world as God intended it to be—a world where people practice kindness, patience, and generosity toward each other, a world where justice is done, free from discrimination and prejudice of any kind. I would like to think that Beneficent Church is a little piece of God’s kingdom: a safe space where you can bring your worries and find the support and encouragement you need for your life. At Beneficent Church together we seek God’s kingdom, and on some days we find it.
There’s something about putting your life out there for others that seems to help with anxiety. Getting out of ourselves and our self-concern puts our worries into perspective. Seeking after God’s kingdom gives me a sense of purpose and connects me to a worldwide history and a community that reaches back thousands of years and forward into promised future. I still worry about my family and about my work, but I don’t worry about whether my life has purpose and direction.
If you go to the Bob Marley website, you will see a short video of him talking about his sense of mission. He says, “My life is not important to me. Other people’s life is important. If my life is just for me and my own security, then you know what, it’s nothing. My life is only important if I can help plenty people.”
I invite you to seek the kingdom with me. Together we will try to trust in God’s providence. Together we will sing, Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright.