Dear St. Matthew’s Church Family,
I hope you are doing well this week and survived last week’s snow storm without too much damage or inconvenience. I have several things to share with you today, including a brief summary of the message that I had planned to preach on Sunday morning. As I’ll note below, we are going to move on to the next sermon in the
Finding Joy series. But I think last week’s message, taken from the words of Jesus, about worry is very relevant and I want to give you a brief outline of what Jesus has to say and what I think it means for us.
First, I want to thank everyone who helped getting snow cleared from the church parking lot and sidewalks. Your willingness to take some time to help out at the church made a tremendous difference this week. You have your own driveways and walks to clean – and many of you help your neighbors – and I am grateful that you helped at the church as well.
As you may have seen, the forecast for this coming weekend once again includes some inclement weather. I am hopeful the time and intensity of the bad weather will allow us to hold services and Sunday School as planned. But as I said last week, if you are not certain, please use your best judgment and take precautions if you venture out.
Current Sermon Series
As I said above, we’re going to move on to the next sermon in our Finding Joy in an Anxious World series. This week’s message is entitled Less is More and is based on Philippians 2:1-11 and John 3:22-30. We’re going to consider how easily we can be tempted to believe that having more is the secret to finding joy- more money, possessions, food, toys, attention, success, and everything else that we seek and desire. What we discover in Scripture is that we find joy when we give our lives completely to Jesus and to do that, we have to let go of other attachments. In other words, in our quest to experience more joy in our lives: less is more. I know that this is a holiday weekend and the weather might be less than ideal, but I hope you will join us if you are in town.
General Conference Town Hall
If you haven’t done so already, please mark your calendar for a Town Hall session at St. Matthew’s on Sunday January 27 at 4:00pm. We’ll gather in the sanctuary to learn more about the upcoming called session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church, which will take place February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis. Rev. Dr. Rob Vaughn and Mrs. Courtney Fowler have agreed to brief us on the plans that are coming before General Conference and helps us understand the potential consequences of the decisions that might be made. Rob and Courtney are both delegates to General Conference. Rob is a pastor in the Virginia Conference and Courtney is a lay delegate in the Great Plains Conference. Courtney and her family moved to Northern Virginia in 2017 and have been attending St. Matthew’s. I look forward to hearing what Rob and Courtney have to say and hope you will plan to join us.
In previous eNotes, I shared some information and links to the plans being considered: you can find a lot of information and good resources at www.vaumc.org/GC2019. Recently, Rev. Tom Berlin, who was a member of the Commission on a Way Forward and is delegate to General Conference, gave a briefing on General Conference at his church. Thankfully, the event was recorded and you can watch it at this link.
Mission and Service Opportunities
We have two upcoming opportunities to serve and bless our neighbors. First, as is St. Matthew’s tradition, our Junior High Youth will be collecting food items and financial donations for the Souper Bowl of Caring on February 3. The food items will go to the Ken Jackson Food Closet and the money will go to Food for Others to support their food distribution programs. As you can imagine, our food ministries are in great demand right now. Please plan to participate. Second, St. Matthew’s will be partnering with FACETS to host the hypothermia prevention shelter from February 17 to February 24. Here is the link to sign-up to help. Sign-up soon so that you won’t miss this opportunity to honor God by serving people in need.
“Do Not Worry”
Last week, if we had been able to have worship, I would have preached the second sermon in our January series about Finding Joy in an Anxious World. The message was entitled, “Do Not Worry” and it was based on Luke 12:22-31 and Luke 21:34-36. I have said before that most sermons are directed at the preacher, and this was no exception. This was a message I needed to hear, and I don’t think I’m the only one.
The point is very simple: “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life …'” (Luke 12:22). Out of all of Jesus’ commands, this one might be the most difficult for modern disciples to obey. I think we all, at some level, experience anxiety and worry about our lives, our families, the state of the world, our future. It’s a very common experience and as a member of one of my congregations once told me,”Worry works; at least half of the things I worry about don’t happen.” Even though worry is a familiar friend, and we are used to worrying, it doesn’t mean that worry is necessarily good for us or – and this is important – our relationship with God.
In case you’re wondering, for the purpose of this message, I’m defining worry as the pattern of thoughts (and accompanying feelings) that take us away from the present moment. When we worry, we are thinking back over past events and experiencing anxiety about the consequences. When we worry, we are looking ahead to the future and experiencing anxiety about what might happen. Please note that I’m not saying that we should never look back and reflect on our lives and our actions so that we can learn lessons and prepare for the future. And I’m definitely not saying that we shouldn’t look ahead and plan and prepare and dream about what might be. But reflection and preparation are intentional choices. Worry is not. (Although one strategy is to give yourself permission to worry for a few minutes a day. Then, when your “worry time” is up, you go on with your life.)
One of the reasons Jesus insists that we should not worry is because it takes us away from the present moment, which is where we find God at work. God is always present. That’s the Good News. When we worry, we are not in the present moment, and we miss opportunities to encounter the living God. And when we miss opportunities to encounter the living God, we miss opportunities to find joy in the midst of an anxious world.
So, if we want to grow in our ability to obey Jesus’ command (“do not worry …”) and find joy in an anxious world, there are three things we can do:
1. Acknowledge the reality of worry and anxiety in our lives and decide what we want to do about it. Many of us get used to worrying that it becomes normal. In fact, we start to think that something is wrong with us when we are not worrying. And because worrying does keep us on alert and, in some sense, prepares for what might happen, we are afraid that if we don’t worry, something bad will happen. The first step, then, is to acknowledge the reality of our lives and make the decision to obey Jesus and live our lives worry-free (or at least with less worry). We can also choose not to obey Jesus, but we should be honest with ourselves and with God.
2. Grow in our ability to trust God. What Jesus says that is when we are worrying, we are not trusting God. (Don’t forget that letting go of worry does not mean that we don’t reflect on the past and prepare for the future.) For Jesus, trust is the currency of our relationship with God. And there is a relationship between trust and worry. When trust is high, worry is low. When we are growing in our relationship with God, we are learning to trust God. We trust that God will provide for us. We trust that God knows best. We trust in God’s promises. In discipleship, trust is what makes action possible. For instance, if we trust that a bridge will support our vehicle, we drive over it. Likewise, if we trust God, we do what God asks, serve the people God sends us to serve, and follow the example Jesus sets for us. I believe that trust grows through practice and that we can increase our ability to trust God – and therefore decrease the amount of worry in our lives.
3. Focus on God’s Kingdom. This is what Jesus teaches us. Worry and anxiety affects our ability to love and serve God in the world. When we’re worried, we’re not paying attention to the presence of God – and we’re not focused on what God is doing in our lives and in the world around us. Worry distracts us from what’s most important – our relationship with God. Worry is typically about self-protection. When we don’t trust God fully, we worry about ourselves; we resist answering God’s call to serve; we are afraid of what might happen; and we doubt our ability to serve effectively. Jesus calls us back to the present moment, where God is at work – and challenges to trust God and serve God’s purposes in the world.
I’ll be honest with you. This is not easy – at least for me. I struggle to obey Jesus’ command to not worry. I worry about a lot of things. But I also know that when I do trust God and pay attention to what God is doing in my life and in the world around me, and when I participate in what God is doing, I find joy. That’s what I want for myself. And that’s what I want for you.
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.