November 18, 2007 - Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
What a wonderful phrase
Ain’t no passing craze
It means no worries
For the rest of your days
It’s our problem-free philosophy
If you were at least three years old and anywhere on planet Earth in 1994, you probably remember the advent of that song as one of the highlights from Disney’s, “The Lion King.” Timon and Pumbaa, an animated meerkat and warthog, danced through the jungle teaching that tune and “philosophy” to the young lion Simba, inviting him to forget all his troubles and simply enjoy the blessings of life.
It feels today like Jesus may have imbibed a little of the laid-back, easy-going philosophy reflected in the Swahili phrase Hakuna Matata, “No worries.” In the midst of what Bible students sometimes call the “Little Apocalypse” (in contrast to the “big” Apocalypse of the Book of Revelation), Jesus comes off a couple times with a kind of Hakuna Matata message.
In verse 9, Jesus says, “When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened.” Then in verse 14, after telling Christians to expect to be put on trial before kings and governors, he says, “But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.” Hakuna Matata! The world will be coming to an end, and you will be hated and betrayed or even killed, He says in verses 16 and 17, but “No worries!” It will all be O.K., He goes on in verse 18, “But not a hair of your head will perish.”
Now if anyone deserves to be called the “Lion King,” it’s Jesus. But we expect to learn a little more from the Lion of the Tribe of Judah than we might from a Disney cartoon character. We want the philosophy of the Lord of heaven and earth to be just a bit deeper than “No worries for the rest of your days.” But this is not the only time Jesus said not to worry.
Back in Luke 12, verses 11 and 12, He said much the same thing He said here in verse 14, “do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Teaching Christian college students, Beth and I sometimes get the impression our students have really taken these verses to heart, neglecting to study in the confidence that the Holy Spirit will provide answers in class or on the test when the time comes. We doubt that’s what Jesus meant. But He does warn against some kinds of worries.
Going on in Luke 12 we find the Lord telling His disciples “do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body what you will wear.” Three times in verses 22-31 He asks them not to worry. Consider the ravens, consider the lilies, forget your anxieties about food and clothing. Hakuna Matata!
If we focus only on these “no worries” sayings of Jesus, He comes across as a sort of first century hippy, wandering around the Judean countryside preaching peace, love and a lifestyle free from bourgeois worry and anxiety. Yet the same Jesus who told His disciples not to worry also told them to pick up crosses and follow Him to crucifixion. In this text where He tells them not to be afraid and not to worry about what to say, He told them that there would be wars and earthquakes and famines and plagues. He told them they would betrayed, imprisoned and murdered. Plenty to worry about, but still no worries. It doesn’t quite fit together.
Not worrying about what to eat doesn’t quite fit with our Epistle lesson this morning. With quite another spirit, Paul warned in II Thessalonians 3 that people in the church ought not to be care-free and idle, but keep busy. “Anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” No free lunch, no Hakuna Matata here. Paul says to urge everybody who’s just floating along worry-free “to settle down and earn the bread they eat.”
The whole context for what Jesus says here in Luke 21 is a prediction of events not very far off for those who first heard Him. This is maybe 29 or 30 A.D. and when Jesus says about the Temple in verse 6, “the time will come when not one stone will be left on another,” He’s talking about the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. By the time Luke wrote this Gospel, it had already happened. Everyone who read this knew it was true. And the message was not all “don’t worry.”
Go on to verse 20 and you find Jesus giving a warning and a plan of action. “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded… flee to the mountains…” Get out of the city. How dreadful it will be for pregnant women and nursing mothers. These are horrible, horrible times He’s talking about, not a skip through the meadow singing a happy little song. Remember the awful siege of Masada a few years after the destruction of Jerusalem. In 74 A.D. a thousand Jewish men, women and children barricaded themselves in a high fortress, only to be surrounded by 10,000 Roman troops. They decided to commit suicide rather than die by starvation and suffer humiliation and rape by the soldiers. The men killed their families, ten men killed all the rest, one man killed the other nine, and then he killed himself. The Romans found only ghastly silence when they finally came up the mountain. That’s the kind of times Jesus was talking about here. Masada, not Hakuna Matata.
So what was our Lord really saying to His followers, to you and to me, about our attitude and actions when we face terrible times? What does His word not to worry mean for us? What did it even mean for those poor people in 70 A.D.? In verses 16 and 17, He said, “You will betrayed even by parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me.” But then in verse 18 He told them, “But not a hair of your head will perish.” It doesn’t make any sense. You will be betrayed and even murdered, but “not a hair of your head will perish?”
You simply cannot read the Bible very long or very seriously and still believe that something as simple as “no worries” is the whole of the Christian message. We don’t have a “problem-free philosophy.” Christianity was never and will never be a happy-go-lucky way of life. We have a Cross, an ancient device for executing the death penalty, as the central symbol of our faith. When Jesus tells us not to be afraid, not to worry, we have to hear what He says to us against the background sound of nails being hammered through flesh into rough wood.
This text is no excuse to hide your head in the sand and pretend that there is nothing to worry about. Nowhere does Jesus invite you and I to escape the troubles of this world and live as if we’re already in heaven. John 16:33 says, “In this world you will have trouble.” Trouble is a fact. It’s a given for Christians, maybe more so than for anyone else. Jesus laid out in our text all the troubles that would come to His people at the fall of Jerusalem and at the end of the world. We will have worries, but Jesus still says we don’t need to worry.
What I mean is that Jesus says we don’t need to worry about the end. In this world we have plenty of things to worry about, earning enough to feed ourselves among them. But we need not worry about what happens in the end, even if we don’t have enough to eat. Jesus says we don’t need to be afraid of the end. There’s plenty to be afraid of, war and weather, cancer and crime. If we’ve got any sense at all, we will be afraid of those things. But Jesus says we need not fear how those things will end. When He said “not a hair of your head will perish,” He didn’t mean you wouldn’t die. He had just got done saying that some of us, most of us, will die. He meant that even dying we would not perish. We would not be lost forever. We would not fall out of the tender hands of God.
So after telling us all the bad news, and after telling us not to worry, in verse 19 Jesus gives us His most important word, “Stand firm, and you will win life.” Stand firm and you don’t need to worry. Stand firm and the end is life.
Even in “The Lion King,” Hakuna Matata is hardly the whole story. Simba has plenty of worries. He’s got an evil uncle who wants him dead. He almost died at the hands of storm trooper hyenas. And he isn’t going to be able to just stay in the jungle singing with Timon and Pumbaa, as nice as that would be. He’s not a warthog or a meerkat. He’s a lion, and ultimately he has to stand up, go back home, and face his treacherous uncle. He has to stand firm, in order to win life.
By standing firm, Simba won a “Circle of Life,” as the closing tune of the movie sings it. His land was green again, his people were happy, he had a little cub. Life went on. But the Lion King of Judah offers you and me something even better, not just continuing the old life, but beginning a new life; not just circling back to the same old things, but going forward into a bright and fresh eternity. That’s what Jesus promises you and I will win if we follow His Lion leadership and stand firm.
Our Old Testament text also talks about the terrible times of the end, the judgment God will bring on all the evil of the world. Malachi 4:1 says, “‘Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a fire. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Plenty to worry about there, plenty to be afraid of. But in the end, says the prophet in verse 2, “for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.”
“Revere my name” says the Lord, through Malachi. “Never tire of doing what is right,” He said through Paul in II Thessalonians 3:13. And Jesus says, “Stand firm.” Stand firm, and you will win life, eternal life. Stand firm, and in the end there are no worries for you, even though worries in this life may seem many and overwhelming. Let the Lion Heart of Jesus into your own heart and stand firm.
Yet how? How do you and I stand firm, with all our worries, even all our little worries? Sometimes I think those are the hardest, the ones that really challenge my faith. Stupidly, I sometimes wish, “Throw me in prison, torture me, threaten my life. I could handle that.” Give me something big to worry about and I’ll be fine, but it’s all the small worries and trials—the car that breaks down, the cold that won’t go away, the assignment that’s late, the roof that needs to be fixed, the neighbor who plays his stereo too loud—those pile up, one on the other, and I just get tired, tired of doing right, tired of standing firm. How are you supposed to stand when those little worries just keep dragging you down?
Our Lord gave us many resources. He gave us prayer. He gave us the promise of His presence and help. He really will teach us what to say for Him when the time comes. He gave us Christian brothers and sisters to help us, like some of you are helping the Lindsays. But because it’s this Sunday of the year, the suggestion I want to offer you this morning for standing firm is to give thanks.
Philippians 4:6 begins with that same message we’ve been looking at here, “Do not be anxious…” “Do not worry…” It’s the same word. “Do not worry about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” There’s prayer. There’s the implied promise of God’s help when you pray. But right in the middle there is a call for thanksgiving. Being thankful to God is a way to deal with worry. More than that, it’s a way to stand firm.
Corrie Ten Boom tells how her sister encouraged her when they were taken to the Ravensbruck prison camp during World War II. Betsie told Corrie to do what Scripture says and be thankful for everything about their new situation. Give thanks for crowded beds stacked three high, for filthy sanitation facilities, for soiled sheets… and for fleas, hordes of horrible, biting fleas.
Ten Boom relates how Betsie helped her start being thankful with a couple of easy things: that they were assigned together, that they had a Bible. Corrie chimed in with thanks that the filth meant there was no inspection to discover that Bible. But when Betsie urged her to say thanks for the fleas, that was almost too much. Finally, standing there in the dirt Corrie gave thanks to God for fleas, though she could see absolutely nothing good about them, nothing to be truly thankful for.
For weeks there in that crowded barracks, women came packed together and heard them read the Bible and sing hymns and pray and worship God. Somehow they remained free to do all that. All the other barracks were under close surveillance, but nobody ever entered theirs. Nobody found and confiscated their Bible. They had a kind of wonderful freedom there in prison. It was much later that Corrie found out why.
A supervisor finally came one day to their barracks to make an assignment. But the supervisor would not step inside. It was the fleas. None of the guards or staff would enter that room because of the fleas, the fleas for which Corrie Ten Boom did not know why she was giving thanks.
So today we give thanks. God asks us to give thanks not just because we should be grateful to Him. Heaven knows we should be. God asks us to give thanks so that we can be like Corrie Ten Boom, like Paul who gave thanks for his trials and his pain, like the prophets who gave thanks for their persecutions, like Jesus Himself who gave thanks over bread and wine even as He was getting ready to die. God asks us to give thanks so that we can stand firm. In the giving of thanks for little things that worry us, we win a much greater prize. By thankfulness God helps us stand firm so that we may win life.
Hakuna Matata literally means “No worries here.” That’s not true. It wasn’t true for Jesus. It’s not true for us. In this world, we have trouble. But if we stand firm, if we are thankful, if we trust in Him and give thanks in all our circumstances, we will win a place in that new world our Lord is bringing. Jesus said that He would come again and take us to His home where there are many rooms. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. This world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. Stand firm and you win a place in His kingdom. We have worries here, but there are no worries there.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj