Don’t worry. Be happy. Homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C


I preached this homily at the Church of the Assumption in Nashville, Tennessee on February 26, 2017.

The readings for that Sunday are:

First Reading Isaiah 49:14–15
Response Psalm 62:6a
Psalm Psalm 62:2–3, 6–9
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 4:1–5
Gospel Acclamation Hebrews 4:12
Gospel Matthew 6:24–34


In 1988, one of the great poets of the twentieth century wrote these words:
Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note-for-note
Don’t worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry, you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy

Ain’t got no place to lay your head
Somebody came and took your bed
Don’t worry, be happy
The landlord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don’t worry, be happy
Bobby McFerrin’s song is a bit of a silly little ditty, but there’s a great truth in it. He is echoing one of the main themes in Jesus’ message this week as we continue to make our way through the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus gives several illustrations to try to get it through to us that we need to trust in God instead of being overcome with worry.

This isn’t the only place that the Lord points out that “worry” is a challenge to those who would follow him. Recall that he says the same to Martha when she asks him to order her sister, Mary, to help her with the chores. ” Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…” (Lk 10:41). “And distracted.” That’s the problem with worry. This Greek word we find in both of those passages comes from the root that means ‘to divide.’ The problem when we start worrying is that we lose sight of the God who loves us so much that our very existence is an act of his love. The God who loves us so much that, even if a mother forgot her child (Mothers, how likely is that?), he would continue to love us and to see to it that we receive what is best for us. Remember, what is best for us sometimes won’t be what we think we want or what we ask for – we must never think that this promise has been broken because God says no.

Jesus started with that famous, “you cannot serve both God and mammon.” That is, you cannot be divided (notice the theme here?). I always wondered what this word “mammon” is. Why doesn’t Jesus say “money” if that’s what he’s talking about? ‘Mammon’ is a Greek transliteration of an Aramaic word for wealth and possessions. It is derived from a word that means “believe, trust”; thus it means “that in which one places trust.” Here, mammon is personified and portrayed as a master; Jesus is calling our attention to how our possessions can come to possess us. We can become enslaved to our wealth and belongings, constantly worried about maintaining them or seeking to acquire more. If we are preoccupied with building up treasures on earth, we are serving mammon, and we cannot give to God our total, undivided service.

Great! Awesome! God is going to take care of me, so I can sit back and let him do it. Sweet. Sadly, that has already been promoted in history, and the Church saw the danger in it – she condemned it under the name “quietism.” This was already present in the first days of the Church, even. St. Paul says to the Church at Thessalonika, “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat” (2 Thess 3:10). In the other extreme on this spectrum, we have the Prosperity Gospel, the so-called “Health and Wealth Gospel” that can be seen proclaimed from the pulpit of any number of televangelists. That is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ! It’s telling that one of the most successful of these preachers has removed the cross from his stage. The cross is the central image of the Gospel – all things lead to it and flow from it!

So what does this look like? If these are the wrong interpretation, what is the right one?
Let me ask you a question?
What is your goal in life? Is it success or God? Is it pleasure or happiness?
Which is more important: the week or the weekend? Do we work all week so we can afford to have the weekend off, or do we have the weekend off so we can recover from work and start fresh on Monday? Would it surprise you if I tell you that we are MEANT to work so that we can have leisure, so that we can spend time drawing close to God? The work week is at the service of the weekend, not the other way around!

If someone looks at you, what does it look like? What will that person think you seek as your first priority?

This is the big test of if we are acting in accord with Jesus’ call and our identity as God’s beloved children. Work isn’t bad. Money isn’t bad. Material possessions aren’t bad. But they are all tools. None of them is an end unto itself. Each of these exists for one and only one reason: to give us the opportunity to know God. The old Baltimore Catechism distills the purpose of life beautifully:
Question: Why did God make you?
Answer: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next. (Baltimore Catechism Q.6)

Everything we do must have that as its purpose. My friends, that is your job in the world. To work in it and, through your lives and your own work, day in and day out, to perfect it for God. My job is to continue to, through prayer and sacraments (right now, only a few sacraments, but soon more), to give you the spiritual tools to do that. Together, we, as the Church, prepare the world for the return of our Lord. We keep our eyes fixed intently on God and judge every word and action we say by checking who we are serving. We hope that, when the end of our time on earth arrives, we will leave the world just a tiny bit more after the image God intended for his creation. We trust in God to give us what we need, both physically and spiritually, to fill in what is lacking in our best efforts. We remember this each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer; pay attention to those words when we say them in a few minutes. “Give us this day our daily bread.” This “daily bread” has two meanings: the needs of our lives on earth and the Eucharist, the bread of life that brings us, in Christ, to everlasting life. After all, Jesus promised that: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” We have to ask ourselves, will we trust our God and creator or assume he is a liar?

Talk to me!