At the Master’s feet - Week 3:  The worry free life

Read Matthew 25-34
Note to leaders:  This session includes a number of practical elements.  No specialist equipment is needed, just some pens, paper, and a box or bucket (and I you feel like it, some matches)
Reflect and Discuss:
Rather than beginning with an introduction why not take some time as a group to simply reflect on and discuss your initial response to this passage? 
What questions do you have?
What is your initial reaction?
At this point in Matthew’s narrative we’re still in the sermon on the mount.  It is fair to assume that the sermon on the mount is aimed primarily at those who call themselves disciples of Jesus, and as Matthews Gospel was written with the Christians in Antioch in mind, his intended audience is the same, although Matthews audience was much more likely to be a mixed Jewish-Gentile one than Jesus’. 
As he narrates Jesus delivering his sermon on the mount, Matthew is deliberately invoking images of Moses giving the Law to the people of Israel.  Like Moses, Jesus teaches from a mountain, but using the Mosaic law as his basis Jesus lays out a radical re-interpretation of the Law of Moses.  This new interpretation of the Law of Moses becomes a radical manifesto for how life in the kingdom is worked out.
And so it is in this context that Jesus talks about worry.  Specifically worry about material things such as food and clothes.  To his hearers Jesus words would have had an immediate resonance.  Many of the people that he spoke to were the rural poor and worry about food and drink would have been a part of daily life for them. 

So firstly we see that Jesus speaks to real worries, not abstract worries, but concerns about daily issues of life.  Certainly we’re unlikely to face worries about having enough to eat or drink or wear, but regardless we can see that Jesus is concerned for people with their actual worries. 

Jesus knows that fretting and worrying have a significant and negative effect on life.  His concern is for the freedom and blessing of the kingdom of God to be known and enjoyed and for those things which would restrict this sort of kingdom life to be taken away. 
Something Practical:
We’re now going to do something very practical before we think about the rationale for letting go of worry.  So often we spend a long time thinking our way through why we can and should take up an invitation that Jesus gives us.  Today however we’re going to respond to the invitation without picking apart why we can and should.  We’re going to respond in a more immediate manner and perhaps a less cerebral manner.
We all carry worries.  Of course we do.  We’re human.  Worry is a part of our lives, and in some senses it’s not always negative.  It can spur us into action, it can be as a consequence of being conscientious and in it’s place it is fine.  Sometimes the things that we worry about are things that we can directly influence. 

Let’s sort through our worry lists now and write on a piece of paper all those things which we worry about but that are within our control and things that we should be involved in as conscientious people. 

Now put this list to one side

Another list…
The next list is for the less positive worries.  Those worries that are perhaps irrational, that we have no power to control, or that consume us in an unhealthy way.  These are worries that we need to hand over to God and ask him to free us from. 
Prayer is the great weapon of the Christian when it comes to worry.  In prayer we acknowledge that although almost all things are beyond our control, nothing is beyond God.  As we ask for his intervention and presence, we recognize that he is the source of peace and can be trusted.  With regular habits of prayer worry can reduce and trust in God deepened. 
Take this list and one by one silently name each thing on it and ask God to take your worries that are related to it away. 
When your group has worked through the lists take your list in your hand, screw it up and get rid of it.  You may want to put the lists in a box, or shred them, or even (and this is the most fun way) set fire to them.  Symbolically let them go in the knowledge that they have been handed over to God. 
A member of our PCC tells a story about a previous vicar in Ashtead who when preaching about worry said this: 
“Usually what happens is that people come to church burdened with worry.  They lay their worries at the door for the duration of Church, and then pick them up again on the way out.”
When we hand something to God and ask him to relieve us of our burden we must be prepared to let go of it.  There’s no point him carrying it a short way only for us to ask for it back again!  And so this exercise involves a commitment to not pick the burden of worry back up again. 
A congregation member from the 11am has a sign on her fridge which reads:

Dear [Insert your name]

Today I shall carry all of your worries and burdens.  I will not be requiring your help.
Lots of love, Jesus. 
Now take up the first list that you put to one side earlier.
Spend some time praying through the things on this list.  It might be helpful to pray that:
- these things do not become unhelpful and oppressive burdens of worry
- that you may have wisdom to know how to deal with / resolve / proceed with each item on the list
- that in doing the above God may be glorified
You might like to close either in prayer, or perhaps by speaking or singing (if you know the tune) this song by Bill Gaither:
God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives;
But greater still the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because He Lives!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

And then one day, I'll cross the river,
I'll fight life's final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to vict'ry,
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

Revd Simon Butler


Simon Butler, 20/01/2014