This morning we continue our sermon series on Rest, looking at pressures and stress within our most intimate relationships—our families. And how God invites us to peace and flourishing personally and communally. We’ll begin by reading Matthew 6.
[READ Mt 6:25-34]
I want to start this message this morning talking to you young people! Most of the kids are already in Sunday School. We’re talking about family stress this morning and so I want to let you in on a little secret as we start: did you know that all the adults here look back on our childhood, our youth, with fondness? Even if there were difficult times in our lives, we have special cherished memories too. We smile at who we were, when we were your age. Looking back, we think we see ourselves more clearly. At least, we see many of othe things we have learned. And we want to share them with you! If you don’t think it’s true, ask a parent (or any adult) what they remember when they were your age!
Young people, this is why your parents are always telling you stuff—and even telling you to do stuff. In short, it’s because they love you! They want you to have an even better life than they did at your age. And they want you also to have a better future! Let me put this all another way: I know that when adults ask you to do things—especially when your parents ask you to do things—that it feels like a burden. It feels annoying and disruptive and you don’t understand (or don’t care) why you should do it. But do you know who never nags you? Someone who doesn’t care about you at all. Someone who doesn’t care about you will never bother you. They will simply ignore you and move on.
Young people, do you know that your parents—even other adults—worry about you? (Again, you should ask them!) Adults see that the culture you’re growing up in is different from theirs. You have different choices to make, you have different priorities and interests than your parents. Life has been different for you than previous generations—your parents get that in a way that you don’t—and your life will continue to feel utterly normal to you (after all, it’s yours!) but it will also feel equally strange to many of a different generation who care for you.
Young people, that’s it! If you don’t hear anything else today, check in with an adult who cares for you—ask them a few questions. But I encourage you to listen to the rest of the sermon as well—you may learn a few more things!
On that note, I want to note that obviously not all of us are parents. And obviously family stress goes far beyond just one dimension of parent and child. We are single people who feel the pressure of parents or friends. We have no children and people keep asking “when”. We are siblings who rub against each other’s priorities. We are a sexual minority and feel we don’t fit. We are grandparents who long for more time and influence to bless those we love.
We are a spouse who struggles with our partner’s choices. The list goes on and on. In each and every case, there is the opportunity for some new and different permutation of worry. But the worry always goes like this: The way they are doing things is different from me, painful for me, or strange to me. I don’t understand, I don’t like it, I don’t trust it. I worry!
As we focus on worry for the rest of the sermon; let me ask you a question: what if they did exactly how you do, the way you do, and what you do? That would actually be a biggerconcern! They will not become their own person. We worry because we want to change, to guide, or to shape the life of someone we love—and we can’t do it the way we want! Worry, in other words, begins from a good place, but ends in a bad place. We cannot see the whole of the person we care for—we cannot even fully understand ourselves! Only the love of our God and Father is perfectly able to change, to guide, and to shape our lives because only He sees the whole of our lives and loves us wholly. We worry when we are trying to “play God” and control our own life—or in someone else’s life.
The Start of Stress and of Wisdom
There is one key reason we experience stress within ourselves and worry about our family relationships: we are focused too much on ourselves. The ways of other people seem weird to us. Their preferences are strange. They like different music, prefer different foods; they treat authority in ways that are uncomfortable to us. Everywhere we look, we see differences that make us uncomfortable. We think to ourselves—why don’t they just do it my way? And that is the beginning of worry. We are afraid and uncomfortable because others don’t do things “my way” or even believe “my way”. So we become worried and even judgemental. This is why Jesus continues the Sermon on the Mount moving from worry to judgement. If we are too focused on ourselves, we first begin to worry, then begin to judge others.
The wisdom of God in Proverbs, however, offers a better way: “The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; but fools despise knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 1:7) If we want to be wise, we begin with focusing our attention on the Lord! Jesus says as much in our passage: “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [other] things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33). Because sin takes our focus away from God, we tend wrongly to think of Jesus’ words here as merely helpful to us as indivuals or groups. We imagine that Jesus exists to help us become better people—to encourage us “not to worry so much”. But Jesus is not interested only in making us to be perfect individuals. He intends to make us contributors in his family. Put another way, CS Lewis says, “Jesus Christ is not making nice people; he is making new men.” Jesus wants to transform every part of you—not for your own sake, but for his glory and to serve his kingdom.
Jesus’ love for us and the Holy Spirit’s work in us is a profound gift of God the Father. If that is true for you, then it is true also for the person sitting beside you. For all of us! This means all of our relationships are also gifts from God because we are all God’s children: older or younger, regardless of the place or position of our birth. We are all individuals with a different abilities, priorities, hopes, and dreams. Add to that our different ethnicities, genders, and different generations, God loves each of us in a different ways and he is working in and through each of us in different ways—in order to lead all of us toward himself.
It is so important for us to realize that all others are truly God’s children. Knowing others are God’s children changes our starting point. We see that God does not force us to go a certain way—he walks alongside us in love, whoever we are, and draws us closer to himself. As children—and children of God—we are not always intentionally rebellious. Put another way, we do not always consciously choose to worry. Instead, we feel torn between cultivating a strong relationship with others and pursuing our personal choices and preferences. We know that God teaches us some things through parents and others we respect; but we also long to follow God’s leading personally (to find their own way).
As kids, we are often okay with a parent’s recommendation or instruction if we think it’s fair, we understand it, and we can still express how we feel or what we think freely without consequence. We need room to experiment, to learn and grow through doing! Even as we grow older, this remains true in our relationships with others and in our relationship with God. It takes us time to understand God’s instructions, to test whether they are fair. It takes energy and commitment to share what we think and how we feel openly with God—without fear of consequence. And it takes even more time to share openly and honestly with others.
If we don’t understand one another, it’s always hard for us to get close. We may think, “Oh I know my parents very well!” or “I know my child very well!” But we do not know each other as well as we think we do. We need to take time to truly listen, see, experience the world through one another’s eyes. What are their struggles? Hopes? What are they proud of and why? Then we can sense how they feel, even if we disagree.
Thus in all family relationships, we will do our best when we adopt a posture of service in love: Parents serving their kids as we serve the Lord. Husbands serving their wives. Children serving parents and siblings. On and on. WHY? This is the way that God leads us. He SERVES us, looks for our best interests. God shows us the perfect love of a Father. The perfect love of any family member.
LOVE: The Character of God’s Family
The perfect love of the father Jesus talks about here is the example of the birds: they go about doing what they are created to do because they are not focused on themselves. Likewise the flowers are beautiful because they serve they bend toward God’s created order. A flower is not beautiful to itself or useful for itself—it serves a larger purpose. God invites us to be more than birds and flowers in his kingdom. God invites us to be partners with him! To receive his love and to reflect back his glory to him and to others.
What is the perfect love of the Father? The Bible shows us that God’s love is self-sacrificing, his love is focused on sharing himself with others as an overflow of who he is. God loves without need of return. He has no evil to share, but instead is the source of all good and even the source of life itself. In the Bible, we see the perfect love of Jesus—here and other places in the Gospels. Jesus is completely committed to his Father, yet also focused on sharing himself with others as an outflow of God’s love in and through him. Jesus share’s God’s glory, God’s healing power, God’s honour, and God’s love, even willingly dying a shameful death so that we might live.
It is no accident that Jesus emulates the love of the father. Jesus is shaped by the love of his father. Likewise, the Holy Spirit fills us with God’s power and with God’s love! God is forever giving and forever lovingly serving. The most beautiful way I can picture it for you is with this Christian poem from the 14th Century (author unknown):
All this time
The sun never says to the earth,
With a love like that,
It lights the
God’s Faithfulness and Our Identity
Have you been lit up by the light of the sun? Have you been filled with the light and love of God? Paul says in Ephesians (1:3-6):
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
God freely gives to us. Not only for us, but to show us his grace, to draw us close to himself, and to shape us to become like him. And God is far beyond our ability to comprehend him, to see him, to know him fully. So it is no accident that he reveals himself to us first as Father—first with family language. He then reveals himself to us in community, because we cannot know God intimately by ourselves—we need others to reflect other parts of the light of God back to us. Thus Cyprian (200-258 CE), one of the Fathers of the early church says: “He cannot have God for his father who has not the church for his mother.” In other words, outside of the family of God, we are orphans.
If you are a Christian, God did not save you so that you could devote yourself to yourself. God does not desire that you focus your energy on the same life-sucking priorities that you had before him and that you have without him! God does not desire that you remain unchanged.
Instead, God has called us, his church, to be his family. Let’s recognize that, at this size, if we are going to use family language, we need to use extended family language. Do you know what extended family means? Without the Holy Spirit, it means stress. It means an uncle who says odd things to you; a grandchild whose choices you do not understand. It means more distance, more stress, and more worry. But because of God’s love for us, an extended family of God means more and more windows into the character of God. It means more and more experiences of diverse gifts, passions, and abilities. It means God gives us more and more opportunities to trust him with differences and to trust his with our whole lives.
Thank God that he was not too busy to reach out beyond his own family; that he adopted each of us! He is our model, our goal, and our comfort. So do not worry about tomorrow—rest in his love today. And we share that love with others. We reflect the sun, so that he might shine through us.