This week we will hear a message that the Rev. Dr. Kevin Livingston, Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry at the Seminary, originally prepared for his local congregation and we think is pertinent for our community too. The title is “Freedom from Worry in this Coronavirus Time".
Rev. Dr. Kevin Livingston is the Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Tyndale Seminary and Pastor of Clairlea Park Presbyterian Church. Educated at Seattle University, Fuller Theological Seminary and the University of Aberdeen Scotland (Ph.D.), he has served as minister of First Church, New Westminster, British Columbia, St. Andrew’s Hespeler Church, Cambridge, Ontario, and Knox Church, Toronto, Ontario. He has served as moderator of Presbytery of East Toronto and nationally on the MacLean Estate Committee, the Special Committee on Sexual Orientation and the E.H. Johnston Memorial Fund Committee. Currently he is on the Board of Governors of the Presbyterian College, Montreal, and chairs the Board of Trustees of the Latin American Mission Canada. He has published a book on the theology of mission and evangelism in the writings of South African missiologist David Bosch, and numerous articles in the areas of missiology and church renewal.
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Kevin Livingston
Chapel Date: Tuesday March 31, 2020
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George Sweetman: Good morning everyone, welcome to Community Chapel online here at Tyndale University. We’re glad that you’ve joined us this morning. We’re continuing with our online series of messages. And today we have a great speaker at our very own Dr. Kevin Livingston, who is Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry at the seminary and he is also the pastor of a small local congregation here in the Greater Toronto Area. And this sermon, “Worry freedom from worry in a Coronavirus time” was actually prepared for his local congregation in that community. But so much of what he has to say is applicable to us. So I hope that you will enjoy what he has to share with us. It’s a thoughtful, deeply moving and very comforting message of hope and of solace in this in these difficult times that we live in. So Dr. Levinson is going to be speaking momentarily and just before he does, let me pray for us, as we begin this morning,
God, thank-you for being with us. Thank you for abiding with us in these days of uncertainty and disruption, God we continue to pray for the frontline workers who are caring for us, for our loved ones for doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, police officers, pharmacists, grocery store clerks, all the people that are putting themselves out for the sake of us. We’re so grateful for their lives and their work. God, we pray that we too will be instruments of grace in this world that is just so disrupted and annoying, what’s going on right now. God, we pray in the name of Jesus for healing, for healing of souls for healing the bodies for him of minds, for the opportunities to even still connect with each other in ways that really in many ways are that are unfathomable for us. So God we pray that you’d be with us now. Be with Dr. Levinson as he speaks. Let our hearts Be open our minds be renewed by the words that He has for us words of comfort, whereas a beauty and words really of joy, that we’re grateful for your love, and we pray, peace upon all of us in the name of your son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, amen.
Dr. Kevin Livingston: Well, friends, welcome to this virtual message and I look forward to getting your response. We are here to worship the Lord together. And I’d like to pray and then read a scripture and share with you on the theme of finding freedom from worry, which I’m sure is appropriate, certainly for me and probably for all of us in these days.
Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of your presence, opened the very mind of God to us. That in your light, we may see light and then your strength We might be made strong. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
Well, friends, I’d like to read to you a passage of scripture that’s probably familiar from the Sermon on the Mount. Near the end of chapter six, where Lord Jesus says,
“Therefore I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink or about your body what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing. Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not have more value than they? And Can any of you by worrying at a single hour to your span of life? Why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field. How they grow Row, they neither toil nor spin. Yet I tell you, even Solomon and all his glory was closed like one of these. But if God’s so close the grass of the field which is alive today and tomorrow was thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, you have little faith. Therefore, do not worry saying, What will we eat? Or what will we drink? Or what will we wear? For it’s the Gentiles who strive for all these things. And indeed, your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow. For tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” [Matthew 6:25–34]
Amen. Thanks be to God for His Word.
Well, dear friends, what are the things that you’re worrying about right now? What are the things keeping you up at night? Well, obviously, these are unsettling days as we learn about the rapid spread of the Coronavirus. Just a few days ago, it seems we were going through life at our normal pace, eating out at restaurants, visiting with friends and family, worshiping God together in our church building. But now all of it is changed at least for a little while. And we’re anxious for ourselves, for our loved ones, for our neighbours, for those who were sick and for our doctors and nurses and hospitals, for the people of Canada, for the nations of the world.
And of course, there are other things that worry us as well. Maybe they’re connected to this Coronavirus. Maybe not, they may not be first and foremost in our thoughts right now, but they’re still there niggling in the back of our minds, unpaid bills laying on the table. Concerns about your children or your grandchildren, facing an unexpected crisis with your health or maybe your job, or at home. Even just listening to the disturbing news on TV or reading it on our computer screens. When these and 1000 other concerns come barging into our consciousness, finding a sense of peace and contentment, and distill centre point in our lives becomes really difficult. It’s easy to feel anxious, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it all.
It’s not just grownups who wrestle with these feelings. Worry and anxiety has become an epidemic in our culture among our teenagers as well. In a recent article in the New York, The New York Times magazine about today’s teenagers, the author writes that over the last decade, anxiety has overtaken depression. As the most common reason, college students seek counselling services anxiety. In its annual survey of students 62% of undergraduates reported overwhelming anxiety in the previous year. One annual survey asked first year students if they felt overwhelmed by all they had to do during the previous year, back in 1985 18%, said yes, by 2016 it had surged to 41%.
Chronic worry emotional stress can hit us at any time in our lives, and especially now with the rapid spread of the COVID News. 19 virus, it feels like our whole world and our own worlds are being turned upside down. And that causes us to feel a deep sense of anxiety, maybe even panic or fear. What can we do? Well, in his sermon on the mount, which spans three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus talks about the character of God’s kingdom and the qualities of the people who live in that kingdom. He speaks about a whole host of subjects , including worry and anxiety. It comes right at the end of Matthew chapter six, the verses that I’ve just read.
And Jesus comes at the issue of worry head on he says, Do not worry about your life. What you will eat or what you will drink or about your body what you will wear isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Don’t worry, says Jesus. Well, that’s easier said than done. Of course, it is oddly comforting to know that it’s not just people like us in our modern world who experience worry and anxiety. People felt anxious back in the days of Jesus too. But what you may ask did they worry about? Well, Jesus tells us and the words he uses.
The two sources of worry Jesus talks about were common concerns among poor people in ancient Palestine. Because enough food to eat, and adequate clothes to wear were absolute necessities of life. Well, they are of course, for most of us in our church. We aren’t worried about where our next meal will come from, or if we’ll have a coat to wear outside in the cold weather. But it would be a mistake for us to read the words of Jesus here and dismiss them by saying Well, we’ve got those things covered, that these words don’t apply to me.
No, Jesus is trying to remind us that it’s our Heavenly Father, our Heavenly Father who has given us our lives and our bodies, and he can supply the things we need to sustain our lives. Worry and anxiety sprang from the feeling that things in our life are spinning out of control. And who hasn’t felt that these last few days? Worry has the power to suck and drain everything we are when we’re hungry. When we’re hungry, our demeanour changes. We’re not ourselves. Have you seen that television commercial about Snickers candy bars with Betty White who’s playing pickup football and she turns me in and lashes out at all the other players because she hasn’t had her Snickers candy bar Some of us are like that we get hangry and we lash out. It’s because our reserves are gone, we feel weakness, we feel emptiness that needs to be filled, that’s physical.
Worry can do that on a spiritual and personal level as well. Because when we worry, we’re not ourselves when we’re worried, we’re not there for the people around us. Our minds are racing through an endless terrifying maze of possibilities and fears. And we run that race all by ourselves, without any family or friends, without our brothers and sisters in faith, without God. Worry distorts our thinking, and causes us to leave our loved ones behind in a labyrinth of our own anxiety. Worry can drain us and rob us, not only of precious energy, but precious time Worry can leave us feeling terrified, paralyzed, hopeless, uncertain.
And so what does Jesus do when he talks about this very human tendency of worry that lives inside of each of us? He talks about birds and flowers, the birds of the air and the flowers in the field, two of the most free creations in the world. I love what Eugene Peterson how he translates these verses in our passage. Let me read it to you. Just to paraphrase.
“If you decide for God, living a life of God worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes, or whether the clothes in your closet or in fashion. There’s more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God, and you count far more to him than birds. Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted and fashion. Do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wild flowers. They never primp or shop? But have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The 10 best dress men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wild flowers, most of which are never even seen, don’t you think God will attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you. What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.” Wow. Why is worrying compatible with our faith because of who God is, and because of how much God values us.
When we look at the birds, they build their nest and find food for their young, but they don’t fuss about things like planting crops and building barns to keep them in. They simply live their lives, unconsciously fulfilling the purpose for which God created them. And when we look at the wild flowers growing in the hills in the fields, they simply fulfill their innate purpose of blooming. And they’re more radiant and dazzling in their beauty than the fanciest clothing of wealthy King Solomon.
Just outside, we have some snow drops, finally coming up through that cold earth. And it’s reminding us that spring is arriving. They didn’t do anything but just spring up out of the earth, and they caused Irene and me to say thank you to God as a result.
What both of these images Jesus uses have in common, these birds in the air and the flowers in the field. It’s the fact that they’re loved and cared for, by the providential hand of a loving God, our Heavenly Father. In other words, God takes care of his creation. And did you notice what else Jesus says in relation to both of these images? He talks about their value Jesus mentions the birds to describe how God values these simple creatures. Jesus mentions the attention God gives to fleeting flowers, so that they can fill this world with beauty, God values and esteem and loves his creation, and based on these analogies, Jesus teaches his followers to be free from worry and anxiety, because we too, are a part of his creation. And we too, are deeply valued and loved by our Heavenly Father.
It reminds me of that old gospel him his eye is on the sparrow, with its comforting chorus. “I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free, for his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” That’s the heart of what Jesus is teaching us here that we are valuable together. God, Jesus doesn’t talk about the value of the sparrow, or the worth of a lily flower for the sake of the bird and the flower. And he doesn’t talk about worry simply by saying stop worrying. No, Jesus words about worry are a declaration of our value to God, of how much we’re loved. Christ declares the love of God to his listeners. And this is even before he went to the cross. There would come a time when Jesus not only would teach humanity about our value, but instead he would show it by paying the ultimate price by being crucified on the cross for you and for me.
Christ died, so that we might be freed from sin, and from the power of death itself. Christ died so that we might have life full and abundant and eternal. He paid the costliest price, his own life. Why? Because of the Father’s love for us. That’s how much we matter to God. That’s how much God values you and me.
So when we try to face the worries we have in our lives, especially right now, we don’t have to tackle it in our own strength. It’s not simply about trying to get a handle on our feelings and working even harder to alleviate our fears. When we struggle with anxiety and worry, let’s stop, stop and remember, and gratefully embrace our value in the eyes of God. And this is regardless of our situation, our need or our fears. In his commentary on this passage, John Calvin said, God, the author of our life has an intimate knowledge of our condition and he will make abundant provision for our wants. Whenever we are seized by any fear or anxiety, let us remember that God will take care of the life which he gave us. Wise words from Calvin. Reminds me of another song, a modern Christian song by the band Casting Crowns called, Who am I, I want to quote it now and I’ll also be posting a link on our page so that you can listen to that song. It’s very moving. The words say this.
“Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth would care to know my name would care to feel my hurt. Who am I, that the bright and morning star would choose to light the way for my ever wandering heart. Not because of who I am, but because of what you’ve done. Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who you are. I am a flower quickly fading here today and gone tomorrow, a wave tossed in the ocean of vapour in the wind. Still you hear me when I’m calling, Lord, you catch me when I’m falling, and you’ve told me who I am. I am yours. I am yours.”
Friend’s life is hard. We’re reminded of it every day, especially right now, with the uncertainty and anxiety of COVID–19 worry is a part of our greater reflection of living in a fallen sinful world. Because with the introduction of sin into the human condition, there came doubt and there came fear. And with sin comes deception and lies from the devil from Satan, lies about who you are lies about who you belong to lies about your value. But the good news of Jesus affirms that we are valuable, not because of anything we offer or produce or have accomplished. No, we’re valuable because the father says we are. God is our rock, the steady ground we stand on, our true north when we lose direction, how deep is the Father’s love for us?
Well, at the tail end of his passage, Jesus says we shouldn’t worry about things like food and drink and clothing. He says that something that’s something the pagans do the Gentiles. Now that word pagan is a word that describes someone who doesn’t believe in God doesn’t know God, Jesus’s name calling he’s not being judgmental here. He’s, he’s actually voicing I think a sadness. He’s saying that those who don’t know God are forced to scramble and gather and toil and struggle and, and push for everything and then hope that that’s enough. They lack certainty, beyond their own ability. They lack direction, beyond their own perception and their own brains. No wonder they worry.
But God’s children are called to be different. Jesus says, We don’t need to worry about these things because God knows us and knows our needs. And that’s why Jesus tells his audience that’s why he tells us to seek first the kingdom of God, and declares that all these things will be given to you as well. Not because God is like some cosmic vending machine, who receives the token of our worship and then in turn delivers to us all of our desires. No, it’s because God is our father who loves us and values us and truly seeks our good.
Now I have to admit that something I haven’t mastered yet, at times, I still find myself gripped by anxiety and worry, especially in these days, on a regular basis, I have to come to God asking for God’s forgiveness, for God’s presence, for God’s intervention, it makes me feel very small, small like a bird, makes me feel vulnerable. as vulnerable and as fragile as a lily flower.
Maybe you find yourself in the same place. We can take heart when we remember the value of the birds and the flowers in this story. Though they’re small and frail indeed, they are held in the hands of a special strong and loving God, as Jesus says, aren’t you more valuable than these things? God responds, Yes, you are. So my dear friends this week would you take heart? When Jesus finishes the same way he started out, he simply says, do not worry, again.
He isn’t demanding that we simply—you know, as they say the British do keep a stiff upper lip—he’s not demanding that, that we to tough it out during the stressful times of life, no, he’s saying something more. Jesus is reminding us of the gentleness of our Heavenly Father, who picks us up and holds us, who speaks to us of our value, and reminds us just how much we’re loved. Amen.
And may the Lord Remind you of these wonderful truths from his word as you go through the week. Now, would you join me as we pray together?
Almighty in loving God, we bless you for the gift of your word. We pray now for the grace to believe what we’ve heard, and to live in ways that honour you in all things. Help us, Lord, to love you and to love our neighbours as ourselves, especially this week. Help us through this time of social isolation, and to come out stronger for it on the other side. Bless doctors and nurses and all the frontline caregivers as they treat people suffering from the virus. Help the medical researchers to rapidly develop useful treatments to stop this pandemic, and grant wisdom to our national and local leaders and to grocery store attendants and sanitation workers and, and all the others who are putting their lives on the line to guide us safely through these uncertain days. All these things we ask through the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our saviour, amen.
Amen. God bless you and stay tuned. Bye bye.
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