“Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
– Matthew 6:31-35 (CEB)
As most are aware, I have recently returned from an opportunity to be in witness and ministry on the continent of Africa, in the country of Kenya. There were twelve of us (four Indiana conference superintendents and eight laypersons, to which three of them were college students). Our mission was to strengthen our United Methodist Connection in this East Africa episcopal area. During our time, I had the opportunity to train local pastors, preach in an open-air revival, and engage in ministry with some of the most beloved children of God.
One of the most profound experiences was preaching in the open-air revival. We were in a large field, in the middle of the village, where many people gathered from around the village to experience the presence of God. There was spirited singing and lots of dancing, all coming together to praise God. I took the risk in my message, to title the sermon, “Hakuna Matata”, which brought about lots of laughs. Just for reference, “Hakuna Matata” before it was popularized by The Lion King in 1994, is actually a Swahili word that means “there are no troubles” or loosely translated to mean “no worries.” It was humbling presenting the Gospel, from Matthew 6:25-35 to a people who are facing many realities we in the Western culture take for granted (like clean water, stable electricity, and a consistent source of income to simply survive daily).
One of the revelations that became relevant, for which I believe transcends geography, is our human tendency to worry. The worry that is fueled by the things we see, hear, and desire. I believe worry causes inaction and imprisons us with fears that immobilize us to do anything or move forward. However, as we read Matthew 6:31-35, we are invited into freedom from the worry and anxiety that comes from undue concern. We are reminded to order our priorities, to seeking first God and God’s Kin-dom. Please know, Jesus did not just tell them to stop worrying, Jesus told them to replace worry with concern for the Kin-dom of God. There is a famous proverb I love, it simply says, “Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.”
I believe we are experiencing this worry in many of our communities, and particularly in some of our congregations. The experiences in the United Methodist Church have left many worrying about the future of The Church, and this worry has impeded ministry from taking place right now because many are focused on 2024. I would offer to all, like I shared in the message in Kenya, HAKUNA MATATA! There are so many factors beyond our control, that spending energy unnecessarily is limiting the transformative work of Jesus Christ from moving forward.
I would challenge us to shift our focus and conversation to begin assessing the opportunities that are before us. How can we really lean into The Breakthrough Prayer Initiative to recenter with a posture of prayer for God to open our eyes and our hearts to join the work of God in the world. I would wonder, what would it be if, like many who are reading the Growing Young book, use the learning as a catalyst of change to move beyond the building to champion for transformation to occur in our communities; remember “what you have is all you need”. I would wonder, if we as United Methodists, can truly begin telling a new story of what can become, as we join to truly make a difference in the world.
HAKUNA MATATA is not just a joyful jingle, I would offer and encourage us to live our discipleship that resonates with this understanding of “no worries” because we have trust in the faithfulness of God and a belief in Jesus Christ, who promises to be with us…no matter what!
Rev. Dr. Aleze M. Fulbright
P.S. Please be sure to register and share information about our upcoming West District (re)Connection. Here is the registration link: https://inumc.swoogo.com/wereconnect23.