From a sermon delivered at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, Hillsdale, Michigan, upon the baptism of Jacob Stewart Roche.

It was some 40 years ago, but I remember it well: a baby’s cry at three in the morning. I reached out my hand, rocked the cradle, and groggily assured our firstborn that his daddy was near and that all was well: “Sleep, baby, sleep. Don’t worry about a thing!”

I recalled this nightly exercise the other day when I read the Sermon on the Mount and noted again how, almost repetitiously, Jesus exhorted his disciples: “Do not worry” (Matt. 6:25, 31, 34), and “Why do you worry?” (6:28).

At the beginning of the twentieth century, many theologians and philosophers also were saying, “There’s nothing to worry about.” They said it, however, on foolhardy assumptions, like that of the essential goodness of man, the inevitability of progress, and utopia-just-around-the-corner. Swiss theologian Karl Barth preached that optimistic view until he was suddenly shocked awake.

The steady loss of young men from his congregation and the ever-increasing black armbands worn by women whose husbands and sons and sweethearts would never return from the battlefields of World War I shattered his confidence in the future. Barth then read and reread Paul’s epistle to the Romans. There he found plenty to worry about: the sinfulness of man, the perversity of history, the dread judgment of a holy God, man’s need of supernatural salvation.

Some years ago, while lecturing abroad, I lodged with a professor friend in Seoul, Korea. One Sunday morning as he left very early to preach at an army compound, he said, “Don’t worry about a thing!” Soon I ...

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