Tag Archives: Anxiety

Instead Consider

A Sermon for 7 August 2016

A reading from the gospel of Luke 12:22-34. And remember: they’re still on the road with Jesus, out of Galilee for the last time as they head for his final trip to Jerusalem. Listen for God’s word to us.

“He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will God clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

Believe it or not, most of what I just read from the gospel of Luke is not an assigned reading according to the Revised Common Lectionary. O, the part about selling our possessions to give it away as alms is – which is miracle in and of itself that our church mothers and fathers had the foresight to have those words of Jesus read before his body at least once every three years. But the part about do not worry is not. The lectionary would have us skip from Jesus’ parable of the rich fool and the plea to take care against defining our lives according to our possessions, to striving for the purses that do not wear out as we’re ready for whatever twists and turns life brings. But worry? The invitation to consider the simple things around us like birds. How do they all get enough to eat each day? And enough to drink? And with all of them around; yet each little bird finds a place somewhere in this world to build their nests to snuggle down safely for the night away from any circling prey. And what about the wildflowers? In Galilee, there still are bright yellow flowers popping up all over. Wild mustard I was told, not lilies. But wildly prolific nonetheless. Have you ever been walking along a sidewalk and seen all those beautiful little purple flowers pushing their way through tangles of gnarly Bermuda grass or popping through whatever crack in the path they can find? How do they grow? Presumably the wind alone scatters their seed. When it rains, they drink. When the sun shines, the nutrients they need seep deep into their little-flower pores. It’s like it just happens. They get what they need to grow.

Some might argue that the swarms of common house sparrows and the droves of little purple wildflowers that are so insignificant they rarely are seen as beautiful; someone might say they matter more in this world than people. But most of us believe we matter a little bit more than them. A proper orientation towards all the creation that surrounds us might better be that we equally matter. Species are mutually beneficial to one another. After all, it’s not just beauty little wild flowers provide. They actually have a purpose for our lives too. Did you know that “seaweed, algae, and marine phytoplankton make up the overwhelming majority of the world’s oxygen producing plants” (www.secrets-of-longevity-in-humans.com/oxygen-producing-plants.html)? Even that which we consider worthless slim is important to sustaining our human life. Without oxygen in every cell of our bodies, we cannot live. And there they all are. Chirping sparrows, little purple wildflowers, seaweed, algae, and marine phytoplankton too. Doing their thing without one care in the world. If they could talk and we asked them what rattled them awake in the middle of the night, I’m sure they would say: “nothing. Not one thing.”

It’s we humans that seem to live a different way – which might be why God created a whole world first that knew how to just be before setting us loose in the garden to worry our little heads off. . . . Someone pointed out to me this week that it’s not really helpful to tell someone who’s trying to change their behavior not to do it. Like “Don’t worry,” Jesus says here. “Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying.” It’s not really all that helpful because the words alone churn up our anxious hearts. Now we worry too that we worry so much and Jesus told us not to do it. It’s like he’s kicking us when we’re already down – even if he didn’t mean further harm. He really is trying to paint a different picture to give us a loop hole out of the worry trap. Jesus knows we need the what to do more than the what not to do in order to make any sort of lasting change. The details may be a little lacking about what it looks like to strive instead for the kingdom, but the actual practice he first suggests is the way out. Watch the birds. Pay attention to the little lilies. See how everything in this creation fits together. As we notice, we might just come to the conclusion that it’s all going to be all right.

One of the most helpful things I have come across for deepening my trust in God, actually is something I’ve learned from the energetic therapy called Healing Touch. After a healer asks someone the physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual healing they seek and before going on to the next step; the healer silently repeats that desire as if it is the prayer for the healing. And then, if the healer is doing it right, they must release that desire to the Highest Good. Literally, if a healer is doing it right, they must let go of the outcome. Who is anyone of us to really know what another person needs as they make their journey in this world deeper into who God would have them be? Who is anyone of us to really know what we ourselves need as we make our journey in this world deeper into who God would have us be? . . . We definitely can ask, and by Jesus even, in a few verses just prior to this portion of Luke, are told in fact to ask for exactly what we want (Luke 11:1-14). And then, we must release that desire to the Highest Good. Something many of us refer to as the will of God. (As in: “Thy will be done.”) A daily practice each one of us gets is to release, then wait – even if it takes nearly forever – we must wait to see how God will take what we may consider the worst garbage of our lives and somehow make a way to something new. . . . In the admonition not to worry, Jesus is inviting us to let go of our firm need to stay in the driver’s seat. To welcome the mystery of what will unfold. Do not worry means: know that God’s got this, because God’s got you – and every other creature too.

In a lot of ways, worry gets straight to the core of whether or not we trust what Jesus says – not to mention trust who Jesus is. Do we trust, what our ancestor in the faith, John Calvin, once so formally professed: that God is benevolent towards us (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960, 3.2.7). In other words, Jesus asks: do you believe the God of the Universe loves us, or not? . . . How we answer that question is meant to make a difference even in whether we’re able to get a restful night’s sleep. It does not mean everything always is going to be easy or turn out the way we want it. We will experience pain in our life – it’s part of the package. In fact, it’s a gift really, though we seldom think of it that way. Pain in our body, mind, or spirit can be considered a great teacher if we turn aside for a moment to explore what message we’re supposed to be hearing from that pain. What our body, mind, or spirit is crying out for us to notice and most likely stop to change something about how we are going about life. Even if all it is is to remember: “O yes, God! I need to get back in the passenger seat to enjoy the view of where you are taking this all.”

Do not worry is not easy. A lot of us already have cut a really deep channel in our brains to go right from wonder over what’s taking place to incessant, can’t-sleep-a-wink worry. If watching the birds isn’t helping one bit. If paying attention to the wildflowers and even trying to appreciate how the seaweed just does its most helpful thing is not making a difference to stop your worry. Then, turn to the ways of the kingdom, as Jesus also tells us to do. Get out of the house to go show love to somebody. Make peace maybe through a caring gesture to someone who really has been on your nerves. Be a little more generous with your thoughts about why that person always is so mean – what burden might they be bearing that you know nothing about? Share what you have with someone who really needs it, then see how you feel after. Do these kingdom things and you might just find you sleep a whole lot better at night. You might just wake rest-full, ready to greet the first bird’s beautiful song.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

 

What Really Matters

A Sermon for 15 November 2015 – 25th Sunday after Pentecost

 A reading from Hebrews 10:23-25. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for the One who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

A reading from the gospel of Mark 13:1-8. Listen for God’s word to us.

“As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

Before jumping into the sermon today, listen one more time to this text from Mark. This time I’ll be reading it from the version of the bible called The Message. See if it doesn’t offer greater insight into this portion of Scripture that so often has been interpreted as a message about an apocalypse – a terrible, final end to God’s beloved creation. Listen for God’s word to us.

“As Jesus walked away from the Temple, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at that stonework! Those buildings!” Jesus said, “You’re impressed by this grandiose architecture? There’s not a stone in the whole works that is not going to end up in a heap of rubble.” Later, as he was sitting on Mount Olives in full view of the Temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew got him off by himself and asked, “Tell us, when is this going to happen? What sign will we get that things are coming to a head?” Jesus began, “Watch out for doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I’m the One.’ They will deceive a lot of people. When you hear of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history, and no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines. But these things are nothing compared to what’s coming.

This too is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

I’ve been getting texts for about the last week from a friend who is off for a celebratory trip to South Africa before returning home to jump into a new call to ministry! He and I became friends several years ago during a doctoral course in South Africa so it’s great to get such updates. I find myself smiling each time I get one because it was just three years ago almost to date that I spent a lot of late night phone time listening to his gut-wrenching panic. Though he had been in a pastoral position for over a decade and had been doing amazing work, someone started going after him because they sat at opposite ends of the theological spectrum. If you’ve never been in a church fight – or worse yet an all-out clergy attack, then you’re probably not aware of how awful it can be for everyone involved. My friend was convinced his world was coming to an end – not only because of the mess being caused in his professional life, but also because his mental and physical health were started to be effected greatly. It was a really dark, scary time.

Many of us know a lot about such difficult situations – different circumstances, same gut-wrenching panic. . . . I’ve heard teens tell how things are just over! Because they couldn’t get the grade they wanted and now they won’t be able to get into the college of their choice. The world seems to be absolutely falling apart. And for those driven-dreamers, their world really is. . . . We’ve had friends or loved ones tell us of the unexpected diagnosis – or lived through the doctor telling us about our very own bodies. We’ve witnessed children break their parents’ hearts with self-destructive behavior that leads to life-altering consequences. We’ve lived through divorces and natural disasters and death and so much more – like the horrible events in Paris this week. . . . Spoken or unspoken, we even see lots of angst among churches these days. Because the pews aren’t filled like they used to be some twenty or more years ago. The updated research came out two weeks that the number of those claiming to be spiritual but wanting absolutely nothing to do with the church has increased more rapidly than expected since the last polling. Those of us still here sometimes may wonder if church as we’ve known and loved it soon will be extinct. . . . Especially weeks like this one, we know days when it feels like the world is absolutely falling apart.

If we can get inside those feelings, I think we can come close to understanding the buzz in the air as Jesus and his disciples exited the Temple that day. The gospel of Mark records it as the final time Jesus will exit the Temple. Just two days before that Passover in Jerusalem when he would gather with his friends in an upper room in order to get them ready for what was yet to come. He can feel it. Certainly they all can feel it – the tension rising between Jesus and those who just weren’t understanding his message. And those who understood entirely but for whatever reason felt incredibly threatened by what he had to say. I dare say it feels for them all – Jesus and his disciples, and the opposition too – it certainly must feel for them all like the world is falling apart. . . . Experts tell us that we all can handle a different amount of stress before we end up going reptile. And we go reptile in predictable ways. Hiding from it all like a turtle snapping away quickly in its shell. Darting about like a lizard to scurry from whatever’s coming. Hissing to any who will listen like a snake when the pressure’s at our boiling-point. Or worse yet: attacking whatever’s in our path like an alligator because we just can’t handle it any more. These are typical and predictable patterns of behavior for those who feel like their world is falling apart. It’s probably helpful for us each to ponder which way we end up going reptile.

The world had been falling apart for a goodly long time for those living in First Century Palestine. In fact, things had been, and even now continue to be, pretty dicey in that little eastern Mediterranean byway. Throughout the centuries that little land had been ransacked by on-the-move armies over and over and over again. The stronghold of Megiddo – also called Armageddon – just 15 miles southwest of Nazareth, reveals 20 layers of re-built cities dating all the way back to 4000 BCE (The Holy Land: The Land of Jesus, Palphot, p. 70-71). That’s a whole lot of beginning again after endless conquering armies. The city of Sepphoris just four miles north of Nazareth, was overrun by Herod some thirty years before Jesus’ birth (Ibid., p. 26-27). We seldom remember that the stories of Jesus start with declarations of his time and place: “In the days of King Herod of Judea” the first chapter of the gospel of Luke reveals (Luke 1:5). Matthew records Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem followed by his family’s flight to Egypt to get out of the path of the enraged King (Matthew 2). At long last, they end up in the fertile land of the Galilee in Nazareth, which itself would face near destruction in the Jewish revolt against Rome three decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection (The Holy Land: The Land of Jesus, Palphot, p. 12-13) . These weren’t places far far away, half-way around their world. They were right in their own backyard. Several being geographically closer to them than many of us travel each day from home to work or the store or even here to this sanctuary. . . . It can leave us wondering if they all had just grown accustomed to such unsettling violence or if their nerves were absolutely fried – like some of our soldiers who return home these days with severe PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder. . . . The world for Jesus and his contemporaries routinely felt as if it literally was falling apart. The Temple leaders had been doing their best for years to keep Rome from coming in and totally taking over; though in the year 70 CE (right around the time we believe the gospel of Mark was written) it all would come crashing down, when the grandiose Temple of Jerusalem was totally destroyed by Rome, never to be re-built again. . . . In a lot of ways, Jesus wasn’t saying anything on that day upon his final exit of the Temple that everyone already hadn’t been speculating, and working to avoid, and fervently praying never to take place again. . . . It was as fragile as a time as our world seems today.

Into that context – into that time and in that place, Jesus seeks to speak a word of hope.

I love the way it’s presented in the version of the bible called The Message. “’When you hear of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history, and no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines’” (Mark 13:7-8). Even after God in-flesh was in our midst, that much about the world wasn’t brought to an end. Because Jesus wasn’t here to transport us out of it all but to teach us how to live and die and live again amid the raging storms of life. . . . Today he might put it to us like this: “When the boss calls you in to say it’s time to retire. When the doctor phones with the results of the test. When the unthinkable happens. When it feels like it’s all falling apart. Keep your head. Do not panic!” . . . I picked up a prayer card in the gift shop when some of us where at the monastery in Alabama last spring. It’s a Prayer of Saint Teresa of Avila, sounding a lot like Jesus here and peppered with some wisdom from the Psalms: “Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing away. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.”

We know this. We know we know this. But when things seem to be falling apart, it’s really hard to remember. Thank God we have each other to remind us! . . . “These things are nothing compared to what’s coming,” Jesus continues according to The Message. Something so much better is on the way! The New Revised Standard Version captures it like this: “This is but the beginning of the birthpangs” (Mark 13:8). In other words, something amazing is about to be born! That’s what the birthpangs announce, right? A new life bursting into the world. Something beautiful trying to emerge. . . . It’s so easy to forget that God will make something new – even in our deepest loss. We’re not sure what – even with all the ultrasounds in the world, the doctors still can’t tell us what a new baby will be like. We’re left to receive it and enjoy the adventure of watching this new life unfold before our eyes. See what it will be like, what impact it will have, and how it will emerge into the world. . . . If Jesus were a coach, we’d hear him say: “Keep your eye on the ball. Keep your eye on the ball.” In the whirl and swirl of our days, don’t panic. What truly matters is what always has been true, God never changes: we love and serve and are sustained by a God who always brings new life. As sure as winter turns to spring, and birthpangs bring the baby. . . . Keep your head. Do not panic! God always makes something new.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)