The Sin of Worry
We live in an age of anxiety and worry. You can feel the anxiety running through conversations and through constant media reports. It seems that the newspaper, the TV news, news journals all have something negative to report and almost always threatening material of one sort or another: a horrendous crime is committed, another business laying off people, a monster storm heading our way, cuts in social services, raise in the cost of health care, and on and on and on.
No wonder, we feel anxious and worry all too frequently. Itís like a dark cloud that hangs over us and a cold fog that obscures our joys and hopes.† Thursday we spent the day giving thanks to God. But how much of that thanks was tainted by our sense of uncertainty for the future, fear of losing our jobs, or concern for the well-being of our children? Did we have to struggle to really feel thankful?
But our age is not all that unusual. In our scripture today, Jesus is addressing just that issue Ö as if worry and anxiety has crawled through our lives for the past 2000 years.
Jesus frequently spoke of how we live in the Kingdom of God and that often translated into social action: feeding the hungry, calling for peace in the world, reining in greed, breaking down the barriers of rich vs. poor, and one prejudice after another. But Jesus knew that the well-being of our personal lives and of our spirits was essential for us to be good citizens of the Kingdom of God. If we are weighed down by anxiety and worry we will not see the bright and beautiful possibilities of Godís Kingdom.
So Jesus provides us with a guide to relieve us of worry:
Jesus knows how corrosive worry can be. He warns us not to worry about our lives and our essential needs. Heís not telling us to be unprepared to make a living or be good stewards of our household budgets. But rather we are not to obsess on our need for the essentials. Such worry metastasizes and consumes our spirits and minds.
Jesus is not telling us to be unconcerned. It is important to be concerned Ö concerned for the well-being of our children and ourselves. If we were not concerned about livelihood, health and justice, then we would not be able to function in life or do what was right. But we are not to worry. To be concerned is to do something positive about a situation Ė to do what we can and having done it to let go and move on. But worrying is when you can not do something about a situation but cannot let go and let God. Itís when we play God Ė we think there most be someway we can fix this, when indeed only God can do that. This is what Jesus is admonishing us against.
And because we cannot fix the situation and let go, worry becomes a loop that we replay over and over again and that pushes out of our minds and souls what is happening at the present moment. Worry is like a fog that blinds us and causes us to take our eyes off what God may be doing for us in this very present moment.
How many hours and days did we worry about power returning to our homes? How much did the worrying expedite the return to power? None at all. We may be concerned for the power and report our outage. We may then find warm shelter and wait it out. Thatís a healthy concern. But then itís time to let go and let God (and the workers) to do their job. Then we must have patience.
We worry because we want certainty and the power to design and predict the future. Worry propels us into a falsely hoped for future that we would create. And thereby makes us unfaithful to God Ö for we are trying to play God and control the uncontrollable. That is the sin of worry. We have deserted God.
So what are to do? We must come back to God. Like a growing tree, we need time to grow deep roots with God. We need to spend time with God Ė a lot of time. But that doesnít mean we drop everything and go into a monastery or a convent. We can deepen our relationship with God and therefore our trust and faith in God within the context of our daily lives.
We can start by focusing on the present. During an ordinary day we are bound to think about tomorrow. But we can limit that to just what we need to do today so we can carry on tomorrow. We need not plan the whole day or solve world hunger tomorrow. We need only to look to tomorrow only with the efforts needed today to fulfill tomorrowís needs.
We need to live in the present. The future is merely a speculation. We cannot know today what tomorrow will be like. Reality is in the present moment, not in some unknown future. Even the past is speculation upheld with memories that may or may not be accurate. The present is the only reality. And thatís where we need to meet God Ö in the present moment.
We need to nurture a sense of Godís presence with us moment by moment. And in the present moment take sometime out Ö just a few moments Ö to rejoice in Godís blessings all around us. How often do we stop and smell the flowers? Yet we are a-wash in Godís blessings: a clear blue sky, the 2 year old following after mom, a fulfilling work day, and on and on.
And Godís blessings are not limited to the lovely and sweet. Sometimes Godís blessings are in the confusions and the chaos. A blessing can be in a disagreement with a colleague that makes you think through something and come out in a better place. Indeed, looking for a blessing may be the trigger that shows you something good is here.
And to go yet further and look for where God is unexpectedly participating. Hard times come upon us. Our present may be frightening, frustrating, painful and depressing. But look deep into it. Rise above your own hardship and look at the times as something greater than yourself. Is it just a terrible, evil event, or is God extracting some good out of it?
Hurricane Sandy was a nightmare, I suspect, for all of us. And itís hard to imagine anything good coming out of it. And I do not believe that God would create Sandy just to make a point or to do something to scold us. But given that Sandy was going to happen, God looks for ways to bring something good from it.
For example in all of the trouble with the storm, many of us found our neighbors were considerate and helpful. Our governor came through with great concern for all of the people of New Jersey. And we began a process to consider how to weather such a storm with less damage. And over the long haul, Sandy has pushed to the front our failure to care for Mother Nature and we now may turn around and find ways to restore some balance in the weather.
And in every moment the Kingdom of God is emerging among us. We can become a part of Godís life by aligning our daily lives with the teachings and acts of Jesus. †Jesus tells us that God will provide for us. But God provides for our neighbors by working through us. It was in our neighbors during Sandy that God was acting for us. We are the channels and instruments of God. It is we who are the hands and hearts that will build the Kingdom of God among us. Each moment, each day we do something that is caring and supportive, that is reaching out to someone, or that is moving beyond our own immediate desire and need, builds up the Kingdom. Simply stopping what we are doing for a few minutes to listen to a co-worker who needs to talk or standing up for someone who has been offended or humiliated, builds up the Kingdom of God.
And in all of these little efforts we nurture Godís presence in our lives and find reality in Godís life. In time, our daily embracing of God will become routine and ordinary and deeply part of us. God will become real to us Ö more than just a thought or a hope or a picture. God will be deep within us. And then when trouble comes and we are prone to worry, we can fall back on God. We do what we need to do to deal with the trouble, but we know when to stop and let go and let God Ö and find comfort and security in that letting go.
Next Sunday begins Advent, the season when we wait for the coming of a new born baby, God Incarnate. We relive that time when a people were desperate and needed new hope and new possibility. We relive their worry and anxiety desperate for their livelihood, indeed for their very lives. The reality of God had become distant for them. No longer could they feel the safe haven of Godís presence and compassion. Each day was a risk; each day may bring disaster; each day may be their last. And so worry and anxiety stalked the homes and markets and roads of the Holy Land. Joy and hope had fled.
But then on that first Christmas Day in a barn a child-woman, barely an adult, bore a baby who would bring the reality of God into the homes and markets and on the roads, so that once again joy and hope could come among the people and anxiety and worry would retire and sleep a long sleep.
This age once again needs the reality of God to come among us in very tangible ways. We once again need to be raised up out of our sin of worry by the hands and hearts of love and compassion Ö and faith that God is for real; that God acts constantly in our individual lives and in our collective lives; and that God can direct us if only we open our souls and minds to Godís call and will.
Think about it Ö
Godís grace and love be with you Ö