Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Tyranny of Anxiety

In Nomine Iesu
St. Luke 12:22-34
August 8, 2010
Pentecost 11—Proper 14C

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

What do you think of when you hear the word “tyranny?” When I hear the word “tyranny” I think of the people who lived in the old Soviet Union, or people who live in China today. Under the tyranny of communism people—millions of people—were routinely arrested on trumped up charges, tried without legal representation or a jury of peers, and sentenced to lifetimes of prison or hard labor, where a good share of these people eventually died of disease or starvation. That kind of tyranny is still alive and well in the world today.

But there’s another kind of tyranny, and you don’t have to travel overseas to experience it. I’m talking about the tyranny of anxiety—the way that our own worry enslaves us and robs us. Jesus wants to liberate you from the tyranny of your anxiety. Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.” It’s that worry, after all, that keeps you awake at night, that distracts you during the day, and often causes your digestive tract no end of troubles. Anxiety robs you of the joy of life, the joy of being, the joy of living as a child of God and receiving everything as a gift from the hand of a loving Father. Jesus wants to set you free from the tyranny of anxiety.

In order to accomplish that, we need Jesus to re-order our disordered priorities. Jesus said, “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.” But you wouldn’t know that by looking around, would you? We are obsessed with food—junk food, health food, fast food, gourmet food. Food is everywhere—even at the gas station and the hardware store. And as for clothing, our closets are full. Back to school shopping is already underway, insuring that our children have the latest styles and accessories. Life around here almost seems defined by food and clothing. We’ve erected a temple to the gods of food and clothing right in this neighborhood. You might have seen it; it’s called “Bayshore Town Center.” Take away food and clothing from Bayshore Town Center and what’s left, Yankee Candle and the Apple store? Think about it! But to free us from the tyranny of anxiety, Jesus reminds us that food and clothing are not the main things.

Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life.” But to our ears Jesus might as well be saying, “Don’t breathe” or “Don’t blink your eyes.” We worry habitually—all the time. And we’ve got some pretty impressive reasons for our worries. The economy, the housing Market, the stock market—not to mention all the private burdens we bear pertaining to health and family and friends. And Jesus simply says, “Don’t worry. Don’t be anxious.”

Coming from any other source we could simply laugh off that advice. But these words come from Jesus. He’s the Lord who died and rose again on the third day. He knows a thing or two about anxiety. He’s the one who agonized in the garden of Gethsemane. He’s the one forsaken by the Father on a Roman tool of torture we so casually refer to as the cross. He is your sacred substitute who died your death and paid for your sin. So when He says, “Don’t worry,” we should be all ears.

As we listen with our ears, Jesus would also have us look with our eyes. Look at the birds of the air, He says. They don’t sow or reap; they have no storeroom or barn or pantry, yet God feeds them. God takes care of them. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Those birds don’t have a mortgage to pay or teenagers to raise or a car with the ‘check engine’ light on.” But the point is that those birds can’t control their world. They can only play the hand they’re dealt. They can only fly around and grab whatever God provides for them from moment to moment. And how much more valuable you are than birds. God provides for them, but for you He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

I’m now almost at the half-way point of the sermon and I’d like to pause to give you a chance for rebuttal. Specifically, I’d like for some of you to share all of the ways that worry and anxiety have made your life better. I want to hear how worrying has increased your life-expectancy—how anxiety has made you healthier, wealthier, and wiser. I now yield the floor . . . Well, I can’t say I’m surprised. Because I think we all know that anxiety is never a good thing—that it shortens life and really makes life miserable. [And now, back to our regularly scheduled sermon.]

Consider the lilies. Look at the wildflowers in the fields. They don’t labor or spin or go shopping, yet not even King Solomon with all his bling was arrayed with a beauty found in flowers. There’s nothing more beautiful than flowers. Flowers reflect the very best of God’s lavish creativity. And do you know what happens to flowers after a few days? They become dried up, rotten, brown, compost-ready. The point of this object lesson is this: If God expends all that creative energy on flowers, which are here today and compost tomorrow, then what must we conclude about you who are destined for eternal life through faith in Jesus—you for whom the blood of His Son was shed—you who are baptized in His name? You are more beautiful and precious to God than even the most beautiful flowers.

O you of little faith. Despite the sermons preached by birds and flowers, our faith is little, Jesus says. It’s ironic how we trust God with the big stuff like our sin, our death, our salvation. But the little things—the day to day things like food, clothing, finance—that’s all under our control, we like to think. We’re in charge of the small stuff, or so we think. A wise preacher once said that anxiety is the worship we offer to our false gods. Do you want to know where your idols are—where your false gods are hiding? Then follow the anxiety trail. It will lead you straight to your false gods who promise everything and deliver nothing. But don’t be surprised when that anxiety trail leads right to your own idolatrous heart—a heart that beats to the rhythm of “God doesn’t know what He’s doing. I need to help Him. Better yet, I need to be god in place of God. . . because God doesn’t know what He’s doing.” Nothing adds to the tyranny of our anxiety like trying to be God.

Here’s the deal (which is really no “deal” at all): Your Father in heaven knows what you need, even before you ask Him. All the things that those without faith run after with all their heart, soul and mind—clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, home, spouse, children, land, animals, good government, good weather, good health, protection—your Father in heaven knows that you need them. And He knows best how and when and in what proportion to give these things to you—for your eternal good. You are died-for, baptized, a child of the heavenly Father, an heir of eternal life.

For those who feel the tyranny of anxiety Jesus says, “Don’t worry about food and clothing and stuff. Your Father will take care of all that. But seek first and foremost His kingdom.” Seeking His kingdom means setting your eyes on Jesus who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross for you. Celebrate what God gives you in your baptism. Repent of your sins and confess them (including your sins of idolatry with all its anxieties) and receive the full and free absolution that Jesus earned for you. Receive the bread that is His body and the wine that is His blood. That’s the stuff of His kingdom and His righteousness. That’s the stuff that remedies our idolatry and frees us from the tyranny of our anxieties. That’s the stuff our God so graciously gives away in this place every Lord’s Day in His Word and Sacraments.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” That’s good news you can bank on. Do your banking in heaven where thieves and moths and interest rates and high taxes can never chisel away at your treasure. Rejoice and be glad in this: You have a million bucks worth of forgiveness, life and salvation stored up for you that you can live in and enjoy through faith in Jesus the Christ. Amen.

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