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Don't worry, hope

Candle flame
Posted By : Sarah Mullally Sunday 23rd February 2014

Sermon by Canon Sarah Mullally, Treasurer

(2nd Sunday before Lent)

Matthew 6: 25-end and Genesis 1:1-2 and 3

It has been said that we live in an ‘age of anxiety’ and there is some evidence to suggest that may be true. A few years ago, a Gallup Poll was taken among young people, and the question that was asked was, “What is the basic feeling that you have toward life?” And 60% of the young people had replied rather surprisingly: fear.  The Princes Trust at the end of last year reported that 40% of jobless young people had faced symptoms of mental illness, including suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks, as a direct result of unemployment.

Surveys show that more than half of Americans report irritability, anger, fatigue, or sleeplessness. Money and the economy topped the list of stressors for at least 80 percent of those surveyed. (“Health Takes Hit as Economy Creates More Stress,” cited in USA Today, 10/7/2008.)

Anxiety should not be confused with being concerned about something (which is often very appropriate) but rather, anxiety is when our concern for something becomes distracting and it becomes a shadow over everything.

When Jesus calls us in our gospel reading not to worry, the word is better translated as, anxiety, which comes from the Latin word angustia.  It means something like, “constrictedness”, the Latin verb ungo means, “to throttle,” or “to choke”. {

Anxiety is the feeling of contractedness, of constriction, a kind of feeling in which we get the idea that we are being threatened. Often it is not so much the object that is important, but the feeling itself. And often, the feeling so overshadows the reasons for it, that it’s difficult for us to even explain the reasons for our anxiety.

Now, we are all different and some of us will worry more than others. Some of us will experience anxiety more than others – that is the variety of life. I often sit in my stall in the Quire and look across at my colleague the Chancellor and Acting Dean, Edward, enviously – not because of his great wit – although he does have some, not because of his great intelligence, although he has some of that also, but because of the nature of his cool laid back style.  I have always worried, I was the school child who had always done my homework well in advance of the dead line, I don’t just get places on time but I am always early and I worry about my impact on others.  However, you who know our Acting Dean will know that he is always somewhere just in time, never early, and I am sure he never did homework until just when it was needed.  However, with all due respect to my colleague, if the world was full of Eds I am not sure we would be any better off – life is about variety.  So when our gospel reading is telling us not to worry or be anxious, it is not calling us all to be ‘Eds’ but rather it is about getting our lives in focus, it is about perspective.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6: 25).

Jesus is telling us not to be distracted by food and clothing from the more important things of life.  We need things in perspective – we should not worry, but rather hope.

Living under the shadow of the next day, being never fully occupied in what is known and immediate is a wasteful way of living.

Worry and anxiety is an exercise in futility.  Worry won’t stretch our savings account, bring back that prodigal son or daughter, or keep cancer or senility at bay. But it will cause us to lose sleep. It will give us ulcers, high blood pressure, and headaches. It will sour our mood and distance our friends and eventually stifle our relationship with God. It not only has physical consequences, it has spiritual consequences as well.

When we worry we forget God’s role in our lives we allow anxiety in rather than God. Do you recall the disciples in the boat who lost sight of who Jesus was?

As the gale arose and the waves beat the boat, the disciples became anxious, so much so that they wake Jesus by proclaiming ‘Teacher, do you not care when we are perishing? Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea ‘Peace be still! Then the sea ceased and there was dead calm’ Mark 4:37-39. 

Jesus did not sleep because of naivety or that he didn’t care or that he was casual.  It was an expression of peace which came from him abiding in the Father and the Father in him.  Jesus had what the Disciples lost sight of, who God was for them.

The peace Jesus had in the boat came from abiding in God and allowing God to abide in him and so he knew who he was and who God is.  

If we abide in God and allow him to abide in us we will know deep in our souls that God is for us, the God who created the heavens and the earth and who is faithful. Jesus’ sleep on the Sea of Galilee is proclamation of the peace which abides.

I have am very conscious that for those who suffer from a generalized anxiety disorder (almost 1 in 20 in this country) this may sound simplistic, and that there are those who suffer from such a disorder who find it hard to control such anxiety, need the support of talking therapies or medical help.  However, there is researched evidence that those with a faith find support in managing such anxiety.

Many of us are in a position where we can control our anxieties and worries and we need to remember who God is for us, and in doing so we will find the peace which allowed Jesus to sleep.

It is the peace that Jesus spoke of ‘Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’(John 14:27)

It is in abiding that we can understand God’s providence to us – it is in abiding that we will understand the lessons of the lilies and the birds of the air.

Ben Quash in his book ‘Abiding’ 2013 demonstrates how the word abiding is woven throughout the gospels – especially in John’s Gospel.  It is woven he tells us, as a signal of the weaving together of us as God’s people with Christ, Christ with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit with the Father and people with one another.

Anxiety is part of the human condition and few of us will avoid it, but to accept it without resisting and trying to overcome it means we may miss the beauty of the present. So when Jesus calls us not to worry, it is on the back drop of lives abiding in God, concerned for his world, seeking for his Kingdom and building up treasures in heaven.

For the promise which goes with this command is that if we seek the kingdom all our needs will be provided. We are called not to worry but to hope.