The Sermon, part 21: Anxiety

Read Matthew 6:25-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT)

bigstock-business-concept-53939776Today’s passage often gets read as a friendly suggestion by Jesus to those gathered around him. After all, Jesus cared for his followers and for people in general, right? He didn’t want to see them all stressed out and worried about what they will or won’t have. So, in concern of people’s stress-levels and heart health, Jesus was telling people that they should live an anxiety-free life, right?

What’s more, sermons on this text are often crafted around the notion of faith. If you trust God, you’ll have nothing to be anxious about. If you trust that God will provide for you, and if you seek first God’s Kingdom, God will give you what your heart desires. Many a “prosperity Gospel” message have come straight from today’s passage. Christ wants you to trust and have faith in God, and then God will bless you in ways immeasurable.

Unfortunately, both of the above paragraphs miss the mark. First, Jesus was not a self-help teacher who was instructing people on ways to reduce their stress. That is a very 21st century way of understanding the Gospel. There was plenty to be anxious of in Jesus’ day, and Jesus himself was not immune to it. In Gethsemane, Jesus was so anxious about his imminent crucifixion that he began to sweat blood. This is a medical condition called Hemtridosis, in which extreme physical and/or emotional stress cause capillary blood vessels to rupture and literally bleed out of one’s pours. Sounds, like a stress free and fun time, right?

This may all seem a bit facetious, but the reality is that we often interpret Jesus as if he was some sort of self-help guru who wanted nothing more than to teach you how to, as Joel Osteen puts it, “live your best life now.” To go with more Joel Osteen book titles, just for the fun of it, Jesus is not teaching you that “you can, you will,” nor is he teaching you that “it’s your time” to “break out” and “make wise choices” in your life. Think about it, conventionally speaking, was it wise for Jesus to resist the religious and world leaders of his time, or to roam the wilderness with a ragtag bunch of hooligans he called disciples? Was it wise to hang out with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners? Was it wise to flip the money-changing tables in the Temple? Was it wise to befriend Judas, and was the crucifixion Jesus’ “break out” moment?

It’s time for Christians to understand that the Gospel is not about worldly, prosperity, but about God’s justice and the establishment of God’s kingdom.  It is also time to realize that Jesus’ words against anxiety were not a friendly suggestion aimed at making us live longer and more productive lives; rather, they are a prohibition against anxiety itself. This prohibition is not just for the rich who worry about their worldly possessions and the loss of things that they have, it is also a prohibition for the poor who worry about the things they don’t have.

What’s more, it is important to stress that Jesus is not addressing people who have anxiety disorders. People who suffer from such anxiety need loving support, counseling and healing presence, not condemnation by self-righteous bigots and holy rollers. Jesus’ prohibition is not against people who suffer psychologically in ways they cannot help; rather, he is talking about the kind of anxiety that is produced by the fear of losing what one has or the desire to have more. This is not just directed at individuals, but also at the church. I can’t tell you how many times I seen local church’s, as well as the global church, worry about what the future holds, fiscally speaking. Whether we are talking about individuals, or the church, what we worry about becomes what we worship. The object of our anxiety becomes our idol, consuming all our attention and energy.

Whether one has plenty or little, Jesus is telling his disciples not to be caught up in the anxieties of material loss or gain. To do so betrays a lack of trust in God who provides us with everything we’ll ever need. It also takes us away from what our true purpose is, to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love God with our whole being. It takes us away from our true purpose of seeking out the Kingdom of Heaven, and the seeking out (and even fighting for) God’s justice (aka righteousness) in the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.” – Rev. Charles Spurgeon

PRAYER
Lord, help me to trust that you supply and equip me with all that I need. Amen.

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