Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinityadmin | 20 September 2009
“Be not anxious”
What is Jesus saying here? He wants us to look at the world with new eyes. “Behold, the fowls of the air”. “Consider the lilies of the field”. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God”. It makes a difference for us in our lives. To behold what he wants us to behold, to consider what he wants us to consider, to seek what he wants us to seek counters the paralysis of our fears, the terror of our anxieties and even our anxieties about our anxieties.
Jesus says “be not anxious” more than once in this gospel. He knows our anxieties and how prone we are to being anxious, quite literally, about “a multitude of things”. It is what we might call “The Martha Syndrome” as diagnosed elsewhere by Jesus: “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about a multitude of things” (Luke 10.41). We all have our fears and our worries, our troubles and our concerns, our heart-aches and our despairs. And we can worry ourselves, quite literally, to death about them. What are we anxious about? What are our anxieties? Quite simply, they are our cares, the things which, quite literally, occupy our thoughts; indeed, they can actually possess us.
Our anxieties are the cares which choke and oppress us, the cares which give us great anguish of soul. Our problem, it seems, and the cause of our anxiety is that we are often too careful, quite literally, too full of cares about the wrong things and/or in the wrong way. The cares of this world beset us and overwhelm us. Jesus would have us view the world and its cares in a new way.
But what is that new way? Is it simply this threefold “be not anxious” which Jesus keeps saying as if it were some sort of magical mantra? Is Jesus saying, in effect, “Don’t worry, be happy!”, or for the war generations, “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag” or for contemporary culture, either the affectation of cynical indifference represented in the shrug word, “whatever”, or some other therapeutic mantra like “don’t sweat the small stuff”? In short, is the antidote to our being “full of cares” simply to be careless? Does “be not careful”, as the 16th century Prayer Books accurately put it, really mean be careless? No.
And yet, we have our cares and our worries, in short, our anxieties. We have only to look at ourselves. We are simply and unduly anxious about “a multitude of things”.
There are all of our anxieties about the deeply troubling and perplexing affairs of the larger world as we contemplate the seemingly endless parade of death and destruction by famine, war, hurricane and tempest, not to mention the horrifying spectacles of terrorism. There are all of our heightened anxieties about the economy, about jobs, about whose getting what from whom, about health care, about political life at every level of government, about our institutions such as our families, our schools, our parishes, our church. There are our paralyzing fears about our environment, and so on and so on. We have become, I think, a remarkably anxious people, fearful and fretful about “a multitude of things”.
Stress is our contemporary word for our anxieties and already points to a shift in understanding. It is not what we are anxious about so much as how we cope with such things. But, regardless, there are “a multitude of things” about which we are anxious and, hence, “stressed out”. What is the antidote? You can’t get it over the counter at the drug store. You can’t get it by a doctor’s prescription, try as we might, for such things deal only with symptoms and not with underlying causes. But it is here in what Jesus says. “Behold”, “consider”, “seek” are the strong words that are all woven around Jesus’ repeated exhortation “be not anxious”.
What is the antidote? It is a new way of looking at the world. These strong words are all verbs of perception and desire. They signal a new way of looking at the world. What? Birds and flowers? Are we to go out bird watching and picking Michaelmas daisies? Well, yes, perhaps, but the point is wonderfully captured in the third strong word, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God”, which illumines for us what is being said in the other two. You see, Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God is discerned in these little things. We are to see in the birds and the flowers the care of the heavenly Father for every living thing and, how much more, his care for us. We are to see in the natural world the Father’s glory as providential care.
The recollection of God’s providence is the strong answer to our anxieties. Why? Because it reminds us that God’s care and purpose for us and his world override our immediate concerns and cares. In our anxieties we forget that this is God’s world. We find our place in his world and not the other way around.
“O ye of little faith”, Jesus says. You see, that is the issue. It is all about how we see the world. God’s world or our world? Open your eyes! “Behold”, “consider” and, above all, “seek”. These strong verbs speak about ourselves as spiritual creatures who see God’s will and purpose in the world and, ultimately, see the world in God. This is the counter to our preoccupations, to our carefulness, to our endless calculations about the use of things as if the things of this world only exist if we find and give a purpose to them.
“Teach us to care and not to care”, as the poet T.S. Eliot puts it (Ash Wednesday). We need to learn what to care for and in what way. What is wanted is a new way of looking at the world. It means not care-less–ness but a childlike care-free-ness born out of a trust in God’s providence, the recollection of how precious we are in his eyes. He wants something more and better for us. It is signaled and made present in his Son and Word. Here in the liturgy we learn to live in his love.
“Be not anxious”
Fr. David Curry,
Trinity XV, ’09, 8:00am