“Anxiety Prone”


In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

We know from church history that the disciples of Jesus did great things after he died.

They preached the Gospel in many foreign lands. They established a number of new congregations. They thought of new ways to understand the message of Jesus.

The apostles’ achievements are all the more impressive, given that they remained human beings! Human beings with all the frailty and vulnerability that we mortals share.

So, however talented and inspired they were, the Bible records many instances when the apostles were afraid. After Jesus ascended into Heaven, they were left on their own.

And they worried about the various natural threats to their existence, like violent weather and earthquakes. They feared the persecution that was directed against them by authorities who didn’t want to deal with a new religious group.

Of course, the disciples of Christ were neither the first nor the last people to be afraid. We can understand how they felt, because anxiety is just as familiar to us as it was to them.

Granted, today we have many more ways to try to cope with our anxiety than our ancestors had. We have medicines to relax us. We can take yoga classes or go to the gym in order to relieve our stress.

But sometimes these remedies don’t work. So it’s as much of interest to us as it was to the disciples that when we feel under threats that we can’t overcome, we can reach beyond ourselves.

The First Letter of St. Peter advises members of the Early Church: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”

“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” One way to make a problem more manageable is to find a way to share the burden of solving it.

The mayor of a river town that is facing the threat of a flash flood won’t try to stop the rising waters all by herself. She will marshal town employees to buy sand and burlap bags and transport them to the riverbank. She’ll assemble a group of volunteers to fill the bags with sand and then line up to carry them into place before the river crests.

In the same way, Christians struggling with their fears don’t need to face them alone. We believe that God is all-powerful and that God loves us. So we can follow the examples of our anxious ancestors in the Christian faith. We offer our worries to God. We let him help us to calm the storm in our souls.

But before we turn our fears over to God, we need to decide which of our concerns are really worth divine intervention! Yes, it’s annoying when your computer acts up. But as worries go, computers don’t rank very high on the list. (As it happens, you could even bring your machine to Incarnation’s Senior Resource session this afternoon and share your problem with our technicians!)

The point is, rather, we should only turn to God when we have problems that we can’t fix on our own. For example, the disciples often prayed for healing for members of their congregations who were ill and weren’t getting better.

Asking God’s help in times of sickness doesn’t absolve us from going to doctors or taking medicines that our doctors prescribe. Rather our prayers recognize that some physical problems are beyond human control. Our prayers acknowledge that even when healing doesn’t occur, God can still give spiritual comfort to the sick.

In the early church, too, congregational leaders would pray about arguments that had broken out between their factions in the church. Of course, in these cases, too, we can’t hand all the burden over to God.

Asking God for help in resolving a conflict doesn’t excuse us from forgiving our offensive neighbors or reaching out to those whom we have offended. Rather, we ask for God’s help when our attempts at reconciliation fail. We ask God to give us an inner peace that the world cannot give.

Such is the divine power that we can also ask God’s help in dealing with another form of anxiety: fears about problems that don’t actually exist!

An attractive person may mistakenly think that he’s ugly. He may fear that he will never find a mate. He may be tempted to get involved in relationships with people who aren’t suited to him.

So even though the man’s fears are groundless, they hurt him. While such concerns don’t threaten us in fact, imaginary worries can be just as troubling—and just as persistent as real worries.

In these cases, we need to pray for a clearer understanding of ourselves. For when we know the truth about ourselves, that truth will—as Jesus said—make us free.

But even when we rid ourselves of imagined anxieties, we’ll have to contend with real dangers to our health and peace. And we may still be tempted to try to go it alone and face our demons by ourselves.

There are, after all, countless self-help books that offer ideas about how to find inner peace. Over the years, I’ve read more than my share of them. I would judge that even the worst of them had something to teach me.

But the fact that there are so many of them should tip us off that there’s no easy solution to the perils of existence. Even the best advice can’t calm all our inner storms. Ultimately, we can’t help ourselves! There’s no foolproof “self-help.” The inevitable fears produced by a threatening world need more than human help.

Happily, as the Bible reminds us, we have the God of Jesus Christ to turn to—to rely on, to depend on. As we heard in today’s first lesson, before Christ ascended into Heaven, he assured the disciples that “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”

So, whatever our fears, in all our troubles, the divine power is with us in Spirit. And as Peter’s Letter tells us: “The God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever.”

And now unto that same God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.

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