7th Sunday of Easter (A)
I Peter 5:6-11
May 24, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle from I Peter, which was read a few minutes ago.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve read numerous articles about the anxiety surrounding Covid-19. It’s no secret that people are anxious and the articles had suggestions for dealing with it: focus on what you can control, don’t watch too much TV, trust only the experts (yeah, right!), seek counseling, or try meditation. Meditation is focusing on your breath, your thoughts, a peaceful place, or sounds to find peace or gain better insight into yourself. I can see how these practices might be beneficial, maybe you do some of them. One problem with this type of meditation is that you’re looking inside yourself to find what you need. But if you’re anxious, is telling yourself not to be really going to work? I kind of doubt it. To really deal with what’s inside, we need something outside of ourselves, and that’s the point that Saint Peter is making in his first letter.
Now, I want you to believe me when I tell you that I’m not minimizing anxiety and the depression that frequently accompanies it. The National Institute for Mental Health estimates that 31% of adolescents and 19% of adults suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder. That’s millions of people, and most of them don’t ever ask for help. Those who do seek help often find relief in medication and counseling; those are God’s gifts to help the hurting. As beneficial as they are, they only address the physical and mental symptoms, they’re incapable of fixing our broken spirits, only God can do that.
Peter says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” In a perfect and sinless world we would be anxiety-free. Anxiety is a result of fear, and fear wasn’t in God’s original blueprints. We don’t live in a sinless world, so Peter doesn’t tell us not to have anxiety, he tells us what to do with it. He says we’re to give it to God. Now I know, and you know, that this isn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s actually very hard, but think about the alternatives: stress, ulcers, despair, doubt, paralyzing fear, suicide. These things aren’t going to go away if you spend time focusing on your breathing or what you smell, you need more.
The way I look at anxiety is that it flows out of fear of the unknown. People are anxious about Covid because they don’t know who might have the virus. I’m not worried about Covid but ask me if I’m anxious about the future of our country and the bizarre belief that democratic socialism is a good thing for our nation, you’ll get a completely different answer. Whether you’re worried about health, retirement, or your children’s future, it comes from not knowing what’s coming next. But think about this for a minute: do you have to know the future or is it enough to know that God not only knows the future, He also knows how He’s going to use it for good purposes?
The Lord says through Isaiah: “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’” What a great promise! God will come, He will destroy the power of anxiety, depression, and fear. Anxiety is powerful, but God is more so! Saint Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Don’t listen to your feelings, listen to God’s Word! You need His Word because you’re not only at battle within yourself, you’re constantly under attack from outside as well.
Peter says, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” The satanic lion would like nothing more than to crush your throat with your anxieties. He wants nothing more than to kill your faith and drag you into his den of despair. If he can cause you to internalize everything and not look at God, he’s won. To fight back Peter says to be sober-minded, watchful and “resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” You’re not alone, others are being attacked in the same way, and the only way for anyone to come through this is to give everything to God. Resist Satan by asking God to fight for you. As Peter says, “He cares for you.”
“He cares for you” means more than God’s gives you what you need. The Lord is doing for you want you can’t do for yourself. I know it sometimes feels like you’re alone in your anxiety, you’re not! Luther puts it this way, “Oh heavenly Father, you have created me; and now things are not going the way I want them to go. And God says, “Go now and carry out the work of your calling, and let me care for you.” When Peter tells us to humble ourselves before God, He means that we’re to put ourselves into His hands, that we trust Him, and believe that He will take care of us because He loves us. Jesus tells us that He knows what we need, and since He knows, He will provide it.
This past Thursday was Ascension Day, forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, He ascended into Heaven where He rules over all things. There is nothing that Jesus doesn’t have power over. Paul writes, “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” He rules over all things because while Satan is prowling lion, Jesus is the mightier Lion of Judah who stepped in and fought Satan for us and won! If Jesus rose from the grave after dying under the weight of your fears, worries, and anxieties, those things can’t possibly have power over you. He took them to the cross, and now you can give them back to the Him knowing that He alone can “restore, confirm, and strengthen you.”
If it was easy to just make your anxieties and fears go away by focusing on your inner fortitude, we might not see a need for God. We all know that’s impossible. When we feel anxious and fearful and uncertain, we’re not going to find what we need inside. Instead, our help comes from outside ourselves, from the Lord, who takes our anxieties and fears and whatever else and gives us the peace and the hope that comes from knowing He cares of us. Giving your anxieties to the Lord doesn’t mean you’ll never be anxious; it means you can trust that it’s by His almighty power and the love of Christ that you will be sustained. We can’t carry our anxieties, but Christ has, and He will continue to do so, and nothing, not fear, anxiety, worry, or Satan can every change that most important truth.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen