19th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 23 – A)
October 11, 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 Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
If you’re stressed out about something, do you hate it when someone says, “Don’t worry”? That’s a less than helpful suggestion isn’t it? “I’m really worried about the results of my CAT scan.” “Don’t worry about it.” “Gee, thanks! I feel so much better now!” “I’m really anxious about what’s going to happen with my job.” “Don’t worry.” “Well, silly me, you’re right. I don’t need to be anxious. What was I thinking?” I suppose telling somebody, “Don’t worry. We’ll get through this together” is a little better. You’re encouraging them by showing them they’re not alone. But even then, that doesn’t always help, does it?
We know that worrying doesn’t help and that sometimes it makes the situation worse. And while we probably know that living in a constant state of worry and anxiety will wear us out in a hurry, it’s what we do. I’ll bet this is especially true over that last eight months. If you think about all that’s going on in our world, how can you not be anxious. Our nation especially seems to be sliding headlong into absolute chaos. Fourteen days to flatten the curve has turned into eight months. People are still unemployed, businesses are failing, children are falling behind at school. Political bickering fills the airwaves. Rioting and looting. Hurricanes and Derechos. Yesterday was World Mental Health Day reminding us that struggles with depression, loneliness, isolation, and addiction are real problems.
Have I hit them all? I suppose we could add that we’re worried about other things that are more personal. Health concerns, getting older, worry about the kids, anxious about work or school. Worried about friends and not having friends. Anxious about tomorrow, next week, next year?
I suppose by now, you wish I would stop talking. “Pastor, why are you so depressing? Are you trying to make me worry more? Some of these things I hadn’t even thought of! Thanks a lot!”
I’m sure that most of you are familiar with flowcharts that show how different options and possibilities will lead to different results. Option A: do this, do that, do the other thing, and if that doesn’t work go to Option B. Option B – do this, do that, do the other thing, and if doesn’t work go to option C. So maybe your Option A is just ignoring your worries, you’re just going to pretend they don’t exist. Maybe Option B is throwing yourself into work or school or Netflix. Maybe Option C is crying, self-medicating, and hiding from the world in your house or room. How effective are options? Do they really work? Oh, maybe they do, for a little while, maybe they do for a long while. But they can’t possibly be the antidote to the anxiety that has welled up inside you. Eventually, worries eat us up or turn us into piles of Jell-o. If they don’t, maybe they just make life miserable.
What would you say if I said that there’s an alternative to all this? Are you curious? Maybe you think you know what I’m going to say, maybe you don’t. But odds are you may not like what you’re going to hear. But don’t blame me, I’m just passing on advice from my buddy Paul. Are you ready? “Do not be anxious about anything.” Well, that’s helpful! “Gee Paul, thanks, everything is better now!” We know it can be said, it’s the doing that’s hard, right? I won’t lie, it is easier said than done, but that’s not the end of the story. Listen to all Paul says, “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything.” That’s the antidote to your anxiety and your worry! The only antidote is the Lord.
If Paul just said, “Don’t worry,” we wouldn’t be very encouraged. However, he also explains why we don’t need to be anxious: because the Lord is at hand. When Paul says, “The Lord is at hand” he might mean that Jesus is returning soon. The promised day of Jesus’ return gets closer every day, and when He comes back, anything and everything that induces anxious hearts and worried souls will instantly cease to exist. “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” (Is 25:9)
It might mean that He’s right here with you, walking with you and leading you through your anxiety, fear, and stress, because He promises He’ll never abandon you to your anxieties. “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 27:1) “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matt 6:30)
It might mean that His comforting Word is always available to you, and all you have to do to hear it is to pick up your Bible. It might mean that He is here in His house to give you Himself in the elements of bread and wine. The body and blood of the New Covenant, the gift which we receive every week. You can’t get any closer to God than being held in the palm of His hand and you can’t get any closer than taking Him into your hand and mouth. When Paul says, “The Lord is at hand”, he’s talking about all three options. That even as He is always with us, He continues to be with us through the Scriptures and the Sacraments, until He returns to take us home.
To help us understand this, or maybe better yet, find comfort in God’s promises, Paul says, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” I think we all know this. I think we also know that we don’t do enough praying. You might wonder though why we would thank God when we’re riddled with worry and anxiety. Thanking God for what has happened in the past, reminds us that God’s compassionate goodness will continue into the future.
Just look at Jesus. In the past, God repeatedly promised that the Savior would come. The Savior that would give sight to the blind man and heal the lepers and who would preach Good News to the poor. That Savior came, and now you can look to the future realizing that if Jesus came into this world to save us from our sins, we don’t need to worry about the future. We can put ourselves into God’s hands because He’s already given us what is necessary to handle anything that comes up in the future. As Paul says in First Corinthians: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:57)
Paul is an incredibly faithful man. When he writes this Epistle to the church at Philippi, he’s doing so from prison and with the threat of death looming over his head. When he had been in Philippi the first time, he had been arrested, badly beaten, and locked in the stocks. But in the middle of the night, through cracked and bloody lips, He and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. Was Paul doing this because he had a concussion from the beatings? Of course not. What made the difference was that he had peace from God.
Paul’s peace isn’t the relaxed feeling get when something you worried about turned out okay. It’s the peace of God. A peace He gives you that’s so great and so powerful, you can’t comprehend it. All you can do is treasure it. This peace gives you contentment and hope even as you’re racked with tears of despair. The Lord’s peace assures you that He knows what He’s doing and that all things will work out for our good. And this peace assures you that whether you live or die you belong to Christ. The Lord’s peace, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds by being the lens through which you can look at the things that worry or frighten you. As you look at these anxiety inducing fears with God’s peace, you will see that as long as He is with you, which is always, it will work out. The author of Hebrews says, “[Jesus] has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Heb 13:5-6 ) When Paul says he can do all things through Christ, he’s not talking about dunking a basketball or anything else like that. He’s talking about how when Christ is with him, he has nothing to fear, because the forgiveness of his sins assures him that no matter what happens, even if he dies, he’s going to be in heaven.
To let the peace of God dwell in us means that we let Him have our anxieties and worries, trusting Him to handle all the things we worry about that we have no control over. Now please don’t think I’m saying, “Just get over it. Get over your worries and anxieties.” I know it’s not that easy! If it was, I’d be a much happier camper, or hoteler (if that’ a word). But by God’s grace and with His help, we can do all things through Him. It might take a while. It might take the tools that God gives in therapy or medication. In time, maybe we won’t need these aids. Maybe we will. Who knows? What we do know though is that God’s grace and peace enable us to do all things. His peace brings us into unity with Him so that our wellbeing and our salvation are His primary goals for us.
I know it doesn’t do any good to tell someone “Don’t worry.” Although, you’d think I’d remember that little advice and stop saying it myself. But you know, when God says it, He means that His Son whose blood flows over us reinforces us against the anxiety that plagues us. He means that your sinful anxiety is forgiven in Christ. He means that He is at hand and nothing will ever change that. So pray, give thanks, spend time in His Word, receive the Lord’s Supper and remember you are baptized. And rejoice! Yes, God’s peace also enables us to rejoice that God is at hand, and because He gave us His Son, we know He’ll give us relief and strength as He gives us His peace.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen