In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Dear Children of the Heavenly Father:
Psalm 27: "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?"
There's something inevitable in our lives in addition to death and taxes: fear. One minute we confess that worry and fear plague us, and the next minute we have convinced ourselves that those things that keep us up at night are best handled by joining Bobby McFerrin as he sings, "Don't worry. Be happy."
A life of fear, an anxious heart, and endless days of worry about everything and nothing. This is our lot since our first parents took that first big bite into knowledge of good and evil and the unending heartache that came along as a special added bonus.
Life in a world of thistles and thorns where food is provided by the sweat of our brow and the knowledge that clothes and shoes and house and car and all the other stuff of this world unexpectedly breaks or slowly but inevitably wears out. Including our health and the ability to be independent masters of our own fate. Our position at the company is suddenly eliminated. Someone in our family no longer will talk to us. The bank sends a registered letter to announce that they are foreclosing on the house. The kids need braces and we haven't even started to think about a savings plan for college or our own retirement. And what we could do with our bodies ten years ago takes four ibuprofen to do today.
And we worry and pop another antacid or try to loose ourselves in a worry-free life of listening to music in the car or watching a movie in the den or preoccupying ourselves with our sports teams or creating a life free from fear somewhere on the internet.
We are children of fallen and sinful parents who perpetually bounced between denial of fear and fear that overtook them and overwhelmed them and threatened to suffocate them. With their son murdered and their other son on the lamb, with paradise lost and death and decay set in motion as the fruit of doubt and disobedience, for Adam and Eve everything, it seemed, was out of their control.
The history of mankind, the history of fallen men and women, our entire history — is one of fear and anxiety and our feeble little attempts to contain and subdue and control it and — if none of that worked — pretend that it simply didn't exist.
Sin's fruit? The consequences of doubt in God's grace and goodness as our heavenly Father who always has our best interests in mind. The dread of coming face-to-face with everything that is out of our hands. Things that are the consequence of our own foolishness and rebellion. Things that are the consequence of simply living in a fallen world ultimately helpless in its attempts to reverse the forces of death and decay and re-create the security of that Paradise lost.
And so, even for us as Christians, fear desires to rule our minds and hearts and lives. The constant drumbeat of anxiety more often than not gets the best of us as it drowns out the quiet whisper of God's promise — the pledge made to Eve and Adam and all their children.
It's really an eye-opening exercise to mark the entire history of salvation by noting the hundreds of places in the Holy Scriptures where we come upon the word "fear." Worry and anxiety is all over the place when we hear about the lives of the faithful who have gone before us. People like Abraham and Daniel and Jacob and David and Joseph. The people of Judah. The people of Israel. Zechariah and Mary and Peter. Fallen and sinful people — just like you and me — plagued by fear and haunted by anxiety over the things of this life.
It is to these preoccupied, burdened, sleep-deprived people that Jesus speaks as he journeys to Jerusalem and the Cross.
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke, the twelfth chapter:
And [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!" (Luke 12:22-28 ESV)
A simple and direct command by the Lord come in human flesh: "Do not be anxious about your life."
Yes, we are to be responsible in using the good talents and energies and opportunities our Lord gives us to provide for the needs of this life and our neighbor-in-need. Jesus is not commanding his own to live a life free of responsibility to ourselves, our family, our church family, and our community.
We cannot misuse Jesus' command here to announce to the world: "O.K. No more worries!" and then sell everything we have, quit our job, walk away from our school, abandon our family and let the church or the government take care of all our needs while we sit back and do nothing.
It is in the context of our labor — the hard work of providing for our needs and the needs of our neighbor that we hear Jesus say to us, "Don't be anxious about your life."
Jesus would have us acknowledge our sin and weakness and worry as we — at the same time — remember his Word — his Word that freely gives anxious people peace — his Word that freely gives fearful people strength and courage. His Word that has the last word over all the stuff of our lives we cannot control.
It is to the voice of our Lord we flee when we are at our wits end. The voice of our Lord through the apostle Paul who proclaims to worry-sick souls: "He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not with him also give us everything else [we need]?" (Romans 8:32)
Our Lord Christ knows that we are anxious, nail-biting people. And only he comes to help us see our fears as they really are, that he might embrace them and take them into himself and make them his own.
Where do we go? Where do we run to find help with our stressed-out minds and anxious hearts?
We follow Abraham who answered the worries of his only-begotten son Isaac as they journeyed up the mountain:
And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham,“My father!” And he said,“Here am I, my son.” He said,“Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide …, my son.” (Genesis 22:6-8a ESV)
By the gift of God's grace, we place the brokenness and decay and uncertainties of life into the hands of our Creator and Redeemer and Sustainer and trustingly say, as Martin Luther use to say, "Pray and let God worry."
Looking to our crucified and risen Lord, we pray:
O most loving Father, you want us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing except losing you, and to lay all our cares upon you, knowing that you care for us. Strengthen us in our faith in you and your Word of promise. Grant that the fears and anxieties of this mortal life may not separate us from your love that is in Christ Jesus, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen