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November 22, 2006 (Thanksgiving Eve)
Interim Pastor Steven Jensen
(Webmaster’s Note: Pastor Jensen preached this sermon as part of an Ecumenical Thanksgiving Eve Service with St. Clement [Episcopal].)
I have a family member who is in the import/export business. She imports worry and anxiety from family members and friends, and one is not in her presence very long before finding she has developed the means to export worry and anxiety to those who care about her. In fact, we have frequently remarked that she would worry if she didn’t have anything to worry about. If worry did indeed add even one day to our span of life, she and those around her would live forever.
I know that I have to do a great deal of self talk when in her presence to prevent myself from getting “agita,” that sensation in the pit of your stomach when it gets tied up in knots.
Do you have a family member or friend like that? Are you in the import/export business?
We tell ourselves that the pressures and demands of the 21st century allow for nothing less than anxiously planning for our future—working at least one job, putting in more hours than the next person, buying the clothing or vehicle or home that will make us stand out, taking no school vacations to cram in another course. While that notion of relying on ourselves isn’t really new, we have perhaps “supersized” it. We panic-strive for all the things needed for daily life—and much more. “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” “I can’t count on anyone but me.” “To be successful, I’ve got to have plan A, plan B, and plan C just to cover all contingencies.”
And so we take medication for hypertension, drive on the freeways as if we’re racing to avoid a tsunami, seek treatment for psychosomatic illnesses, subject those closest to us to frayed tempers. So while seeking a better life for ourselves and our loved ones, we diminish our quality of life. Our discipleship and our stewardship is crippled. Wanting more than what is needed, our panic-striving edges out time or offerings or commitments to the kingdom of God.
Let’s put that in perspective for a moment, shall we? Many of the people of Jesus’ day, especially those who followed him, had very different worries. Would they offend a Roman or Jewish authority and pay the consequences? Would their wife and child survive childbirth? Would the next tax increase cause them to forfeit what little they had and be put into debtor’s prison? Would becoming a widow make them destitute, homeless, and unwanted? Would a simple illness cured by over-the-counter medications today lead to death? I am sure you can easily and extensively add to the list.
Our panic-striving and super-sizing often leads us to seek comfort in things that actually do us harm—food, alcohol, drugs, sex. Are you aware that there are over 1 billion people starving in the world—the same number as those who are significantly overweight?
I am told that one of the businesses I should invest in here in Hawaii is the self-storage enterprise. Those facilities are springing up all over the islands. We are paying extra each month to house things we cannot let go of that will not fit in our living spaces. How many more hours do we need to work each month to pay to keep those items? If you have what you consider valuables in storage, do you worry about their condition after heavy rains? Did you check on them after the earthquake? What is it about us that we cannot simply pare down and share some of our possessions with those who have little or none?
Think about that term “self-storage” for a moment. By holding onto such things, are we in reality storing a part of ourselves, putting a part of ourselves away for some future time? At what point in our lives will we make use of that? What God-given part of us does not get used for our benefit, the benefit of others, or the glory of God? Does worry in and of itself keep a part of us in storage, that part that is aware of God’s steadfast love, care and support?
Someone has suggested that “Worry is a pagan prayer.” Worry puts no confidence in God to care for us or give us the strength to deal with life’s needs and challenges.
“Friends of Bill W”, members of the 12-step programs, put it simply: “Let go and let God.” In other words, the solution is to put our trust in God. It means letting go of the illusion that we are in control of our own lives, that we should be able to control all our relationships and situations. It is not an invitation to cop out, to abrogate our responsibilities in life, but it is an invitation to live within our limitations and to follow God rather than trying to be God.
One little boy in the preschool often greets me with, “Hi, Jesus!” That certainly is a better name than others I’ve been given, but I said in response the other day, “O dear boy. If I’m in charge, we’re all in trouble!”
Living in the assurance of God’s care, even in dark days and difficult situations, is so liberating. This spiritual journey of opening our hearts to God’s boundless love uncrates us from our self-storage and sets us free to be the people He created us to be.
Members of St. Clement and members of LCH are waiting to see when I’m going to slip in something from Martin Luther. I wouldn’t want to disappoint anyone and I need to be able to return to LCH, so here it comes. God gives and provides everything we need bountifully, “yet wishes us to pray for them so we may realize that we have received them from his hand and may recognize in them his fatherly goodness toward us.” (Sorry there wasn’t something controversial or ribald from his “Table Talk.”)
If you are not enamored of Luther, Ian MacLaren asks, “What does your anxiety do? It does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but it empties today of its strength. It does not make you escape the evil, but it makes you unfit to cope with it if it comes.”
An old adage states simply, “Sorrow looks back, worry looks around, faith looks up...”
In today’s gospel, Jesus says to put your trust in God and strive for his kingdom and righteousness with a calm and dedicated heart. Strive for God’s kingdom in your words, your actions, your offerings, in taking your place in the ministry of our congregations.
The glory and love and care of God are there for you in Christ, your crucified and risen Lord. He will provide for you. What good is worry? You will always have His promised daily bread. With that confidence you can respond with joyful singing and confident stewardship of time, talent, and treasure. Let us give thanks tonight and each day of our lives for our faithful God and let God be God.
Copyright © 2006 Steven Jensen
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