In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
What keeps you awake at night? When you toss and turn, your mind racing a mile a minute, what are the thoughts? Are you worried about money? Your damaged relationships? Your health? Where you’ll find a job? When terrorism will once again hit a little too close to home? What else do you worry about? If all you do is care about the things of this world, you will fall victim to this world. Your life is controlled by the things you worry about.
As long as we are in this body and life, there will be worry about the things of this life. Just because we are Baptized doesn’t mean that we are torn out of this life. However, by virtue of that Baptism we are given a dual citizenship. We have one foot on earth and another in heaven. We know what our future holds because of God’s love for us revealed in Christ Jesus. But at the same time we know that, unlike the birds, lilies, and grass, we must sow and reap, toil and spin. This necessarily involves some worry. It’s part of God’s curse after Eden, that He would still miraculously provide for us, but we now are forced to work for our daily bread, and eat it with sweat on our brow.
The problem arises when we think that we can improve or secure our life by means of our worry. Underlying this is a forgetfulness of our dual citizenship. We over-compartmentalize, putting God alongside our worries, not in charge of them. We put eternity at the bottom of our to-do list, something we don’t have to think about right now. And God is not our constant guide, but someone that occasionally intervenes to put things in order when they get too unruly for us. We forget that we do not draw our true life from this present world. If all we care about are the things of this life, we fall victim to the world. And the world does not want to sustain and strengthen our faith, but wants to lead us to apostasy. The world wants us to be caught up in worry. It’s why commercials are designed the way they are. If your car doesn’t come with built in Wi-Fi so everyone can use their iPad to stream Netflix, every trip will be chaos as the kids pick on one another and mom and dad lose their temper with the kids and subsequently with one another. If you have ever experienced any of the scary symptoms the man with the ominous voice in the drug commercial describes, you had better get to your doctor before you go another day without the latest miracle pill. If you vote for this candidate over the other one, you’ll lose your job, the government will collapse, and China and ISIS will join forces to conquer America. The world and its prince, the devil, knows well and uses to its advantage what Jesus Himself said: “The cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the Word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mk. 4:19).
So what do we do when worry tries to choke out faith? We hear the Words of St. Peter: “[Cast] all your care upon [God], for He cares for you” (1 Pe. 5:7) and the Words of St. Paul: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). We give God our checklist of things that we think will make us happy, of things we have convinced ourselves we need, tack on “in Jesus’ Name” to the end, and wait for God to get to work. That’s what the Bible says to do, right? The problem with the way we hear these verses is that we think they turn God into our genie in a bottle or our fairy godmother, waiting to grant us our wishes. God is not your vending machine—put in the dollar bill, push the right button, and get your bag of M&Ms. You can’t separate these verses from their context. Before St. Peter told you to “cast your care on God,” he told you “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Pe. 5:6). This means laying your anxieties at the feet of Jesus, confessing that He is the one who knows what you need better than you know what you need. This humbling yourself is nothing other than praying “Thy will be done,” confessing and trusting that God will cause all things to work out for your good.
And He will! It may not be sunshine and roses in this life. You may face every day like that widow of Zarapheth from today’s Old Testament Reading, thinking each day is your last. But whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s! If He takes care of things that are of the least concern—birds, flowers, and grasses—then He will take care of you with even more abundance.
Your God is no stranger to what your life is like. Jesus Christ came to this earth, wore your flesh, was surrounded by the effects of sin, was rejected by His own people and despised by His own hometown. He knew physical and psychological injuries. He knew what it was like to be surrounded by sin. God loves you so much that He couldn’t bear to be far removed from His creation, so He lived in it. And not only did He live in it, but He died for it. He came, not just to know your pain and anxiety, but to die to forgive your sin, to die and rise to open heaven to you, to ascend to the right hand of the Father to pour out His Holy Spirit to keep you steadfast in the one true faith. He came to take you to be with Him forever in the place where there is no need to toil and spin, and therefore no anxiety and no sin.
But your Lord knows that as long as you live in this life, worry will still creep in. Sin will still plague you, and you will forget that God takes care of you and will provide for all of your needs. So what has He laid out as an alternative, as something to do to help ward off the worry? “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” What does this mean? Immerse yourself in the things of God. This is not Law, but a gracious invitation to come face-to-face with Him. Pray, because God wants to hear you and by prayer gives you an escape from temptation by the world’s forces. Read the Word, because there the Holy Spirit repeats to you all that Jesus has said and done for your salvation. Come to the Divine Service, where Jesus Christ speaks to you through the Word and is bodily present in His Supper to forgive all your sins, calm your fears, and point you to life everlasting.
When your worries keep you awake at night, do not count sheep, do not spin your wheels in despair and self-pity. Cast that burden upon the Lord. He will carry it, and He will carry you. Your heavenly Father will take care of all of your needs until your needs are no more in the heavenly kingdom where Christ will be your All.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).