Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Grant Us, Lord, Not to be Anxious About Earthly Things"

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
September 20, 2015

Year B, Proper 19: The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

“Grant Us, Lord, Not to be Anxious About Earthly Things”
            For a couple of reasons, I found the words of today’s opening prayer, today’s collect, especially meaningful:
            “Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure…”
            “Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things…”
            I’m sure this prayer was particularly meaningful to me – and maybe to you, too – because there sure is a lot of anxiety in the air these days, isn’t there?
            There’s a lot of anxiety in the world, particularly in Europe, as it faces wave after wave of refugees fleeing war and chaos especially in Syria, but also other parts of the Middle East and Africa.
            Life has gotten so horrible in those places that people are willing to leave behind everything and everyone they know and set off on a long and dangerous trek to countries where they know they will not exactly be welcomed with open arms.
            There’s anxiety in European countries, especially the smaller and poorer ones, about how they are supposed absorb thousands of new people – people unable to care for themselves – people with a very different culture, speaking different languages and practicing a different religion.
            The anxiety has gotten so great that, sure enough, fences are being built, borders are closing and shots are being fired.
            And, of course, there’s anxiety in our own country, too.
            There’s anxiety about our supposedly recovering economy – a recovery that many of us have yet to feel.
            There’s anxiety about our rapidly changing country – a country where white people are quickly becoming a minority. And, we hear that anxiety expressed these days in some of what passes as political discussion in our country – in the calls by some to build impossibly long walls, in the calls to deport impossibly large numbers of people, in the calls to “take back our country” – from whom is usually left unsaid, at least in public.
            This week we saw the anxiety flare up in Irvine, Texas when a 14 year-old boy, Ahmed Mohamed, created science project – a clock - to impress his new classmates, but because he’s a Muslim some of his school’s teachers and administrators were afraid it might be a bomb – and so they called the police and he was arrested.
            Maybe some of you saw the picture of him, handcuffed, and looking so frightened.
            And, then there’s the anxiety closer to home.
            I’ll admit to feeling a good bit of anxiety these days as I try to fit together serving as your rector and also full-time high school teaching. I’ve had some bad nights of sleep, tossing and turning, thinking anxiously if I’ve made a big mistake.
            And, I know that many of you have anxiety in your lives – anxieties about health, and employment, about children and grandchildren, and anxieties about whether you’ll be able to pay the rent, to pay the bills -or not.
            “Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things…”
            And, actually, there’s a lot of anxiety in both last week’s and today’s gospel lessons.
            If you were here last week, you may remember that we heard Jesus predict what was going to happen to him – what’s called the first passion prediction in the Gospel of Mark.
            Remember, Jesus teaches the disciples that he “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
            Peter doesn’t like the sound of that one bit – we can imagine the anxiety he felt thinking about all of that terrible stuff happening to Jesus – his Messiah and his friend – and the anxiety he felt about what all of that meant for him and the other disciples.
            So, what does Peter do?
            He acts out and “rebukes” Jesus – a strong word – only to be rebuked by Jesus himself.
            “Get behind me, Satan!”
            And then in today’s gospel lesson, we heard Jesus once again predict what was going to happen to him – what’s called, you guessed it, the second Passion prediction in the Gospel of Mark.
            Jesus says that he “is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”
            This time, though, the reaction of the disciples is different.
            Nobody rebukes him – or, really, pays him any mind.
            Instead, the disciples ignore him and change the subject, talking about a very earthly thing, arguing about who is the greatest among the disciples.
            As I’ve thought about these two incidents, I think they reflect the two main ways that many, or most, of us deal with anxiety.
            Sometimes, like Peter, we act out – maybe we rebuke somebody, or we try to build walls to separate us from the source of our anxiety, or, faced with a nerdy Muslim boy and a homemade clock, we arrest him first and ask questions later.
            Or, like the disciples, the other way we deal with anxiety is we ignore it – we quickly change the subject – we bury our anxieties deep in our gut where they boil and churn, waiting impatiently for an opportune moment to boil up again.
            The disciples used two methods to deal with the anxiety caused by Jesus’ predictions of his own suffering and death: acting out and trying to ignore it. And, of course, neither works very well at all.
            And, those two methods of dealing with anxiety don’t work very well for us, either.
            But, you know, if you read carefully last week’s gospel and this week’s gospel, you may notice that the disciples – and maybe we – missed something important, something central.
            Both times, Jesus predicts his suffering – and that’s something that nobody wants to face – something that would make anyone anxious.
            But, both times Jesus also predicts – or, even, promises - that on the third day he will rise again.
            Both times Jesus reassures his disciples, reassures his friends, that, yes, there will be suffering – and some of that suffering will be terrible indeed.
            But, both times, Jesus also predicts and promises that Easter Day will dawn, that light will cast away the darkness, that in the end God’s love will win.
            Ultimately, the problem with anxiety is that it blinds us to the good news that’s all around us, especially right here. Yes, bad things happen and suffering is real, but in the end, it’s Easter and love wins forever.
            And that’s why I tell people to come to church every Sunday.
            Week after week we come here with all of our anxieties – have I made a terrible mistake – what will the doctor tell me when I see her this week – will I find a job – will my kids be able to build a good life for themselves – will I find someone to love – we bring all of those anxieties and more.
            But rather than lashing out, we bring our anxieties here where every Sunday it’s Easter.
            Rather than trying to bury our anxieties deep in our gut, we bring them here where every Sunday we’re reminded that, yes, terrible things happen, but, in the end, love wins and endures forever.
            “Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure…”