Do you ever lie awake at night worrying about new brakes on the car, deadlines at work, the writing you promised to have done by Tuesday or whether you said the wrong thing to your best friend? OK, any ONE of these things can be overwhelming. But have you noticed that sometimes they pile up, one by one, and somehow end up consuming your soul? A worry becomes an anxiety. An anxiety becomes a headache. A headache becomes another wretched day. And a wretched day today can make you fear what sort of horrors tomorrow might bring.
In a lot of self-help writing, we’re encouraged to make lists and prioritize. In the process we tend to put things into categories. Work stuff, family stuff, school stuff, church stuff, on and on it goes. There is an old mantra at work there—Divide and Conquer. It assumes there will always be worries and anxieties, and so if each one can be put in its own bucket or project then it will have less power over your life.
In Jewish culture, there was no separation of “spiritual” life from the rest of existence. All that the early Jewish community did, all that they lived, was lived under God’s watchful eye. God was present in their lives. And it wasn’t always a rosy relationship. It was good and bad and war-filled and peaceful at various times. God provided. And God took away. In general, this is what the people knew and understood and accepted. The Jewish community had the covenant to look to and remind them of their connection and commitment to God…in their worries, they knew that God would be faithful.
Where does our worry come from? We compartmentalize so much. Maybe some of our worry comes from looking over our shoulder at what we have left in the compartment we’re currently not attending to.
The readings this week offer a different kind of self-improvement recommendation for worry, doubt and anxiety. We are generally opposed to oversimplifications like, “Let go and Let God.” Ugh. However, letting God in might be part of bringing more Peace into our lives, which might shed Peace on others and create more Peace in the process.
Isaiah the prophet imagines God describing God’s affection for the people of Israel. The Lord reminds the people of the covenant, of the provision and protection and liberation that has been available to them. It is the love that a mother has for her nursing child…a devotion of sorts…which isn’t always “glowing” and rosy. No, there are rocky moments in this covenant relationship. There are times where the relationship is deeply based on commitment and nothing else. But as the Lord reminds them, “See, I have inscribed you on the palm of my hand.”
The psalm this week is almost a reflective response to the passage from Isaiah. Because of the Lord, the psalmist is at peace, not thinking thoughts too big and overwhelming. Out of this peaceful place comes a plea to Israel, “hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.”
The epistle reading is from Paul’s first letter to Corinth. Corinth was a really busy, large “city,” and it was diverse, culturally, ethnically and religiously. With diversity comes class differentiation and power dynamics. Paul’s Corinthian congregation was probably nearly as diverse as the city. Paul is encouraging this community to refrain from judging one another. He’s calming the bickering and the murmuring. (Bickering and Murmuring in a church? Surely not!) He is encouraging them to wait for the Lord, and when the time comes, much will be revealed. This could be read as a reflection on a contemplative life…or even a life lived in balance. When we suspend our human tendency to judge ourselves and others, when we quiet our minds and are present with the Lord, what is revealed to us? What is our commendation from God? Maybe it is a still, peaceful, centered place where questions don’t need answers and love surrounds us.
The Matthew passage is taken from the text about Jesus’ earliest teachings in Galilee. (You may know this as the Sermon on the Mount.) He sees the crowds, climbs up a mountain to spend some time alone (sounds suspiciously like Moses) and then returns to teach the masses. Jesus is reinterpreting the Law as it would have been known by his a Jewish audience. He’s not changing the law, but helping people to see a deeper meaning. His reminder that one cannot serve two masters is a gentle reframing of the essence of the covenant, the cornerstone of Jewish faith and tradition. Deuteronomy 10:12 - 13 reads, “So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.” Take a look at the entire text from Matthew of this early teaching (Matthew 5 – 7). Think about Moses sharing the covenant with the Israelites.
We worry. We worry and fret about doing well and doing good. We worry and fret about being all that we can be. And Jesus tells us to stop it.
When we worry about something we put all of our energy in to it. “It” consumes our mind. “It” is all we think about. The traits of worrying about something are frighteningly similar to the traits found in worshiping something.
Jesus tells us to stop putting all of our energy toward things that God provides us. He tells us to “strive first for the kingdom of God and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well
This is one of those teachings that might be easy to hear and easy to repeat, but is difficult to put in to practice. And yet, it is also difficult to interpret the words of Jesus in any other way. He calls us fairly directly to put our minds, hearts, and souls toward God and not expend our energy on the wrong things.
- How do we determine what things are “worthy” of worrying about?
- What would your life look like if you were to “seek first the Kingdom of God” every day?
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
from Just As I Am, Charlotte Elliott, 1835