Thankfulness conquers anxiety.
Homily 418 – 3rd Sunday APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
June 28, 2020
Epistle: (88) Romans 5: 1-10
Gospel: (18) Matthew 6:22-33
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
It seems that anxiety is at an all-time high.
We are a people who worry. And we have been for a very long time. All the way back to creation itself. The Old Testament is full of worry about the future by the fallen humans inhabiting creation.
Before the fall, there was no such thing as worry. We were fed by the hand of God. We were clothed in glory – God’s glory. Humanity decided to go a different way, though.
The deceiver appealed to human curiosity. God hasn’t given you everything, the first humans were told. There is more, they were told.
They made their choice. Immediately, they began to worry, because they realized they were naked. No longer clothed in the transcendent glory of God.
And now, we worry. About the same things they worried about – what to eat, what to wear.
The Israelites, coming out of Egypt having witnessed perhaps the greatest display of God’s love and care until the Incarnation itself, still worried. “What will we eat?” they said. “What will we drink?” they said. “Where will we live?” they said.
God responded to them – here is manna – your daily bread. And from this rock, or this bitter spring made clean, or this oasis, there is water. And I am leading you – pillar of fire, pillar of cloud. The people weren’t happy. Still.
“We want meat,” they said. God gave them quail. Still not happy.
In the midst of what God gave, they fashioned idols for themselves. God provided for them deliverance from bondage. God provided for them food. God provided for them direction. This behavior on God’s part was surprising, even atypical, to the Israelites.
In those days, gods were the ones who provided, and they didn’t give freely. They had to be cajoled, they had to be persuaded, in order to provide for the basic needs of life.
They had been in Egypt for a very long time – several generations – and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, their God, was remembered as the one true God, but in the mind of the Israelites, their God behaved just like other gods.
They didn’t understand that the One God, the True God, offered them love. Offered them grace.
Further, they also didn’t understand that God wanted their trust. Just like in the garden. So, God told them I will only give you manna for today – not for tomorrow. Tomorrow you will receive tomorrow’s bread.
Even today we don’t recognize that God loves us. We also raise idols – sometimes material idols, but more often in our day we raise immaterial idols. Things we value because we believe they give us what we need.
We raise idols of our economic or political system. Or, just as dangerous, we raise idols of opposition to our economic or political systems. Both of these are equally idols – that is, neither is really God.
The evil one doesn’t care which not-God we support. As long as it isn’t the true God. Neither does the evil one care about what we worry about – as long as we worry about something.
I don’t know if our anxiety scope – the different things we worry about – have expanded or not over the millennia. Some things, like food and clothing we’ve already mentioned, seem to remain constant.
Other things – career success, relationships, parenting. Power. Injustice. These seem to be new – what we might today refer to as “first world problems.”
Now – that isn’t to say that any of these things aren’t worthy or important enough to worry about. The question is – the question becomes: Do we have the ability to control it or change it?
We love to think that we do. If I work harder, longer, I will be secure in my job. If I pray longer, fast longer – God will love me more and have mercy on me.
Christ reminds us this morning that we control nothing. We can change nothing. Our anxiety serves absolutely no purpose and changes nothing. Except the one thing we can change: Ourselves.
We can love or not love. We can be humble or not. We can choose God, or we can choose self.
What God asks of us, beloved, is that we seek Him – with everything. All our heart, all our soul, all our mind. There is no room in that to worry about anything else.
It is both amazingly simple – and yet amazingly hard. The decision is simple. The implementation is hard.
I’m convinced that there are a few things we can do to assist us in implementing our decision.
The first: In everything give thanks. We offer a blessing for everything that we encounter – thanking God for giving to us, for our salvation. Doesn’t matter what – may be pleasant or painful. We thank God for it.
Second: Reminding ourselves that we are loved – unconditionally. For myself, that took the form of reading this scripture every morning and every evening for a decade or so. Still do from time to time.
Third: When our attention is diverted, return that attention to God. When we worry – ask “Can I do anything?” If so, do it – if not, recognize that it is God’s, and restore our focus on acquiring God.
That is the essence of repentance – restoring our focus on acquiring God and being in His presence. Then we can return to the first – giving thanks.
This is the path that we are on. This is the faith. This is the way.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!