Day of Thanksgiving, Year B
11 October 2021
1 Timothy 2:1-7
When I was twenty I thought I had high blood pressure. I went to see a physician but the physician said I didn’t have high blood pressure. That was good.
However, that did not make the thing go away that I perceived as high blood pressure. Only decades later did I understand that what I was experiencing was anxiety. People didn’t talk about anxiety then.
We talk more about anxiety today. Some have described our age as an anxious age. I suffered anxiety without knowing what to call it, and while the world we live in has changed, it seems that anxiety has always been with us. But I do not intend to diminish the anxiety people experience today as many have noticed a marked increase in anxiety.
We experience anxiety because we are human and are able to imagine a future.1 But since the future is something over which we have only limited control, considering the future can give us anxiety.
The pandemic has made us worry about the future: When we would see our loved ones again, whether our elders would survive, how much damage the economy would sustain, whether the surgery we need and have been waiting for would be postponed, whether there’d still be a church once we emerged at the other end.
I admit that I have worried about the last one, and it’s not because I didn’t trust God, or didn’t trust you. I am grateful for your faithfulness to Christ’s church. And regarding the church not being our creation but God’s, Jesus said to Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
And yet, sometimes the gates of Hades come pretty close. When I hear of sexual abuse in the larger church, our colonial legacy, our striving for the survival of an institution, or talk without action.
But despite all of that I trust in Jesus’ promise.
In our reading from the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us not to worry about our life but to look at the birds of the air which neither sow, nor reap, gather into barns, which don’t go to school, don’t punch a clock, and don’t invest.
And yet that poetic and beautiful verse alone will not keep me from worrying. If that was all Jesus had to say, it would not be very different from the advice we can find in self-help books. It’s a little like Nancy Reagan’s campaign against drug use. “Just say no.”
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
It’s not that simple because our minds gravitate toward the things we worry about and our worries consume our energy, sometimes they consume us. George MacDonald says that fear always sides with the things we’re afraid of.
If we pay attention to the words Jesus speaks, we notice that the worry that Jesus speaks of is the worry about my life, not yours. What will I eat, wear, possess?
You know that when we moved to Richmond we bought a townhouse. We are no poorer for it, the market is different. However, when we had a bigger house with a yard, there were many more things to worry about. In some ways our life has become simpler by living in a smaller house.
When we lived in Manitoba we spent some summers at Westhawk Lake, not far from Kenora in Ontario. We were not entertaining the possibility of buying a cabin, but we saw some that were not cabins but houses with large and manicured lawns, and we thought, who would want that? Who would want to spend their weekends and holidays looking after more stuff, when they could be spending time with each other, reading a book, going swimming, or just relaxing?
When Jesus says to us not to worry, he directs our attention elsewhere. He knows that our mind needs to be occupied. Jesus directs our attention away from ourselves and toward the Kingdom of God. “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Striving isn’t wrong but the question Jesus poses is what it is why strive toward.
Only a few days ago we observed our first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Some of us got the day off, some of us worked, some of us are retired, our Prime Minister went on vacation.
We worked that day, as did the day care. Yet many Canadians were engaged in the purpose of that day and what it may mean for us going forward.
The son of a good friend of mine works for the City of Vancouver. He got the day off. And he thought to himself, well, what good is it that I, a person of privilege, get an extra day off? And he thought he would donate that day’s pay to an indigenous organization, and he encouraged others to join in. Maybe you heard about it on the news. His idea struck a chord with others here and across the country. Thus far they have collected over half a million dollars for the Indian Residential School Survivor’s Society, the Orange Shirt Society, and the National Association of Friendship Centres.2
It turns out that worry isn’t all bad.
The work of the Kingdom is to worry about others, to worry about the world, and to shift our attention from ourselves to the world, recognizing that salvation, the restoration of all things, the repairing of creation isn’t just about me but about the world God loves and has promised to restore.
The One Day’s Pay project is a project born out of creative imagination. Josh who started it is a young man. He has a mortgage. He could have said, “The cost of housing is killing me. I owe it to my children to put all my money into my mortgage.” Those are perfectly reasonable considerations but generally perfectly reasonable considerations stifle our imagination. They keep us from thinking outside of the box, from seeing the gifts God has given us and from remembering that our life is not our own. Perfectly reasonable considerations make us see what we don’t have rather than what we do have. Perfectly reasonable considerations keep us from striving for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.
The gift of the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus expands our horizon, he shows us that a different world is possible, no matter how much we have resigned ourselves to the status quo: A world where the meek inherit the earth, the hungry are filled with good things, where kindness does not need to be reciprocal, where peace is more than a word, and where the lives of God’s children give witness to their heavenly Father.
I do not have an answer to clinical anxiety.
But the gift of God is that the striving for God’s kingdom leads to a less anxious world.
Thanks be to God.