“Anxiety Free” (Phil. 4:4-13)
The 19th Sunday After Pentecost (October 11, 2020)
There is no doubt we live in some interesting and perhaps even historic times. Great changes are afoot politically, globally, economically, morally and even theologically. Of course, not all of these changes are necessarily for the best. In fact, the sort of changes in the offing might have us all somewhat unnerved. Will the mask and social distancing mandates be a permanent reality from here on out? Are our government’s policies regarding health care, education, the environment leading us toward becoming a socialist state? Will the unrelenting push in our society for the full acceptance of gender self-identification and homosexual marriages end the institution of marriage as we know it and the family unit along with it? Will the continued advance of secularism and anti-god sentiments in our country make being a Christian a crime? It’s very difficult not to be anxious and worried about what lies ahead.
And who of you needs more anxiety in your life? I’m sure every one of you already has plenty of personal worries and concerns without any of these sweeping worldly challenges. Perhaps your own personal financial situation already has you losing sleep. Perhaps there are some real health issues plaguing you. Maybe you are dealing with some real thorny family problems. Perhaps you are being totally stressed out at work. One thing you can always count on in this fallen world is that there never will be a shortage of troubles to weigh you down.
Yet, the LORD says to you through His apostle St. Paul, literally, “Stop being anxious.” That is much easier said than done, though, isn’t it? Anxiety is the scourge of our sinful human nature. As Jesus Himself acknowledged in His Sermon on the Mount, we stir ourselves up over every thing. We trouble ourselves with worry over what we will eat, or what we will drink, or even what we will wear. Such anxiety, Jesus says, even the gentiles; that is, the unbelievers have. (Matt. 6:25ff)
Here’s the crux of the matter, however. Yes, all people are plagued with anxieties. But the point that both Jesus and Paul make is that for those of us who seek His kingdom things should be different. Anxiety ought not be our way. Not that we won’t have problems or challenges, but that as believers in Jesus Christ we really have no reason to be worry warts, nervous Nellie’s, or anxious Arnies.
After all, Paul reminds us, God has given us a cure for anxiety. Contrary to what our culture believes, however, the cure does not come in a bottle, whether that be a bottle of booze or a bottle of prescribed pills from the pharmacy. The cure for anxiety for the Christian comes in this good news: The LORD is at hand!” or to say it more literally, “The LORD has drawn near.”
Think of the temperament of a child. Now, there might indeed be cases where children have some sort of chemical imbalance in their bodies that causes them to be irritable all the time, or paranoid of strangers, or exhibit all sorts of anxiety disorders. But generally, when a child seems anxious all the time, never settled, very whinny, or even hysterical, it is due in large part to the fact that he does not feel secure. In one way or another that insecurity can be traced to some sort of disconnect in his relationship with one or both of his parents. Perhaps one parent is never or rarely with the child. Perhaps even when the parent is with the child his attention is actually elsewhere. This disconnect leaves the child to feel alone and on his own.
You, dear Christian, have no reason to feel insecure. Your Heavenly Father has drawn near to you. As Holy Scripture declares, even if your mother and father should abandon you, God does not nor can not abandon you (Ps. 27:10, Is. 49:15,16). It is not in His nature. In fact, in your very own humanity, God has drawn near to you to break down any and every barrier and wall that your sin and guilt have erected between Him and you. In the flesh of Jesus, God Himself atoned for your sins. The cross of Jesus continuously proclaims that God is reconciled to you. There is no distance in your relationship with Him.
God has even taken the initiative to draw near to each of you personally in the waters of Holy Baptism to give you new birth into His holy family. In addition, your loving Lord draws near to you bringing His forgiving and rescuing presence into your heart and life every time His Word Gospel is proclaimed to you. Every time the Holy Supper of the Lord is served to you, it is your Incarnate Lord drawing near to you to serve you with His very Body and Blood given and shed in atonement for you, imparting to you His forgiveness and eternal life. In His Word and Sacraments, your Savior and God is fulfilling His promise: ““I am with you always even to the ends of the earth” (Matt. 28:20).
On top of this, your loving, caring, Lord is at hand as your prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God. He has promised, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble and I will rescue you and you shall honor Me” (Ps. 50:15). Of this you can be certain, He will not forsake you to your diseases, maladies, daily trials and temptations. In fact, you can be assured that He will even “work all things for the good of those who love Him” (Ro. 8:28) and no amount of danger or distress will separate you from Christ’s love for you (Ro. 8:35).
Your Lord, who has already won the victory over sin and death through His death and resurrection, also has promised to draw near to you with His final coming to usher you into your eternal home with Him. He will not abandon you to this vale of tears and troubles. He says, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5).
Since the Lord draws near to you, how can you be anxious about anything? You have no reason to be! Instead, “…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7) In Jesus Christ all the fears of your hearts and all the wild speculation of what might or could happen to you are put to rest.
Instead of being unnerved and troubled, you can be calm in the face of every tragedy with the full assurance that your Lord will take care of everything. Instead of worrying and stewing over all these things that are out of your control anyway, you can, as Paul advises, simply make them known to your loving Lord through prayer and leave them in His gracious hands.
And, yes, you can offer every prayer and petition with thanksgiving, knowing that in accordance with what He has already done for you in Christ and every promise He has made to you, He is already answering your prayer even before you ask Him. The apostle Peter states, “Cast all your worries on Him, seeing that He is (already) taking care of you” (I Pet. 5:7).
No where can we see how this peace of God can truly guard the hearts and govern the lives of us anxiety prone sinners more clearly than in the apostle Paul himself. Paul was no stranger to trial, disappointment, heartache, and severe affliction. Almost every sort of suffering that could possibly afflict a person in this world found its way into Paul’s life. When Jesus called Paul to be one of His apostles, He had forewarned him that he would have to endure great affliction for the sake of the Gospel he was to proclaim. In fact, these very words of Paul exhorting us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice!” come from his pen while sitting in prison. Paul had been cast there because he refused to stop preaching the message of Christ. And that wasn’t the first time Paul had been placed in chains. He was imprisoned numerous times throughout his life, along with being shipwrecked, impoverished of money and food, abandoned and betrayed by friends, beaten, whipped, tortured, stoned and, at least twice, left for dead. On top of this, God afflicted Paul with some painful physical condition that he himself described as a thorn in the flesh… a messenger of Satan. He described it as a feeling of being punched all the time (2 Cor. 12:7). And yet, instead of being afflicted with anxiety, Paul acknowledges, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content… I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Those are the words of a man who knows the peace of God…who has the assurance that His God draws near to him!
This, dear friends, can be you too! Anxiety does not have to rule your heart and life. You do not have to have a sour and grumpy disposition. You do not have to go through life as though the black clouds of doom are constantly hanging over you. You do not have to be that person that sees bad in everything and everyone. You do not have to be that person who constantly lives in fear of the other shoe dropping.
Instead, you can be that person like Paul who rejoices even in trials… who has a sweet, gentle, way of dealing with others… who sees the disappointments in life as opportunities instead of liabilities… who can be at peace even when the rest of the world around him is falling into chaos. For you see, the same LORD, who through His affliction, cross and open tomb, has proven He is for you and also in His Word and Sacraments has drawn near to you, is at hand to deliver you! Amen.