Lord God, heavenly Father, we thank You for all your benefits in giving us life and limb and graciously sustaining them until now, and we beseech You not to take Your blessing away from us, but keep us from covetousness, that we may serve You alone, love You, and cling to You, and not sin by idolatry and the harmful worship of mammon, but put all our hope, comfort, and confidence only in Your mercy and grace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. [LPC #113]
God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
We live in a world increasingly worried about the future. If the pandemics don’t get you, climate change or inflation or terrorists will. One cable news channel is worried about people who think one way. Another one is concerned about people who think another way. It bleeds into our minds and fills them. Worry gnaws on the stomach and keeps the mind racing when it should be resting. Doctors prescribe pills, and Big Pharma makes them. The age-old solution is to self-medicate. Since the time of Noah, it was alcohol — a depressant. For centuries, many turned to nicotine. Now that’s fallen out of favor as unhealthy. Instead the rising star is cannabis. (Is that any more healthy?)
Anxiety can be paralyzing and desperate. Something must be done. Whatever it takes. But what if the solution is right before us in God’s Word? Let’s at least hear what Jesus has to say.
Jesus begins teaching about anxiety by saying you cannot serve two masters. The saying adapts to many circumstances, and we probably forget that He said this in connection with worry and anxiety about earthly concerns.
For example, you cannot be a Christian and a Buddhist or Hindu, though it doesn’t stop people from claiming to be. The two things can’t coexist at the same time, in the same way, in the same person. One will always win out. Jesus is applying that to worry and anxiety, and it might seem extreme.
Is anxiety really so similar to a false philosophy or religion? Is it really so dangerous to a person’s faith? After all, it seems like more of a feeling or sensation, beyond our control. It seems to just happen to us based on our circumstances or maybe the physical workings of our brains.
It’s been said that you can’t make a person stop worrying by simply telling him not to. But that’s exactly what Jesus does here. He gives reasons, but He literally says the words, “do not be anxious.” And it doesn’t come across like the commandments, like in the chapter before this where He taught about the fifth, sixth, and other commandments. No, this is spoken in a tender, comforting way rather than a stern, condemning way. This isn’t about the demand to be righteous, but about His care for our lives and well-being.
In so many ways, we end up saying, “It’s different with Jesus than with anyone else.” That’s true. He’s the Son of God. By speaking, He healed all kinds of diseases, cast out demons, and even controlled forces of nature. Can He also affect your anxiety by means of His words? If so, what does that mean for the developing habits of a Christian?
Anxiety and worry can take the place of God in your heart. That’s their goal. Righteousness begins with obedience to God’s commandments. The first one requires us to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. All things, even the future or current state of affairs that may make you very uncomfortable. God owns your heart, and you owe it to Him. Anxiety denies it to Him, and separates you from God as a law-breaker.
“Great! Now I also have guilt as well as anxiety! Thanks a million!”
You can thank Jesus, who said you will be loyal to one and despise the other. But He also said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” He focuses on a couple worries here, but we could add so many more. Jesus says we need to adjust our perspective.
“Yes, I know all of that, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.”
Our feelings are often a cross to bear, but God can do wonderful things with a cross. With His cross, Jesus paid for your sins, even your sins of worry. He reconciled you to God and won forgiveness and eternal life. Now, by speaking words to you and attaching them by way of promise to bread and wine, and to water, Jesus gives you the forgiveness He won. His cross has become a blessing for all.
But your crosses? Can they also be a blessing? Things like the way you feel? A feeling like fear can help you survive danger. Anxiety can motivate you to prepare for success. They become a problem when they are excessive. What Jesus is teaching here about God’s care for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field help us to put our feelings in perspective with the rest of the world. It’s not just to say that excess anxiety or fear is irrational or wrong, but to say that they are not necessary, because God’s got this.
Experts on feelings in our time prescribe chemical treatments like medications and diet, but they also teach habits, or coping skills. Jesus did it first. The habit or coping skill that He teaches is one of the more famous verses in our gospel. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
We pray for the Kingdom of God to come in the Lord’s Prayer. It happens “when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.” We seek the Kingdom of God by praying, as Jesus taught. And it comes when our Father gives His Holy Spirit, in response to our prayer. The Spirit, through the Word of God, has power that you and I don’t have: power over the way we feel, and even over the chemistry of our brains and bodies.
Notice how the result of God’s kingdom and righteousness is faith: “so that by His grace we believe His holy Word.” Now, saving faith can coexist temporarily alongside sins like excessive anxiety, but not permanently. It would be serving two different masters. But the Holy Spirit in God’s Kingdom gives faith in His Word, and to the degree that we receive it, He also pushes away our worries and anxieties.
God’s kingdom is not only invisible (in mind or heart), but visible (in outward lives and actions), “here in time and hereafter in eternity.” So also seeking His kingdom must include outward actions, like setting aside regular times for prayer and meditation in God’s Word. Making the effort to attend the Divine Service and receive our Lord’s gifts in His presence. Faithfulness in these things rather than despising them is part of seeking the Kingdom of God. That’s the kind of coping skill that really does work against anxiety, because its power comes from the Holy Spirit through God’s Word and Sacraments.
You are of greater value to God than many sparrows or the grass of the field. He showed it by providing His only-begotten Son as your Redeemer. Let there be no doubt that He has cared for you up to now, and will continue.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria