Friday, May 26, 2017

Reflections on the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A: Casting Anxiety on God

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 5:6-11)
Life and ministry around here have seen a lot of anxiety surface of late. Those anxieties have taken many forms, from the slow-burn panic of folks worried about the future viability of their churches to the white-hot fear/rage of a mother made homeless with her son after the social services they had been assured were there for them broke down. I have seen people struggle to cope when circumstances spin out of their sense of control. I have sought to help people name their anxieties and fears because they lack the tools or experience to name them. Those anxieties make it so hard to cope with the next moment, much less deal confidently with the things that generally rock our sense of the world on a daily basis. I know how hard it is to deal with, as I deal with it, myself in my own being, as I struggle to be a faithful leader to my church and a faithful servant to my God. I know it as I struggle with the things that stress me, my wife and our household.

I know anxiety.

So why do I find it so difficult to do what Peter is asking of us this week, as Eastertide winds down and as we turn our liturgical hearts and minds to the wonder and glory of the feasts of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday? He tells us to cast our anxieties on God, because God cares for us. That makes little sense to an anxious person. Anxiety is something that fuels us, as much as it upsets us. It is just like that lion, pacing and roaring in the dark, beyond the fading light of the fires we build to keep the night (and predators) at bay. That feeling is an old, true one...for we know in out DNA how to fear the things that prowl in the dark, waiting for the light to fade so they can get to us, their lunch. Given that tangible and proven cause to hold on to our anxiety, why should we cast it onto God as Peter suggests? Madness.

Why? Because that wonderful old fisherman, Peter, offers not just a pastoral direction but a very kind word of confidence in Christ based on repeated personal experience. His working life was spent in an open boat on a tempestuous and fickle sea. He had to know how to cast off the fears and anxieties that paralyze and cripple us, because to fail to do so was to die (and probably take others with him to the bottom of the deep). Back on the boat, he had to have confidence in his vessel. He had to have confidence in his brother and his co-workers. He had to have confidence in himself and his experience to literally know when to fish and when to cut bait and head in to port.

He had to know how to cast his anxieties off, and he found that what he was left with was...confidence.

So, when he left his nets and answered the call to follow Jesus as a disciple...and when the Holy Spirit filled him with the knowledge of God on the day of Pentecost, he KNEW how to deal with his anxiety. Cast it on God, because once that net of anxieties leaves his hand he knows the result. What is left is confidence in a God who not only loves us, but is with us.

God is with us as we worry about out children. God is with us as we worry about peace in our local communities and abroad. God is with us as we fear for the ongoing vitality of the institutions that serve our faith and our call to love and help others. God is with us when we fail. God is with us when others fail us. God is with us when we fail others.

Confidence, to be imbued with trust and belief in something or someone, is a hard-won honor. It means that the person expressing that confidence is willing to do the very thing that Peter is taking let go and cast off anxiety while at the same time taking up trust in things just beyond our personal control.

Peter did that daily on his boat. Peter learned from Jesus how to do that in his terrestrial walks before God, first as disciple and then as apostle. Peter offers that counsel to us...even while fully acknowledging that anxiety exists to keep us mindful of the very real and predatory nature of the enemy: with confidence in God and mutually supportive steadfast trust in God, we can do this...what ever THIS might be.

Cast your anxiety on God. Let go of it...because we will need both hands free to take hold of the confidence that God is tendering to us on the other side of our anxieties and fears. On the other side is peace and safehome in a port of God's own preparation.

Peter knew it.

Are we willing to know it, too?

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