“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Jesus says do not be anxious, but all I really took from the whole thing is that the grass still gets thrown into the fire whether or not God clothes it. Here one day. Gone the next. So you can tell me “Don’t be anxious”, but I really don’t have an off switch for it. I know worrying won’t fix it. It won’t add a single hour to my life. But that doesn’t mean I can just empty my brain. You can say “Don’t think about being poor. Or sick. Or lonely. Or ashamed.” Here’s the thing: just telling someone “Don’t be anxious” doesn’t work any better than just telling them “Don’t have cancer”. Great idea. Should have thought of that. Any tips how?
If you’re not gonna tell me, it doesn’t help. It leaves us feeling alone. Singled out. Apart from God. Looking at peaceful sunsets in the middle of our own private storms wondering why it’s so nice over there and so…not here. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one with anxiety. I know it’s not true. Rationally, I understand that if anxiety were so easy to talk about I guess it probably wouldn’t be anxiety. And if your only advice to me is to “not worry”…that makes it worse, not better. I don’t know how to do that.
Because there’s a chasm between what is and what we wish would be. We’ve tried to make Christianity the bridge. The way to get from here to there. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. That must mean if there’s a God He should give me everything I want would be so I can finally stop being so anxious. If God wanted me to stop worrying about paying bills, I can think of a solution with some zeroes behind it. It sounds spoiled when I say it out loud, but when anxiety drives us to pray, the only result we’re actually satisfied with is to take away the thing we’re anxious about. Make me not sick. Make me not poor. Make me not alone. Make me not doubt. Then I won’t worry. It makes me understand spoiled a little better. It’s not greed. It’s fear. It’s tunnel vision. I can’t see anything but what I’m afraid of.
That fear clouds what we see and how we think. It takes “Seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you” as cause and effect. God will give you the stuff you really want if only you seek his kingdom enough to satisfy Him first. Seek the kingdom of God…you know…as a means to an end. God if I love you enough will you give me what I really love? How many vegetables do I need to eat before I get desert?
This is darker than childish. It turns Christianity into a measurement of stuff. God is real because the sparrows eat. God is real because the grass grows. So I guess if I was really Christian, wouldn’t I have what I need? Where is God? Because this isn’t working. He promises ‘enough’, but we have different ideas about what enough is. The grass still gets thrown into the fire. If that’s the measure of how much there’s a God and how much He loves me, don’t tell me not to be anxious. The Lord is my shepherd, but there’s plenty of want down here. Not just I want season tickets. Kids laid up in hospitals. Hunger. Homelessness. Oppression. Do not be anxious? How?
The other side of the coin is just as dark. Don’t care about this life. Think about going to heaven one day. That’s terrible. Really. It is. You can say don’t care about this life, but the whole passage shows us how much God cares about it. He cares enough to feed the sparrows, enough to make lilies beautiful, and enough to put you here because He actually wants you here.
Religion isn’t a race out of the world God put you in. He cares that you’re a part of. This isn’t just a race to heaven if God cares enough to feed the sparrows here. He wants you here or you wouldn’t be here. He loves the grass, even though it burns. Saying you care less about the world God says He cares more about leaves you calling love meaningless and sin victimless. He cares about what happens down here so much He gave us commands on how to treat each other so we’d hurt less, and gives us each other to love. Racing out of this world means racing away from God’s gifts and racing away from each other. That’s bad.
In all of it we have the wrong idea about Christianity as a sunset on a private beach or Jesus holding perfectly clean lambs in a field that doesn’t smell like livestock live there. It doesn’t mesh with the anxiety that keeps us up at night. Hey kid, I know you don’t want to live anymore because list of things wrong could be a book and the list of things right fits in a tweet, but rub some Jesus on it and walk it off. Then everything will get better.
It takes a special kind of focus to take ‘do not be anxious’ and make it it’s own work to be anxious about. It’s almost cute until we end up so stressed over what’s going wrong that we shut down, strike out against those we love, and even come to hate God for leaving us hanging. Which I think is the real issue.
We have painted a picture of a God that doesn’t exist, and have come to hate Him for it. We came up with the idea that Christians are above problems in this world, and when we aren’t, we blame the God who never promised we would be. The grass is thrown into the fire.
You are not above the fray in this world. You are not so special you won’t hurt. I’m sorry. It’s just not real, and it was never promised. Your anxiety won’t extend your life. It might shorten it, but even without it, your days are numbered. This is not that promise you wish it was. Praying hard enough won’t keep you out of suffering anymore than being good or having money will.
This thing we call sin, it brings with it suffering. We don’t just talk about it to heap guilt on top of your anxiety, but to tell the truth. It hurts down here. If we can’t admit to that, the whole religion is a lie. Christianity is more than pretending there’s no such thing as pain for good Christians. It hurts down here. God help us.
But that’s the faith. He does. Your religion isn’t pretending to be above the world, but hearing that God isn’t either. Seek first the kingdom of God. It’s not far away. It’s not stuck in heaven. It’s not for the well behaved. It’s not only for the ones who endure long enough to die old enough that people say “he had a good long life” at your funeral.
Seek first the kingdom of God. It’s not hidden. The kingdom is wherever the king is. And God enters this fallen world for you. This is our hope. This is what our faith really is. God joins us in the pit to pull us out of it. He says don’t be anxious, then comes into our world to be anxious Himself. Christ prays through tears and sweats blood over what’s coming. But He still bears it for you. For me. For us. The kingdom of God has come near you.
Your religion isn’t happy lyrics over a sunset. It isn’t a perfect day with a perfect family and a white Jesus holding clean lambs that don’t smell like a petting zoo. It’s uglier. It’s Jesus dead on the cross for you. Terrified. Ashamed, alone. Hurting. He looks like what’s going on everywhere else. Sin. suffering. fear. death. The grass thrown into the fire. But Jesus goes there too, just for you. As ugly as the picture is, the for you makes it beautiful.
It looks like everything we’re anxious about heaped up on that cross where God Himself bore it for us. He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might be the righteousness of God. Jesus grabbed everything wrong and rode it into the tomb, then rose again. Christ is risen. Not to abandon us again down here, but to rule this world in a way only the victor over sin and the grave can.
He works beauty in a world that still burns. He works love in a world that still has sinners in it. He promises not to retreat, but to help. To comfort. To save. And to endure with us each day that we would see it as a gift, not because there’s an absence of evil, but because there’s a presence of good. Seek first the kingdom of God. See it where the king has promised to be. Here. For you. You will not be held above the fire, but you will be brought through it.
Day by day, God continues to pour out mercy here, even in the face of everything wrong. He’s not as afraid of it as we are. None of it could keep Him in the tomb, so it can’t defeat you either. So day after day He pours out new mercies until at last the time comes when He delivers us finally from evil. So do not be anxious. Steel yourselves. Not on your strength, but in the promises of God. These enemies are not bigger than He is, and He is not above bearing them for you.
Know that even today the kingdom is here. The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity. Look to where God works faith by the Spirit.
God is here. He makes Himself truly present in promise, and more, in body and blood so that on your worst day you can carry anxiety to the God who joins you to bring you through it and promises You have peace whether you want to dwell on it or not.
This is not the God who abandons us. He grabs hold of hands that work through neighbors and commands angels that surround the helpless. Ours is the God who provides not just what the grass needs before it’s thrown into the fire, but the path through the fire, through death itself, and back out again.
The Lord is your shepherd, and carried by Him there’s nothing we won’t be brought through. We shall not want, not for idols, but for mercy, for life, for peace. Do not be anxious. That doesn’t come by thinking less about your fears, but by hearing more about Your God. He’s present here for you to bring you through. When anxiety builds, look to the God who bore all evil on the cross for you. Look to the sacrament here for you. Be at peace. Not in the bad going away, but in the good coming to save you.