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    Jul 17, 2022

    What, Me Worry?

    What, Me Worry?

    Speaker: Rob McClellan

    Series: July 2022

     

    Today's Sermon

     

    "What, Me Worry?"

     

    Deuteronomy 6:4-9   

             4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

    Matthew 6:25-34

    25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

    34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

    “What, me worry?”

                A couple of Wednesdays ago in our adult study, we began the class simply by stopping and calling to mind one thing for which we were grateful.  It was notable how that shifted the energy in the room.  You can hardly go anywhere without hearing about keeping a gratitude journal or maintaining a gratitude practice.  The research is clear that being intentionally grateful, thinking of it like a discipline, is directly related to wellbeing.  Someone here attended a lecture by a neuroscientist and reported back that if you hold something for which you’re grateful in your mind for 11 seconds that’s enough for it to have a lasting effect on you.  What if we practiced that right now.  Take a moment and call to mind something for which you’re grateful.  It could be big; it could be very small.  If it helps, write it on your bulletin, not to turn in, but to seal, maybe to share with someone later.  Eleven seconds…

                Why all this attention to gratitude?  Clearly we are in need of being reconnected to goodness as a grounding.  It’s not about putting our heads in the sand, but about reorienting ourselves, being more rooted, grounded.  All times have their challenges, but these feel particularly trying, unstable.  It’s notable here, where people have so much, how much anxiety is in the air.  That’s not a judgment on the anxious person.  I know a lot of incredible people absolutely shaken to their core by anxiety or worry.  I have colleagues in ministry who have been brought to their knees by it. Just as we spoke last week about the importance of thinking of suicide not as a personal issue but a communal one, this is quite the same.  The anxious person is the receptor, the antenna for the energy that’s in the milieu. Then they start to project it, but first they receive it.  Again, it’s a little like how Paul thought of sin, a force in the world that takes up residence in us. 

                Sometimes, the anxious are just the more sensitive among us.  When I worked with youth, a mother of one of the boys once said to me, you know my son walks into a room, he can feel who’s hurting. That’s a gift and a curse.  When you so readily feel other’s pain or what’s not right in the room or the world, it’s easier to get swallowed up by it. 

                One of the worst things you can say to someone who is anxious is, “Don’t be so anxious,” though many of us make that mistake.  It’s sort of like saying, “Don’t be sad” or “Don’t be angry.” Well, maybe I am angry or sad or anxious or disappointed.  We do a weird thing when we invalidate feelings.  Think what we teach one another with that.  No wonder we’re anxious.  How you feel is how you feel, and we don’t have to be afraid of how others feel or how we feel. 

                Then, what do we do with Jesus when he says, “do not worry about your life” (Mt. 6:25).  Notice a subtle difference between “don’t be anxious” and what Jesus says, “do not worry.”  The former is criticizing a state one is in, anxiety, and that can’t be helped.  The latter is about how to direct one’s energy – do not invest in worrying. That’s not exactly easy, but it is more doable than magically trying not to be anxious.  Jesus moves to shift our energy by asking questions and inviting reflection,

    Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? (v. 25b-30)

                In his questioning you can almost see Jesus uncoiling the tight thread of worry keeping the person in a bind.  As he does, he reorients them to their surroundings. Do you see that bird over there? Oh, you didn’t notice, well look at it. That’s better.  Do you notice it’s not caught up in worries; it’s just being a bird.  And those lilies; they just flower.  And the grass, it comes and goes and doesn’t worry.

                Also like last week, this week I had from a friend and colleague, another Sarah in fact, The Rev. Sarah Brouwer in St. Paul, MN.  She authored a tremendously helpful paper on mental illness and this teaching of Jesus.  Among the things she highlighted was the importance of getting and staying grounded.  She draws upon that marvelous book by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrassthat has felt almost as scripture to some.  Kimmerer is a botanist and a member of the Potawatomi nation.  Kimmerer reminds us that for her people there are “unseen energies that animate everything.”  In addition to the anxious force we mentioned, there is a lifegiving life-steadying one that makes a seed flower, an acorn grow, a salmon find its way.[1]  On Monday this week, I was walking in the church and the lavender out front is just swarming with honeybees.  They allow themselves to be drawn to these beautiful flowers to drink their fill, bring some back to the hive, and in doing so, spread life to their surroundings. You could say connecting to this life-giving energy is how one stays free of that life-shaking energy.

                Brouwer reminds us that there are things we can do to help us shift from flowing with anxiety to allowing flowing with that lifeforce, to be like the bees you might say.  If this sounds too new age for you, recall that story in the Bible where the woman who is hemorrhaging reaches out to touch but the cloak of Jesus and she experiences healing.  Jesus feels that force flow from him.  Like that woman, we can access this force, and we can open ourselves to it by doing what we need to care for ourselves.  Self-care has been somewhat coopted commercially, but its roots are deeply spiritual.  Brouwer reminds us that it comes from black women activists.  Facing so much negativity, opposition, and toxicity as they fought for justice, they realized they needed to fill themselves up lest they be drained dry by the circumstances they faced.  Brouwer quotes Audrey Lorde who said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”[2]There’s a woman named Tricia Hersey who founded what’s called The Nap Ministry.  I first assumed it was a tongue in cheek.  It’s far more serious as she, also a black woman, talks about how rest is resistance to so many of the unhealthy and unjust inertias of our society. This is not about hiding from what’s going on out there; it’s about putting yourself in a position to face it, and we have to do that last part.

                In such a fragmentary society, it is hard to stay connected.  In a society of such motion, it’s hard to stay rooted.  One has to make some effort or hold fast to some intention to stay connected to that which grounds you, gives life, keeps you home.  The first reading you heard from Deuteronomy 6, known as the shema, which means “hear,” the people of Israel are instructed to take the words “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” and keep them “in your heart” (Deut. 6:5).  People were to put these words on their doorposts so they see them and touch them whenever they enter their homes.  They even placed them in small boxes called phylacteries and bound them to their heads. It’s a physical embodiment of this spiritual lesson – keep the law of your life pressed against your body so that you stay in touch with it, your guiding reality, in this case that God is God and we shall love God with everything.  That is an orienting force.  If we did a self-survey, what would we find symbolically or literally bound to our bodies and our hearts that serve as our de facto phylacteries?  Are they grounding or destabilizing?

                Finally, Brouwer makes a brilliant invitation to reorientation.  Anxiety or worry is usually presented and treated as the problem, and they can cause problems, but she courageously invites us to see them as portals; they lead us to awareness, understanding, and the possibility for adjustment.  Our problems can lead us to their solutions, our pain to our balm.  Brouwer asks, “What if there wasn’t so much shame around anxiety, and instead we saw it as a sacred entrée. Those who are anxious have a particular sensitivity and deep connection to life and its pain. So, who is to say, anxiety isn’t a starting place toward the kind of beauty Jesus describes in the birds of the air and the lilies of the field?”[3]  Do you feel that shift?  What threatens our wellbeing actually leads you to the place of our healing.  It is the worry that prompts Jesus to invite the reflection that leads the person out of their worry.  Your curse can sometimes lead you to God’s blessing.  As Paul says, where I am weak, I am strong (2 Cor. 2:12).  Follow your weaknesses.

                A couple of weeks ago I mentioned attending a conference, where there were a lot of lectures about the brain.  Interestingly, pervasive among the presentations was some form of meditation. Every talk we attended began with some practice of mindfulness or meditation, diverse in form, all a way to reset, reconnect, and resettle.  One of the exercises one of the psychologists talked about was a gratitude exercise in which you not only gave thanks for the most ordinary of things, a chair to support us, legs that worked well that day for us if that were true, eyes or ears that functioned, skin that has sensation, breath and always the breath. That all I had done before, but then she talked about giving thanks even for the things about ourselves that we might not always feel good about, being thankful about always running late, if that is a challenge for you, for having trouble with details, for being an insatiable perfectionist. 

                That exercise resonated, though I couldn’t quite place why, but now, thinking of this, maybe I’m starting to see.  It’s in our awareness of these aspects of ourselves that threaten to pull us away from our tether that can ultimately lead us home.  It’s all an occasion for gratitude, so let’s end there…again…as we began, calling to mind that for which we’re grateful.  Amen.

     

    [1]Robin Wall Kimmerer as cited by Brouwer, Mental Illness and Matthew 6.

    [2]Audrey Lorde, A Burst of Light as cited in Brouwer.

    [3]Brouwer.