Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many, if not all of us, simply cannot wait until 2020 is over. Events have been unpredictable and the situations we’re facing are new to most of us. We’re in the midst of this worldwide epidemic, with many places partially shut down, others struggling to reopen safely. There are areas where the coronavirus infection rates are getting worse and restrictions are increasing again. Others areas are bracing for what may come next. All of us have been watching the headlines and wondering, “When is this going to end?” For many, it’s that uncertainty which surrounds coronavirus that is the hardest thing to handle. We still don’t know exactly how this will impact us personally. We don’t know just how bad the economic fallout will be. We have no idea how long this is going to last, or how bad things might get. And that makes it all too easy for us to spiral into overwhelming dread and panic. It is hard not to be anxious. We are anxious about abiding by the proper health and safety precautions. We’re anxious about our jobs and livelihoods. This makes caring for our normal everyday necessities all that much more complicated. Some people have become so addicted to worry that if they haven’t got anything to be anxious about they worry that they’ve forgotten something. Certainly there are some have anxiety due to a medical issue, and God has provided medical professionals to help deal with that type of anxiety. That’s not exactly the type of anxiety we’re dealing with. But even in the face of this unique crisis—Christ provides us with three remedies for our anxiety and a reason to be truly thankful this Thanksgiving.
What’s Wrong with Anxiety?
First, what’s wrong with anxiety? Jesus in the conclusion to the sermon on the mount found in our Gospel lesson forbids us to be continuously anxious about the cares of this world. Four times over He says, “do not be anxious.” Do not be anxious about life,—about food,—about clothing,—about the tomorrow. Do not be anxious. But, is he saying that we’re not allowed to think, plan, and anticipate any problems that may arise? Not at all! Some concern is good, but Jesus is counselling us against a worry that is self-centred and has at its root a lack of trust in God. When Jesus tells us not to be anxious about what to eat, or drink, or wear, he doesn’t mean that these things don’t matter. Jesus does not mean that we can’t plant seeds and reap harvests, or that we shouldn’t work at weaving and spinning to make clothes. There is nothing wrong about Christians making plans for the future or taking sensible steps for their own security. No, the point is about our priorities.
Of course, because we live in a world filled with anxiety, it’s easy to let it rub off on us. Because of humanity’s sin, God’s curse is on creation—we experience earthquakes, fires, pandemics, and other natural disasters. The curse affects our work—there is pain and toil in our daily labor, and it’s often unfruitful. Yet, the anxiety of those in the world rests on a misunderstanding of who God is. If they believe in a god at all, they naturally think of God as far removed from the complexities of life and ignorant of their struggles. Anxiety is the worship we offer our false gods when they’ve failed to deliver on the goods. We are looking to material things to give us peace of mind, security, and stability. When we realise these gods we trusted in are not working and we’re left without a safety net under us, the anxiety mounts and grows. Sleepless night, churning stomachs, headaches, heart palpitations, stress, the list goes on. Anxiety is like a cancer of the soul, consuming us from the inside, paralysing us, disordering our lives, our eating, our drinking, our priorities. Anxiety eats away at us like rust, corroding our souls until we are nothing be a shell. Worry about clothing, food, and drink will not add to our quality of life, and it certainly will not lengthen our life span. In fact, anxiety not only inhibits our ability to enjoy the things of life—it shortens our time to enjoy them
What is the Remedy?
What remedies does Jesus offer us here in our text? The first remedy for anxiety is to remember God’s providential care. God is not like a watchmaker who creates a watch, with the mechanisms inside, and simply allows it to run all on its own—apart from any intervention. God is involved in every aspect of his creation. Though it’s the birds gather their food, God is involved in their hunt for it. God is involved in the intricate processes of flowers blooming and grass gaining its colour. Nothing happens apart from God in this world.
This is one of the reasons we often struggle with fear. We think God has left us, and we have to survive on our own. But consider for a moment, did God give you life? Then he will certainly not let you lack anything necessary to preserve it. Since life itself comes directly from God, why should we worry and fret about his giving us the food and drink necessary for life? He will not go halfway. He gave you life, and he will maintain it as long as he wills. God has given us the great gift of life and we do not need to be anxious about the little things we need day by day. Did God give you a body? Then he will certainly not let you die because of lack of clothing. The God who created you will without a doubt find food to feed you. Our life is entirely in God’s hand! Here in North America, we are blessed to not want for anything! When your time to die does come, God will continue to take care of you until you are raised from the dead in a new heavens and earth.
The second remedy for anxiety is to recognise our great value to God. Jesus is not talking about a god who is distant from the world, who doesn’t care about beauty and life and food and clothes. He’s talking about the creator himself, who has filled the world with wonderful and mysterious things, full of beauty and energy and excitement, and who wants his human creatures above all to trust him and love him and receive good things from him. Now, the birds and flowers do not have a heavenly Father, but we do! In holy baptism, God forgives us, adopts us as his children, and makes us one with Christ. If God gave his best for us by letting his Son die on the Cross to pay what we owe, how will he not also provide everything else we need (Rom. 8:31-32). We are of supreme value because we were bought with the precious blood of Christ. God gave it all for us. If the Creator God cares for lilies and birds, we can have confidence that the Father will look after his children. God is our Father, and he wants us to trust in him. Trust God is your Father who knows what you need even before you ask. Trust that because of Jesus, your value to God is so much greater than the birds and the flowers. He knows our need. He does not despise it, or leave us to face it with all alone. We are his children, worth far more than the birds and lilies, and we receive bountifully from his generous hand. Entrust your cares to him. Faith is the great antidote to anxiety.
The third remedy for anxiety is to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Jesus says we must not just refrain from anxiety but actively replace anxiety for earthly matters with an overriding concern for the things of God. Seek the kingdom of God. You don’t have to chase after it, and you certainly don’t have to build it. I’s already here and near for you to find. It should have first place your life. To seek the kingdom of God is to seek the Gospel. God promises us mercy and righteousness through Christ. God’s righteousness is found, wherever he is found at work making the world right again one sinner at a time. Seek and you will surely find God at work here in the Word and the Supper. Here the King is at work in divine service, giving the gifts of kingdom life. Here your day, your week, your life is oriented to its centre, to Christ. Here you have a community of fellow disciples who are your brothers and sisters. Here you have gathered to hear God’s Word. You have come to the place where Jesus is present. Come and receive the gifts of forgiveness and righteousness which his shed blood won for you!
“For all this,” says Luther, “it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey God.” The Father who provides for the lilies and birds, which do not and cannot trust in him, has also abundantly provided for us, his baptised Children, whose lives are worth the blood of His Son shed on the cross. So, in light of all that could make us anxious, it’s good to give thanks to the Lord. It’s good for us to be here this morning to give thanks for everything we have – the bounties of this land, the freedoms we enjoy, the food on our tables, the clothing on our backs, the roof over our heads. Remember the words of the apostle Paul, words which he penned from prison:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:6-7).