This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the Second Sunday in Lent. The gospel text was Luke 13:31-35.
I have noticed that a lot of people are more anxious than usual right now. I’ve noticed that in my family, here at church, in the community, and in myself. I think people are worried. I think many of us right now are a little more impatient, a little more high-strung, a little more irritable and perhaps quicker to judge one another.
And honestly, why not? There is a lot to make us anxious today. Just as the COVID pandemic finally seems to be ending, we are faced with inflation, especially the price of gasoline. We are face with the war in Ukraine. And with fears that that war might escalate, might even become nuclear. With feeling helpless watching the war, wishing we could help in some way. And for some of us, we feel guilt on top of all of it when we compare our lives to those of people over there.
It’s no wonder our anxiety level is up right now. This was definitely not the best weekend to lose an hour of sleep.
Has anyone here felt more anxious lately? Anybody here getting easily annoyed, easily angry? Anybody here finding it hard to stay calm? Well, if so, this sermon is intended for you.
I have good news for you. It is God’s will that we not be anxious. I think variations of the sentence, “Do not worry” or “Do not be afraid” are the most common in all of scripture. God says this to us over and over again because it’s important, and because we need to hear it over and over again.
And I have more good news. There is help available. The mental health community has many resources to help with anxiety. Therapy and medication can help. Pick up a copy of this month’s Coping Skills packet in the narthex, provided by Cheri Confalone, a member of Prince of Peace who works as a counselor. These tools and suggestions can help.
And our faith can help too. Today’s gospel reading shows us one way our faith can help.
In today’s gospel, some Pharisees were trying to upset Jesus. They ran up to him, and said, “Jesus! You’d better get out of here! King Herod wants to kill you!” We can debate whether the Pharisees were being sincere, with Jesus’ best interests at heart, or whether they were trying to trick him, or get rid of him. But what’s clear is that they were trying to get Jesus to be anxious. To get him anxious enough, afraid enough, upset enough, that he would leave town.
But Jesus stayed calm. He said, “You go tell that fox Herod that I’m doing my job here. I’m doing my work, and I will leave when I’m ready, when I’m done. Then I’m on my way to Jerusalem.” Jesus stayed calm, completely calm. How did Jesus do that? Well, it’s hard to say. Was it because he was the Son of God? Perhaps. Was it was because he had complete trust that God was with him? Perhaps. Was it because he knew his mission, knew his role, and knew that nothing would deviate him from that path? He was on the way to Jerusalem, the way to the cross, and nothing would stop him. The way Luke tells the story, it seems like that single-mindedness must have been part of the reason Jesus stayed calm. Jesus knew what he came here to do, and he trusted that God would ensure that it would happen. There was no reason to get upset, no matter what was coming his way. Because he trusted. That’s a deep faith.
Of course, we don’t have Christ’s faith. We never could. Although we do see glimpses of it now and then. I saw a glimpse of this faith in President Zelenskyy of Ukraine. A few weeks ago, when the Russian invasion began, knowing that Zelenskyy was a primary target, the United States offered to airlift him out of the capital city of Kyiv. It was almost like people were telling him the same thing the Pharisees said to Jesus: “You’d better get out of here! Putin is trying to kill you!” His response was this: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.” No one would have faulted him for leaving and leading from a secure location. But he has stayed ever since. Now, I have no idea what must be going on in his heart, whether he is scared or anxious, but his public statements show an incredible resolve. This is a leader who knows that his place is with his people, and who has stood his ground faithfully. We’ve seen similar resolve from the Ukrainian people again and again in these weeks. Where this resolve comes from I don’t know. Is it from Zelenskyy’s Jewish faith? Perhaps. Faith can do that, give us courage and resolve to stand up whatever the struggle.
And in today’s gospel Jesus calls to us that we can have faith like that. He calls to us with the voice of a mother. Listen to what he says: Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Even though you are frightened, so frightened and worried and anxious that you have murdered the prophets, I love you!” He calls to them, and says, “I want to gather you together, and protect you beneath my wings like a mother hen. I want to calm you, hold you, show you that it’s going to be okay. All I’ve ever wanted for you is to be your loving mother, protecting and holding you, but you have not let me. I can help you calm down. Welcome me. I come in the name of the Lord. Welcome me, and I will give you comfort. And peace. And hope.
He says that to us as well. Now, putting our faith in Christ like that isn’t going to solve all our problems. It won’t take the troubles we face away. And it won’t take clinical anxiety away. However, putting our faith in Christ can give us a glimpse of hope, and help us remember that we don’t have to solve all the problems around us, or the conflicts among us, or the struggles within us. And we certainly don’t need to do it alone. Putting our faith in Christ can help us see that we are never, ever alone.
Faith welcomes Jesus into our lives, welcomes his motherly warm embrace, and allows him to gather us together. To give us one another as a gift. To give us the space and the time we need for healing.
I want to end this sermon by re-reading our Psalm today, Psalm 27. I’m going to read it in a different translation than we’re used to, a unique translation called The Message. I invite you to close your eyes and listen to the words of the Psalmist. Let them enter your heart.
Light, space, zest—
So, with him on my side I’m fearless,
afraid of no one and nothing.
2 When vandal hordes ride down
ready to eat me alive,
Those bullies and toughs
fall flat on their faces.
3 When besieged,
I’m calm as a baby.
When all hell breaks loose,
I’m collected and cool.
4 I’m asking God for one thing,
only one thing:
To live with him in his house
my whole life long.
I’ll contemplate his beauty;
I’ll study at his feet.
5 That’s the only quiet, secure place
in a noisy world,
The perfect getaway,
far from the buzz of traffic.
6 God holds me head and shoulders
above all who try to pull me down.
I’m headed for his place to offer anthems
that will raise the roof!
Already I’m singing God-songs;
I’m making music to God.
7-9 Listen, God, I’m calling at the top of my lungs:
“Be good to me! Answer me!”
When my heart whispered, “Seek God,”
my whole being replied,
“I’m seeking him!”
Don’t hide from me now!
9-10 You’ve always been right there for me;
don’t turn your back on me now.
Don’t throw me out, don’t abandon me;
you’ve always kept the door open.
My father and mother walked out and left me,
but God took me in.
11-12 Point me down your highway, God;
direct me along a well-lighted street;
show my enemies whose side you’re on.
Don’t throw me to the dogs,
those liars who are out to get me,
filling the air with their threats.
13-14 I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God!
Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
Stay with God.