There is a gem of a verse tucked into our 1 Peter reading this morning. It is a scripture so full of comfort and promise that we have it on our welcome page on our website. Quite simply and directly, Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because He cares for you.” What does this mean for us? How can it be a word of comfort for us this morning?
Let’s start with the word “anxiety.” It is alternatively translated as “cares” or “worries.” This is one word does not require the preacher to expend much effort to explicate or elucidate. I suspect that your cares and anxieties are very much front and center, as are mine. Sometimes, you find that worries, like the sorrows Claudius describes in Hamlet, “come not as single spies, but in battalions.” This is why the sleeping pill was invented.
Not a single person I know really likes waking up worried in the night, or dealing with vague or acute anxiety during the day. Worried people would like to change their states of mind. There is a funny New Yorker cartoon in the recent edition. A caterpillar comes into a therapist’s office in need of help. He is lying on the couch. The therapist happens to be a big butterfly. She is standing up on her therapist’s chair, towering over the caterpillar, gesticulating with her many legs, saying, “The thing is, you really have to want to change.”
So, assuming we want to change anxiety into peace, the scripture today opens for us a way forward. And for that we look at the word “cast.” Cast all your anxiety on Him.” Cast is also translated as “put” or “give” or “throw” or “turn” all your anxiety over to him. Each verb suggests action on our part.
When I hear the word “cast” I immediately think of fly-fishing. This can actually increase rather than reduce anxiety, as my cast is always in need of serious improvement. There are times on the river, especially when the trout are easily spooked, when your cast has to be absolutely perfect in order to catch the fish. There can be no drag in the line – the fly must be presented to the fish in the most natural way.
Casting a fly rod, for me anyway, is no easy task. I get excited by the fish’s rise, and hurry the back cast. I try to muscle the line through the wind, instead of letting the rod tip release it with power. So sometimes fly-fishing, which is supposed to provide for me a zen-like release from worry, becomes yet another occasion for anxiety, especially when my partners are landing fish while I am untangling yet another wind knot. I need casting lessons.
In the same way, many of us have quite a bit of difficulty casting our cares on God. Or, we may cast them, but then immediately reel them back in. Or we may find that we really have no idea how to cast our cares on God. We need casting lessons.
Norman Maclean makes this connection at the beginning of A River Runs Through It. “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” The narrator’s father is a Presbyterian minister who spent as many hours a week teaching his boys to cast as he did the catechism. The casting instructions more than the catechism taught the true nature of man’s fallen state.
If you have never picked up a fly rod before, you will soon find it factually and theologically true that man by nature is a damn mess. Well, until man is redeemed he will always take a fly rod too far back, just as natural man always overswings with an ax or golf club and loses all his power somewhere in the air: only with a rod it’s worse, because the fly often comes so far back it gets caught behind in a bush or rock.
Then, since it is natural for man to try to attain power without recovering grace, he whips the line back and forth making it whistle each way, and sometimes even snapping off the fly from the leader, but the power that was going to transport the little fly across the river somehow gets diverted into building a bird’s nest of line, leader, and fly that falls out of the air into the water about ten feet in front of the fisherman.
Perhaps we cannot and do not naturally cast our anxieties on God because, as Maclean says, not only are we a “damn mess”, but we want to attain and keep power without recovering grace. The connection between control and anxiety is an obvious one. Sometimes we clutch our cares so tightly in our fists that we cannot even begin to cast them on God.
Fortunately for us, God is at work notwithstanding our ability or inability to cast our cares on Him. Why? As the verse says, “because, He cares for you.” That’s the third word to examine this morning – care. God’s care is like the care of a mother for her newborn infant. The infant can’t cast his worries away. Her mother just takes her infant and meets every need, every care, with love and completeness. God cares for us in this way, especially when we cannot let go of our anxieties, however much we may want to.
Mockingbird’s Will McDavid, in his new commentary on Genesis underscores the difficulty of “letting go”, as well as God’s care for us on our behalf. “(God) will be at work regardless of whether we “let” him by backing off. ‘Let go and let God,” the popular saying, is bad theology insofar as it implies he will not work unless we let him. God’s operations are his prerogative.”
Think back to the caterpillar on the therapist’s couch. Yes, wanting to change, even doing all we can to cast our cares on Him because He cares for us is a good and right thing. Often we experience incredible peace by placing our cares at the foot of the cross. Yet, the caterpillar is created and bound by a force much greater than his own nature or his wants. Whether he wants to or not, he will turn into a butterfly. In due time, he will fly gently off into the summer air, arrayed in brilliant colors, lighting on a green leaf. A power greater than his worries is at work. That is the ultimate casting lesson.
This is what Peter means when he says a few verses later, that “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will Himself (my emphasis) will restore, support, strengthen and establish you.” Restore, support, strengthen, and establish: that’s what God means by care. And as a rejoinder to the natural man who attempts to attain power without recovering grace, Peter ends the passage with “To him be power forever and ever. Amen.”
You are probably aware that the poet Maya Angelou died this past week. She was well acquainted with anxieties and cares and worries, as she was a childhood victim of rape who was raised in poverty and suffered through segregation. She had a keen sense of the human heart and a profound ability to speak directly to the heart. She once said, “the desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.” She was a wise woman.
Ms. Angelou was also well acquainted with the God of the Bible, the God who says, “cast all your cares on me, because I care for you.” 1993, Christie and I had the privilege of attending Bill Clinton’s inauguration. We were in Alexandria for seminary and went with the masses to the National Mall. We heard Ms. Angelou recite what has become her most famous poem – “On the Pulse of Morning.”
I’ll close with an excerpt from that poem. The Rock and the River – both capital “R’s” are the obvious voice of God asking you for your cares and worries and anxieties. You don’t need them and He can and does and will take them on Himself.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.