Good morning. I hope it is a good morning for you. I don’t know what makes a ‘good’ morning form a ‘bad’ morning, but I suspect it has something to do with how much sunlight is outside and how much hope you are feeling today. I visited my office at church and the plant that I had completely forgotten about was listless and forlorn in front a window, still believing that I would come to water it. Poor plant! When I am feeling like that, I naturally look outside of myself for a fix, a cure, an infusion of life that will restore my good morning feeling. Because this weekend is Memorial Day, I began daydreaming of vacation—sleeping in, reading books, binge watching TV shows, doing puzzles—but then that is what I am doing now! What would vacation look like? I want to write, “Vacation,” on my calendar just to know that there will be a break in the monotony of my days. One week that would be different than those I am living today. Many days I wake up and wonder, “What day is it?” and truly have to look at my watch to know.
I have been looking for a name for this free-floating feeling, some sort of diagnosis. Just as it seems difficult to diagnose the early symptoms of the virus, it seems just as impossible to diagnose the gray detached feeling that those of us who have been in our homes for seven weeks are having. I would term it soul sickness. A malaise of the soul that feels unmoored from the usual anchors of life, faith being one of the strongest anchors. I think the closest we can come is the word anxiety, which is your body’s natural response to stress. It is a feeling of fear or apprehension of what’s to come. John Stott, the Anglican priest and Theologian, said that all fears boil down to three: fear of people, fear of the future and the fear of death. This pandemic is the perfect storm of all three of our basic fears in one.
I surveyed of some of our church members to see if we could articulate where the locus of this present anxiety. Comments included, “Will I be able to handle what life looks like when this is over?” “I’m concerned if the world be more loving and kind or will we become selfish and vindictive?”, “Every time I go out to the grocery store or other place, I am afraid that I have gotten infected or possibly l have been an unknowing carrier of the virus,” closer to home “Wondering if the Christ Church choir will ever sing together again?,” “What if my favorite restaurants or stores can’t make it through the pandemic?,” What if everything is so political that we can’t solve this problem?,” “My spouse and I are older and we could possibly die from this virus,” “My job may not survive the next month, what will I do then?” There are so many “What Ifs” that are vying for our attention and wanting us to provide answers and solutions, when clearly there are none. Anxiety is knowing there is a threat and knowing you are powerless to do anything about it.
As to whether or not the pandemic will cure us of self-centeredness or fear, I would say not. The definition of Sin is self-centeredness and it is fear can turn us in on ourselves and away from God and others. A pandemic cannot cure Sin—it can expose it and make it visible. At the same time, the light is also exposed and more visible as many are also gathering together in giving and supporting. Just as hurricanes and floods are part of nature, so are viruses and diseases. Death and life are always juxtaposed in our daily lives.
I was surprised to learn that the word anxiety is used in our text from 1 Peter today. I thought it was a modern word—made up on our life ime– but the word anxiety in the Greek means, “dividing and fracturing a person’s being into parts.” That sounds about right. One part of you is camped out in “trust in God” and the other part is “running for the exit.” It is a great definition of what it means to experience the suffering of the world while holding onto faith. Early Christians had anxiety. Plagues, wars, diseases, slavery, tyrants, starvation and lack of clean water, just to name a few things that could give you anxiety.
We seem to have the idea that once we are Christians, we shouldn’t have any pain or suffering, that if we are only good believers, we will not have any problems. But that is a false notion because Jesus Christ suffered– to the point of death –as did the disciples. Dark times are part of life. Belief is about trust—not a bargain of good behavior for a trouble-free life. John 16 tells us, “In this world you will have trouble.”
In our text today, 1 Peter tells us that, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” When we look at the word Cast, it means to forcefully throw. It doesn’t say, “lay down,” or “surrender,” it says throw your anxiety on him. Get rid of it. Quit carrying that heavy burden of anxiety—worrying about the future and entertaining the What ifs for hours. Forcefully give it to him.
Pastor Tim Keller says that we think it blasphemous and discourteous to be mad at God—to express our anxiety and fear to Him. We believe that to be faithful we cannot voice our true feelings to God. This is the difference between living a life of only law, hoping we are following the rules and therefore pleasing God so that we will not suffer, or accepting the grace of relationship with Christ that invites our true self to be expressed. If you had a relationship where you could never say you were mad or discouraged or frustrated or disappointed or confused—what kind of relationship would that be but a false one? God wants to know your heart. Like a good heavenly parent, God yearns to hear from you and be with you, to lean into listen to your true feelings and experience. Your relationship with God is not a game to figure out but a relationship to be lived together. Throw what you got at him—he can take it! Christ Jesus is the only one ever created who is not self-centered, who cares about you. He cares for you—that’s why he wants to know how you are feeling. He’s not just thinking about himself—but is thinking about you!
In that John 16:33 quote, Christ also says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”
The pandemic will not cure us of our self-centeredness—because it is not our Savior. Christ is our Savior because he has overcome the world. Any love you have to give to the world came from Him and through Him. Any saving that will be done is only through Him. Will you be able to handle the New Normal when it comes? No- but Christ can. Will the Choir sing again? Jesus said, “If they are silent, even the rocks will cry out.” What if- I die? What if my job ends? What if everything is different? Cast all your What ifs on Him, because he cares. And he will listen to you, be with you and hold you in his everlasting arms. Because your Savior, Jesus Christ, cares about you. Has concern for you. Has not left you here alone but has walked before you into a future not yet realized and come back to assure you that he cares so much that he suffered once and for all so that you will not be enslaved by these fears and anxieties but can cast them onto him. Tosh Silver, author of Outrageous Openness, wrote, “We restlessly scan the world saying, “Is this my destination? Can I lay my burden down now? Am I safe? Can I let go?” Martin Luther assured us, “But you must cast both your heart and your care upon God’s back, for He has a strong neck and shoulders, and can well carry them. And, moreover, He bids us cast them upon Him, the more He is pleased, for He promises that He will bear your burden for you, and everything that concerns you.”
And in these overcast days, when you can’t even get a vacation from your anxieties, know that today he loves you and He cares for you. Cast it on Him—he can take it.