Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost ≅
Saint Paul's Episcopal Church
October 9, 2005
Do Not Worry About
Lessons for the Day
you in the name of God our Creator, Christ our
Brother, and the Holy Spirit who sustains us
and empowers us to love and to serve them both.
I have a
friend who has been threatening for years to write a book
about the saints of our faith. He swears he is going to
name this book, "God's Greatest Hits -- Lessons from
the Lives of the Saints."
I was put
in the mind of my friend's book when I re-read Saint
Paul's letter to the church at Philippi while preparing
for today's worship service. Saint Paul himself wrote a
fair number of hits, and we find many of them in the
relatively brief epistle to the Philippians. I was
especially struck by the stirring exhortation we read in
today's epistle lesson.
It is to
this exhortation I now want to turn -- especially to five
little words buried in the sixth verse.
worry about anything,"
"but in prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
worry about anything!"
of counsel is that? And how -- even if we wanted to --
would we ever follow it?
heard an acid comment made about someone who appeared
never to worry about anything: "Anyone who is that
happy is either stupid, or not paying attention!" If
we follow Paul's advice -- "Do not worry about
anything." -- do we have to consign ourselves to
the stupid or to the inattentive?
to me that there are two ways to avoid worry.
way to avoid worry is to deny the reality of the
circumstances in which we find ourselves.
We can "think happy thoughts." We can pretend that things
are not as they are. "Denial is
more than a river in
-- or so they say. And we can choose to deny the reality
of the challenges we face and live a life that is
apparently without anxiety. But I'm not sure that is what
Paul counsels here.
doesn't work, or if the realist in us simply cannot
stomach it, we can choose the other route -- the
holy route -- to deal with anxiety. And it is
to this route, at least in my judgment, which Saint Paul
is pointing us.
and think for a moment about Paul's life. He was
imprisoned many times. He traveled hundreds of miles --
establishing churches, and then watching as the churches
strayed off into conflict, schism or heresy. His life was
regularly in danger because he was a threat to those in
power and in authority. And yet the entire letter
to the Philippian Church echoes with the sound of Paul's
So how did
Paul live a life of deep joy when clearly he had
plenty to worry about?
And how might we do the same?
first route to a life without worry is denial,
the second route to a life without worry is the polar
opposite -- the second route to a life without worry is
heard Saint Paul's life story often enough to know it by
heart. Earlier in Philippians -- in chapter three --
Paul acknowledges who he is before God and the church:
a Hebrew born of Hebrews, a persecutor of the church and
blameless under the law. And then Paul says an amazing
whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss
because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as
loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ
Jesus my Lord. For his sake (for Christ's sake) I have
suffered the loss of all things . . . in order that I may
gain Christ and be found in him, not having a
righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one
that comes through faith in Christ."
Philippians 3:7-9b (NRSV)
perhaps, is the secret to a life without worry: we live
a life without worry when we acknowledge -- and are
grounded in -- this sustaining truth: we are children
of a loving God, redeemed by Christ and made in God's own
acknowledgement -- the telling of the whole truth
before God -- that begins to free us from anxiety.
made and we have heard some
astounding acknowledgements today as we have
participated in the Baptismal liturgy and the deep joy of
welcoming new members into our family of faith. These
acknowledgements are the beginning of a life without
acknowledge that we contend with forces greater than
ourselves -- that's telling the truth about our
acknowledge that we cannot do it alone -- that's
telling the truth about ourselves.
acknowledge Christ as savior, which is
telling the truth about who Christ is,
and about his role in the redemption of the world.
acknowledge our desire to trust Christ and to follow him
as Lord, which is naming the only true response we
can make to Christ's amazing love.
born of worry about
Are we cute enough?
Are we smart enough?
Are we rich enough?
Are we loved enough?
Are we, ourselves, enough?
-- as Paul discovered -- in
children of a loving God, made in God's own image,
redeemed by Christ, and transformed by the power of the
you say to yourself, fine! To whom
do I make these grand acknowledgements, and how do I
do it? And Paul gives us insight here, as well.
Because the second portion of our verse says tell us:
worry about anything, but in prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
a profound sense that -- in my own life of faith --
I vastly underestimate and underuse the discipline of
prayer. I often pray "grocery list" prayers -- quickly
checking off the items I need to get through the week's
menu of activities. And I'm not sure that is what Paul is
talking about here.
Simcox has written a wonderful little book entitled
Prayer: The Divine Dialogue -- and it is to this
type of prayer that I think Saint Paul calls us.
-- and true dialogue entails authentic listening, too --
offers us the chance to know ourselves as enough.
To understand ourselves as made by a loving God, redeemed
by a saving Christ, empowered by a transforming Spirit.
to God, surely. And we also listen to God. We
sit before God. We wait for God. Sometimes
we wait with God. And in the sitting
and the waiting and the talking -- and especially in the
listening -- we come to realize that there is no need to
worry. No need to be anxious.
the poor and the marginalized learn this lesson more
quickly than the rest of us.
I think about the great spiritual songs of the slaves in
the ante-bellum South. "He's got the whole world in His
hands…" they sang.
believed. And it
diminished their anxiety.
full of anxious striving because we forget the source
of our strength:
the creative God
who made us, knows us, loves us and wills only good for
the loving Savior
who redeemed us and models for us a life of faithful
the empowering Spirit
who is the agent of our transformation, and who enables us
to know and serve both God and Christ.
about anything. Remember whose you are.
Hang on to the source of your strength.
the whole world in God's hands.
forth from here to proclaim the good news of God's great
love to a dark and hurting world!
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