Monday, July 7, 2008

The Third Sunday of Pentecost

July 6, 2007

"For after such things the gentiles seek. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you."

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, glory to Jesus Christ!

Glory Forever!

The Lord spoke in a few places about anxiety, the words that are recorded there have been greatly misunderstood by some. I remember the story about Francis of Assisi, the Roman Catholic friar who, as head of his order never allowed the cooks in his friary to make bean soup, because the Lord had said. “Take no thought for tomorrow,” and you had to soak the beans the day before. Now we can give him a little credit for a kind of whimsical craziness, but that’s certainly not what the Lord is talking about.

What the Lord is talking about is anxiety becoming a prominent and obsessive emotion in the human soul, in the human heart. Now we understand that we have problems, and we also understand that we have future possibilities, both negative and positive, and it would be insanity for us to anticipate with equanimity both disaster and prosperity. What the Lord is talking about is allowing anxiety, which was a gift from God, something put into not only human beings but into almost all of the mammals, to give us the possibility in the face of direct, clear, and present danger to either fight or run away. It is an instinct that changes the nature of the body, that makes us able to have the energy, the burst of power, the extra blood, the extra oxygen, that when a tiger growls at us, or the bear is rushing at us, or the fellow with the club and the torch is chasing us in the woods, we’re able to either escape or to turn and to defend our lives. But this is an instinct, a gift, a metabolic activity of human beings given for the confrontation, as I said, of clear and immediate dangers.

For dealing with life God intended for human beings to use two things: The lesser of these things is reason. To look at the possibility of a problem approaching us, with calmness, without anxiety, without an elevated heart rate, without perspiration, without stomach ulcers, to say “Now what are my possibilities in dealing with this situation? How ought I to approach this? What precautions can I take to avoid the problem? What remedies can I apply if the problem develops? What is the likelihood that it will even happen?”

And the other tool which is much more precious, is prayer, which allows us to remove ourselves from the necessity of finally dealing with a potential cause of our fear and allows us to trust, that as Saint Paul says, “Even in tribulation, for this is character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint.” For us to understand that if we love God, that God is working in everything with us to bring about good. It does not make Him the cause of the anticipated disaster, calamity, pain, suffering, loss; but it means that God: who emptied Himself of the glory of the Father and descended from the vault of highest heaven to stand on earth and be rejected among His own people, to stand in His own place and not be received, to be crucified and to descend from there into Hades itself, in order to trample down death; has shared, as it says in the prayers of Pentecost, has shared on equal terms in our sinless passions. He’s experienced the anxieties, the fears, the hardships, the pains that we can experience and more exquisitely than we. Not only was the pain He suffered literally excruciating, which means the pain from the cross, but it was pain that pierced not only His flesh but into His very soul itself, because it was the pain of God who in love saw His creatures attempting to destroy the best that they possessed, the only hope that they had, the one who cared for them more than it was possible for them to imagine care.

And so what the Lord is telling us is this: Yeah, if the bear is chasing you, Andrew, run. If you can climb a tree, climb a tree. But don’t go into the woods and walk around all day long thinking “Once there was a bear in these woods, maybe there’s another one here.” Because it will ruin your day, won’t it? It’ll make your heart beat fast, it’ll make your blood pressure go up, it’ll make you sweat, and it’ll make every twig that snaps a bear. What the Lord is telling us is that with our human reason, aided by divine grace, inspired by the spirit of God who leads us into all truth, who delivers us from all error and who recalls to our minds all words that God has spoken to us through Christ and through the prophets before Him; that thru these instruments we have power to trample down demons and to overthrow the powers of darkness. That the meaning of our life means precisely this: If we abide in Love, and Love abides in us, then that Love that abides in us is not an emotion, it is God himself and that He is capable of bringing us through everything.

And so, let us not, brothers and sisters, let us not decide that we’re not going to take any precautions; that we’re going to leave our doors unlocked, and leave the keys in our car, and that we’re going to stop taking our medicine, and go out in the winter without our coats even when our mothers tell us to put them on. Let’s not be that type of fools. But let us also not allow ourselves to be slaves to anxieties, the victims of a thousand deaths that we have not, nor shall we ever, experience. There was a saying once, written by Shakespeare and put into the mouth of Caesar, that cowards die many times before their death, the valiant taste death only once. What is simply meant by that is that those who spend their lives contemplating constantly all of the bad that could happen, being anxious, being caught up in fear, that they might as well die everyday, because in their hearts they’re experiencing the same anguish that they would experience from the grievous loss that they’re imagining themselves experiencing.

For us, even death itself has no fear. Oh yes, we’re taught by God to preserve our life, and so we cannot be foolhardy, we cannot throw our lives away pointlessly because Heaven’s better than here. If that weren’t the case, we could all hold hands and walk in front of a bus and be zapped into heaven right away. That’s not what God wants for us. He wants us to hold onto this gift of life in this world to refine our souls as far as they’re capable of being refined in this world, like gold in a fire, but when that is done, not to try to grasp onto the ashes and the dregs but to hand over our lives to Him trusting that He who has brought us this far is capable of bringing us to the end.

Now when I read papers that students write in religion class, philosophy class, one of the questions they are asked is “What do you think of the statement ‘Death gives life no meaning? Life has no meaning because of death?’” And the students will sometimes say, “Oh yes, life has meaning. I’ve got my kids, and I’ve got my car and my dog, and a really good job.” So what you’re saying, friend, is, when your kids grow up and move away, when someone steals your car and it gets wrecked, if your health vanishes and you get fired, life has no meaning? In other words, it was a toss up and you got lucky? No, that’s not the point. The point is that death does not give life robbery of its purpose, but it is simply the consummation of the struggle.

What I found when I was chaplain in the old folks home is that the deeper people’s faith was, the quicker they died. When they were in their final struggle, no matter how big and strong they were, that just as our Lord on the cross when He said “It is finished,” bowed His head and gave over His spirit, that people who trust in God are able to hand their life over to him. The terrible deaths, the ripping away of soul from body, were those of people who had no faith because all they had was what they took to that bed in the infirmary with them – the clothes on their back and the aches and the pains – and they were fearful and they could not give up because they had no confidence that anything better than pain awaited them.

So, do not be as the gentiles who spend their days in anxious torment, wondering “How will we get food? How will we get clothing? What will we drink?” These are the things after which the gentiles seek, but seek first God’s kingdom, seek first God’s righteousness, and all the rest: pressed down, running over, in good measure will be added unto you.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Glory to Jesus Christ!

Glory forever!

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