Trinity 15, 2015–The Opposite of Anxiety
15th Sunday after Trinity (Church Picnic)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 6:24-34
September 13, 2015
“The Opposite of Anxiety”
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties upon Him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 4:6-7)
Jesus our Lord offers freedom from anxiety. In offering us the Gospel He offers us the opposite of anxiety. Peace. Peace with God. Peace which surpasses all understanding. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:1-2) “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
This world is not at peace. Even though our country is not at war, the fires of conflict burn in scattered places around the world, always ready to become a huge conflagration. And even though our country is not at war, it is also not at peace. Peace eludes the world even when it is wealthy and prosperous. “There is no peace for the wicked,” says the prophet (Isaiah 48:22) There is constant anxiety and the frantic activity of those who are trying to escape anxiety. What are people anxious about?
They’re anxious that they won’t have enough to retire. Anxious about their health. Worried about their kids, whether they will end up on drugs or pregnant. Anxious and worried about whether their life has any meaning. Anxious about whether they are popular or attractive enough. There’s no end to the list of anxieties the world has. We aren’t worried anymore about the things Jesus mentions in the Gospel reading—about what we will eat and drink, about whether or not we’ll have clothes. And yet even though our anxiety about these basic needs is taken away by modern farming and industry, anxiety has not gone away. If anything, it has increased.
And unfortunately in the Church we are usually anxious right along with the world. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,” the Lord said to a friend of His, and He might well say it to us (Luke 11:41). We are often worried about the same things the world is. Do I have enough? Will I get what I want? And when we get what we want we worry about keeping it. But we have additional anxieties in the Church. We worry about having enough to keep the building open and the pastor paid. We worry about people not coming to the Church and fear or despair that our congregation and synod do not have a future in this world.
But in the midst of all this Jesus offers the opposite of anxiety to our worried hearts and tired bodies. He offers peace and rest. “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.”
Anxiety, Jesus teaches us, comes because of this—we are trying to serve two lords, two masters. “You cannot serve God and mammon,” says our Lord. “Mammon” refers not just to money but to that which you have that exceeds your needs. It’s not a sin to have more than you need. But Jesus says you can’t serve both God and money or possessions. It’s impossible. A person who has two lords and masters inevitably loves and trusts one more than the other. So it is with us. We’re either going to love and trust in possessions and money and despise God, or we will love and trust in God and despise money and possessions.
You get some indication of how much your heart is attached to money and possessions when you are forced to live at a level that is lower than what you’re accustomed to. Is it easy for you to live within your means? And when you suddenly have less income and you have to cut your spending, si that easy for you? Is it difficult for you to give to the Church to support the preaching of God’s Word? Is it easy or difficult for you to give ten percent of your income to the preaching of the Word? These are all indicators of how attached our hearts are to mammon.
The reality is that this trust in mammon is deeply ingrained in our sinful hearts, whereas trust in God does not come naturally to us. The reason we have anxiety is that we place our hopes for happiness and security in wealth and possessions, and these things are always uncertain. Someone or something is always threatening to interfere with our plans to make the world comfortable for ourselves. As long as our hearts trust in possessions, honor, loved ones, and wealth to make us happy we will always be anxious and afraid of losing them. And our sinful flesh can’t believe that we will be happy or be able to live without seeking those things first.
But Jesus offers us relief from the anxiety that comes from serving mammon. “The Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all,” He says. It makes sense that Gentiles or unbelievers should run around saying, “What will we eat? What will we wear? What will we drive? What will we watch? How will we send text messages and get on the internet?” The Gentiles and unbelievers run around anxiously seeking these things because they do not have the heavenly Father who knows exactly what they need. Although our heavenly Father gives them their daily bread and lets His sun shine on them, they reject Him as their Father, and so they believe that they have to provide for themselves. They believe that they are going to find happiness and contentment in possessions and relationships and money. But we should not be fooled into seeking our lives in those things.
Rather, Jesus says, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (v.33) That is the medicine for anxiety. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” God’s kingdom and righteousness—how do we seek it? You already know the answer to this question. By striving to keep God’s commandments? We do seek to repent of our sins, to be heartily sorry for them and turn away from them and to do God’s will alone in the future. But that is not the righteousness of God and it does not give you entrance into the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God and His righteousness is offered to us in our Baptism and is received by faith alone. When the sinners heard John the Baptist’s preaching and repented, John baptized them and directed their eyes to Jesus, who would come and give the Holy Spirit and righteousness. When Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, He is calling us to faith in Himself. He is reminding us of what we are and have apart from Him. Apart from Jesus we are damned with all our possessions and relationships. They cannot bear the weight of our soul’s trust. But in Jesus who was crucified in weakness and shame, who was naked and thirsty and comfortless, in Him we have the righteousness that avails before God. We put Jesus crucified and risen on as our splendor and glorious dress in our Baptism. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness—that is the cure for our anxiety. It means we repent and believe in Christ crucified. It means we crucify the old self that believes the lie that our worldly possessions will give us life, that we let our old self be crucified. We look to Jesus the Lord hanging naked, spit upon, wounded, and comfortless on the cross and we say, “Here Lord in you I have everything and I am whole, for your death is my righteousness and my entrance into the kingdom of God.”
And that is true, because Jesus our Lord is the righteous One. No stain, no particle of sin was found in Him. He deserved to live in Paradise not only because He is God but because of His righteous, sinless life. He deserved to live in comfort and plenty and ease, like we desire for ourselves. But instead He received bad things—suffering, shame, dishonor, death, God’s holy wrath against sin. He received those bad things because we have bowed down to the false gods of earthly wealth and comforts. In receiving God’s judgment He removed it from us. We are not condemned for our unrighteousness because Jesus received all of God’s wrath for us.
Peace and freedom from anxiety is not found in mammon, in earthly wealth and possessions. It is found in god. When we see God’s face perfectly in heaven, we will never have any anxiety or sadness or pain again. When we see God, all anxiety will disappear. But no one can see God’s face and not die unless he is righteous. That was why even Moses was not allowed to see God’s face, but only His back. We are counted righteous before God now through faith in Jesus Christ. “To the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5) Through faith in Jesus we are justified and have peace with God (Romans 5:1). But we are not perfected. We are not completed. We will be perfected when this old nature is completely put away and the new nature, in the image of Christ, is completely put on. Then there will be nothing left of sin in us, but we will be completely transfigured, completely new, in the image of Christ, as we once had the image of Adam. When that happens, when that work is finished, we will have perfect peace and perfect life. What we have now by faith will be the totality of who we are.
That’s heaven. Heaven is when we rest with Christ and no longer have our sinful flesh hanging around our necks. Better yet, heaven is when we will be raised from the dead with glorious bodies that are like Christ’s. We are used to thinking of heaven as beginning after you die and not before. But actually we have the firstfruits of heaven in this life. We have forgiveness of sins now, and we have the Holy Spirit in us, God in us, bringing forth the fruits of heavenly life in us, as we heard in last week’s epistle—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5) Heavenly life begins now, by faith in Christ. And when our Lord says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” He is also saying, “Seek to grow in the new life, the life given by the Holy Spirit.” That is where joy and peace and freedom from anxiety are found. We have peace with God through faith in Christ. It is a perfect peace, because the atonement made by Jesus is perfect. There is nothing left of God’s wrath for those who believe in Jesus. He is well-pleased with us because of what Christ has done.
And yet we do not experience of feel perfect peace with God, even though we have it by faith. We do not experience or feel always that we feast on the bread of life and wear the glorious splendor of Jesus’ righteousness. We often experience anxiety and fear. But as we become stronger in faith in Christ through His Word our grip on the “peace that passes all understanding” becomes stronger. WE take hold more firmly on the rock that does not move. We cling to the Gospel and believe that God through the death of Jesus is not our enemy but our Father, who knows what we need. We grow in the knowledge of God’s perfect peace, trusting that even when we suffer and bear the cross, as Christ said we would, we are being cared for by our Father in heaven who knows exactly what will profit us for our soul’s salvation.
So Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Seek first not to make sure that you have money, possessions, comforts, and relationships on earth. Seek first Christ. Believe in the Gospel and seek to grow in faith and righteousness through hearing His Word and receiving the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Then the earthly things will be given to you as well. Not, certainly, everything your sinful flesh desires, but everything God knows you need. And along with what you need He will give you increasing contentment in the treasures He offers in the Gospel—forgiveness of sins, union with Christ, sonship and an inheritance with God, eternal life.
In the Gospel Christ gives us the opposite of anxiety. He gives us Himself crucified and with Himself the righteousness of God and the kingdom of heaven. When He gives Himself to us in this way, He doesn’t give us assurance that we will have everything we want on earth. But He gives us God as our Father who will ensure that we are cared for as His children through time and in eternity. If we aren’t rich and full of pleasure on this earth—indeed if we carry the cross and look just as bruised and broken as our Lord in His crucifixion—we will be rich in eternity, clothed with the splendor of God’s glory. And all this is given to us not as a result of our own works but solely through the anguish and suffering of the Son of God.
Let us pray now that God blesses us through His Word today and causes us to grow in faith in Jesus and the peace that passes understanding.
Lord, grant your grace that Your word may take root in us, strengthen our faith in Christ, and sanctify us, that we may not run around anxiously like the Gentiles, but be satisfied in You, our heavenly Father, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria