By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
On Ash Wednesday, I shared with you an article by a young, evangelical college chaplain, Frank Powell. He challenged his readers to prayerfully reflect on what he identifies as the “9 Sins Christians Are Okay With.” After reading the article for the first time back in January, I still find myself prayerfully pondering the ways I have been tempted by some of these sins, and there are a couple I am working hard to change.
One of them is the sin of worry. You may recall what Powell had to say about worry. He said: “Worrying gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. The great philosopher Van Wilder once said, “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” That’s right. But Van Wilder isn’t the only one who talked about worry. Jesus said you shouldn’t worry about anything (Matt. 6:25-34). But Jesus wasn’t serious was he? I mean, really Jesus? Anything?”
“He was serious. You see, worrying is symptomatic of a larger issue…lack of faith. And for followers of Jesus whose primary mission is to show the glory and nature of God to the world, worrying is a problem. Recently, I asked a good friend why worry plagues the church, and he said something profound, “My greatest concern is that we don’t want to need God. We’re Americans. We’re independent.” That’s hard-hitting stuff right there. Americans will do anything to maintain the illusion of control and responsibility, so no wonder worry plagues us. Worry is the by-product of bearing a weight only God can bear. Do you see the irony here? The more independence you desire, the more worry you will experience. So, why not give everything to God and let his peace reign over your life?”
For some of us, worrying is almost part of our DNA. We worry about the weather. We worry if there will be enough money to pay the bills or food to feed the family. We worry about difficult dynamics in our relationships at work and at home. We worry about the future. We worry about how our past might affect our future. And even when we try to worry less, we sometimes worry we should be more worried.
It sounds silly, right? Except for many of us, worrying is a daily part of our lives. While I have worked hard over the years to worry less, to only worry as much as is socially acceptable, in the deep dark corners of my being I still struggle with worrying about things I will barely even name to myself. I worry that my husband will die in an automobile accident on his drive to or from his work in Connecticut. I worry about a teacher, or another child, mistreating or abusing my children in school, or even worse, a gunman entering one of their schools. I sometimes let myself worry about these unthinkable things.
And yet this is where our faith comes in, this is where we have to let go, and let God by putting our trust in God. I have learned to stop letting worry have so much power over me by not letting myself go to those deep, dark corners. When I am most tempted to, I remember Jesus words, “...do not worry about tomorrow…” And instead chose to remember the importance of trusting in God.
The point is driven home even more clearly in the Message translation: “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes (Matthew 6:34).”
While my faith and trust in God have helped me to spend far less time in those deep, dark corners of worry, I still let myself worry about little things that simply waste time and energy that could be better spent elsewhere. I am choosing to prayerfully work on letting go of even my lighter worries this Lent. Which got me thinking about today’s Gospel.
What if we looked at the story of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness and his encounter with Satan, using a lens that highlights worry or the lack thereof. Indulge me for a moment.
Let’s begin with Jesus’ parents. Last week on Facebook there was a great cartoon with a header that said, “It sure wasn’t easy being the mother of Jesus.” In the cartoon, Mary picks up a note off the kitchen table and reads, “Dear Mom, Gone into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by Satan. Don’t worry! xo J.” Talk about having to rely on her faith and trust in God! Something she had to do again, and again, and again. From the moment she learned of his conception, until his dying day on the cross. Every, single, day she had to let go of her worries, and put her trust in God. Mary is a remarkable example for all of us in demonstrating how to put our trust in God, even in the face of the unthinkable.
Then, of course, there is God the Father, who at Jesus’ baptism had proclaimed Jesus as his son. He had assured Jesus of how pleased he was with him, before the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. We can only assume God did not worry, but I imagine it must have been hard at times to watch from the sidelines as Satan tried to tempt his son.
I imagine Jesus might have been tempted to worry too. Here he is on this 40 day spiritual journey, where Satan is tempting him. Did he worry he might fail one of Satan’s tests? That he might, in his hunger, transform the stone into bread and eat it? That in his desire to accomplish all that he must do as God’s Son, he might take the easy road to gain power and glory? That he might be rescued and brought to safety instead of relying on God’s sufficiency?
While Satan sought to plant a seed of worry that would transform into doubt, Jesus remained firm in his reliance on God. With each test, he remained faithful and put his trust in God. Jesus did not let himself be tempted by worry, nor was he tempted by the food, power, or safety that Satan offered. Instead he modeled for us the fundamental importance of putting our trust in God.
Maybe you struggle with worry. Maybe you struggle with one of the eight other sins I mentioned on Ash Wednesday. Whatever you struggle with, I encourage you to practice letting go of it this Lent, and putting your trust in God. One of my favorite preachers, David Lose, had this to say about today’s text: “In short, I would argue that temptation is not so often temptation toward something – usually portrayed as doing something you shouldn’t – but rather is usually the temptation away from something – namely, our relationship with God and the identity we receive in and through that relationship.”
Whatever you struggle with, remember that the point of the struggle, the goal of the temptation is to tempt you away from your relationship with God, and your identity as the person God created you to be.
Let us pray: Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect of the Day).
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