May 3, 2020

The Antidote to Anxiety
Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A
Becky Robbins-Penniman

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

What a week this has been for me. I’ve had to make a number of decisions, often feeling like I didn’t have quite enough information, or that involved money that I wasn’t sure we should spend, or that concerned our life together and how to be faithful and pastoral, and yet keep everyone in this precious parish safe. I so much better understand what is facing various leaders like governors, mayors, and county commissions – this is all very complex! Being the person in control, the one who had to make decisions, caused me some anxiety, and I serve one parish, not a whole region.

In our personal life, we’ve been awaiting the birth of our grandson. His due date was April 26th; that day came and went with him not at all interested in making an appearance. Day followed day, with our daughter, Sarah, trying to stay calm, our son-in-law, Jim, texting us updates because we can’t go to Texas to be with them during this COVID-19 pandemic. Like us, Teddy, the baby, just stayed put. Thursday, the doctors said that Sarah would have the baby on May 1st, however it had to happen. Having absolutely NO control over ANY of these decisions or events ALSO caused me anxiety.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I have the sacred vocation of caring for and about people in this precious parish, some of whom are having real challenges with health, with losing their jobs, with family issues, with fear, with isolation. I have to figure out what God wants me to say to ALL of you. This, of course, ALWAYS causes me some anxiety.

Anxiety is not a very holy state of being. What’s the antidote to anxiety? Once again, no matter how weird and chaotic our new normal is, there is ancient, wonderful wisdom that speaks to us yet today. It turns out the antidote to anxiety is focusing on our problems, and not on what we don’t have that we think we need, like control, but on what we do have that we can bless others with.

In the Law of Moses, Deuteronomy, Moses is dealing with people not at all different from us: they want to be comfortable and safe, to control their lives, to not be anxious about anything. Moses tells them that the LORD loves them, that they are his special people, and, of course, there won’t be any poor folks, that everyone will be the bankers, the winners, the blessed. If we read just Deuteronomy 15:4-6, we could even get to the place of saying that if someone is poor, it’s proof they aren’t obeying God’s commands, that they are sinners and that they therefore they deserve both to be poor, and the suffering that comes with being poor.

Many in this country still believe this; the long echoes of the Protestant Work Ethic still resound: if you work hard, are frugal, and prosper, it’s proof you’re saved. Therefore, you deserve what you have, because God loves you. However, if you’re poor, you must be a sinner, so you deserve your poverty, and you need to straighten up and do a better job at earning your salvation. I’ve heard this very message in the news over the past couple of weeks.

Now, I’m not saying all poor people are perfect. We shouldn’t romanticize poverty any more than we should damn it. I AM saying that the minute we start talking about THEM, how THEY don’t deserve whatever, but WE do, then we need to get our noses back into the Bible and read some more…

For the full sermon text, click HERE.

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