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"Enemies of Gratitude--Worry"

Howard Boswell

Philippians 4: 1-9

Sermon Preached by the Reverend Dr. Howard W. Boswell, Jr.

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 8, 2017

Kenmore Presbyterian Church

Kenmore, New York

 

I wondered whether today was

the day to preach on worry as an enemy of gratitude.

Like you, on Monday morning,

I woke up to the terrible news out of Las Vegas.

I won’t go into the details,

but I didn’t know how Paul’s words from Philippians

would fly in the face of such violence,

especially these words, “Do not worry about anything,

but in everything by prayer and supplication

with thanksgiving

let your requests be made known to God.  

And the peace of God,

which surpasses all understanding,

will guard your hearts and your minds

in Christ Jesus.”

 

Listen: I may not be the right person to speak about worry,

because I am worried—

worried about the safety of my family in the face of evil;

worried about how long our nation will stand

for such violence; and

worried about the lack of action

on the part of our elected officials

to the crisis of gun violence.

Yet, truth be told, I worry about a lot of other things, too—

worry about what’s next;

worry about our household finances;

worry about my children and how they’re doing;

worry about my health; and

worry about this congregation and its future.

 

I take some comfort in knowing I’m not alone in my anxiety.

In 1947, poet W.H. Auden wrote a long poem called,

The Age of Anxiety.

According to Wikipedia, “the poem deals…

with [our] quest to find substance and identity

in a shifting and increasingly industrialized world.”

Seventy years later, to borrow from the band U2,

“We still haven’t found what we’re looking for.”

 

Anxiety appears to be the prevalent mood in the world today.

Nearly everyone worries about one thing or another.

Now, some folks might say it would be foolish not to worry.

We need to be prepared for the worst case scenario.

So, we walk around, wringing our hands at

global warming, nuclear weapons,

and random acts of violence.

Closer to home, we worry about

our finances, our families, our health, among other things.

So, we might be tempted to question Paul’s counsel,

“Do not worry about anything,

but in everything by prayer and supplication

with thanksgiving

let your requests be made known to God.”

 

Yet, we forget where Paul was when he wrote these words.

He was not in some comfy air conditioned study;

instead he was in a Roman prison,

with the threat of execution hanging above his head.

You might say that Paul hit something like rock bottom.

There, he discovered worry was a useless pastime,

but prayer, pleading with God for help,

thanking God as if it had already arrived, would be useful.

 

You see, you and I suffer from a condition

the Quaker Parker Palmer calls, “functional atheism.”

Here’s how I understand it:

We say we believe in God’s providence and goodness,

but we live our lives as if it’s up to us.

Oh, we may pray when something serious happens,

but most of the time, we walk around, saying to God,

“It’s OK; I got this.”

 

Yet, Paul knew we don’t “got” this, meaning everyday life.

Worry gives evidence to how tenuous our grip really is.

Worry doesn’t go away by tightening our grip.

Instead, it diminishes when we place our concerns into

hands greater than ours and see what God will do.

 

So, why is worry an enemy of gratitude?

Well, I have a couple of thoughts.

First, when we worry,

we wrap ourselves up in our own concerns

so much that we cannot see how God may be at work.

 

Let me use an example from our church’s life.

Right now, many, if not all of our leaders are worried.

They worry about finances.

They worry about the building.

They worry about everything.

I’m in the same boat with them.

Yet, as I wrote this sermon, I realized something sad:

In all the discussions, we seldom seek God’s guidance;

we never ask what God might be trying to tell us;

and we rarely express our gratitude to God

for what God may be doing.

No wonder, most of our leaders, including me,

look tired and sound negative about things.

 

Second, when we worry,

we spend most of our time looking ahead,

rather than looking around.    

You see, worry tends to be future oriented.

Anxiety is a leftover from our cave ancestors.

When confronted with danger, say, a sabre tooth tiger,

they had to choose to fight or flee.

Yet, when we’re anxious, we mostly look at what might happen,

but the physical response is just the same.

Over time, anxiety will make us sick.

Spiritually, we become immune to the presence of God

and fail to find joy and peace in our lives.

 

Friends, make no mistake about it:

we have a lot about which we can worry.

Yet, when we worry,

we miss out on so many good gifts God wants to give us.

When we worry, we forget what Jesus said about it,

"Do not worry about your life,

what you will eat or what you will drink,

or about your body, what you will wear.

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

 ….But strive first

for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,

and all these things will be given to you as well.  

So do not worry about tomorrow,

for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.

Today's trouble is enough for today.”

 

So, let’s follow Paul’s counsel and take our anxiety to the Lord

in prayer with thanksgiving.

Place it in God’s hands, which are larger than ours.

Don’t spend all of our time looking ahead,

but look around, here and now.

Who knows?

In our age of anxiety, we might find,

“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,

will guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

©2017 Kenmore Presbyterian Church