• Fr. Peter Kavanaugh

Storm of Worries

A heavy fog can hang over a city for days, so thick that you can’t see your own hand before your eyes. If you’re outdoors when the fog arrives, you’ll get lost in a matter of seconds. Everything is black and everything is confused. Yet, according to the Bureau of Standards, “a dense fog covering seven city blocks, to a depth of 100 feet, is composed of something less than one glass of water.” Our worries are no different. Worry is that oppressive fog. The thoughts in our head make so much noise that they keep us awake at night and put us in a stupor through the day. But if you try to grab on to the worry it slips through your fingers. It’s just noise. It’s fantasy. Mark Twain once put it this way, “I’ve known a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” If we allow ourselves, we can spend our entire lives in the tyranny of tomorrow. Here’s the irony. Tomorrow doesn’t exist. God has only given us today.

Listen to our Sunday Gospel.

“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? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life…Therefore, do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’…But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you” (Matthew 6. 24-34).

Jesus Christ is very practical. He shows us exactly how to walk through life. First, He tells us what not to do. Second, He tells us what to do. If we can dedicate our lives to these two things then we’ll become saints.

First, we don’t need to worry.

Can you hear what he’s saying?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we often justify our worrying because we think we’re being responsible. Somehow it feels grownup, doesn’t it? But it really isn’t. That’s a fantasy.

This is radically liberating.

God gives us permission to let go.

But Christ doesn’t merely say that we don’t need to worry. He tells us that we mustn’t worry.

Every time we worry we’re teasing a fantasy that we’re in control. It’s flirting with delusion, and God is never in delusion. Like all fantasies, this one is a distraction from the work that God actually has for us to do.

Let’s look a little deeper.

In Greek, the passage reads this way: Mὴ μεριμνᾶτε τῇ ψυχῇ ὑμῶν – “Be not anxious about your life.” The word anxious, μεριμνᾶτε, comes from the word μεριζω, which means, “to be pulled apart.” Isn’t that our experience? The minute we start worrying our thoughts scatter in a hundred directions. We can’t pray when we’re in this state. We can’t worship. We can’t even begin to live. Our heart is too fractured. Like a boat tossed about in a storm, we’re pulled in every direction, except towards God. There are few things in our lives that prevent us from doing God’s work more than worrying.

Fortunately, Christ doesn’t leave us here. He starts out telling us not to worry. Then He tells us what to do instead. “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.”

Do you remember when St. Peter walked on the sea?

As soon as he looked around at the waves and storm he began to sink. But he cast his eyes on Christ and found his sea legs. The worries in our head are a storm. If we let them they can certainly drown us. But the minute we reach out to God the storm becomes smoke and mirrors. Our worries are a fog, and we can spend our lives under its shadows, or we can turn to Christ and find a way out.

The same word, μεριμνᾶτε, worries or anxiety, is also used in 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your cares upon Him.”

We all worry, but we don’t have to live there. When we find ourselves worrying then we have a job to do: to take our worries and to cast them to God. Turn your worries into prayer.

If we cast our cares on Christ, He will take care of them and give us our freedom.

Now, when Christ tells us to, “Strive first for the kingdom of God,” He uses the Greek word ζητεῖτε which was originally used for hunting. A hunter must carefully ζητεῖτε his shot before taking it. He has to become perfectly still, see through all the brush and haze, and aim his bow directly at his prey. There is nothing passive about “striving for the kingdom.” It means being deliberate. It is violent. We must seek to make God the center of our life as deliberately as a hunter hunting for game.

On Monday morning, when I sat down to write this sermon, I was struggling with some things on my mind. The Gospel couldn’t have been timelier. Then I looked up at an icon on my wall of our Lord Jesus Christ. There’s a serenity in our Orthodox iconography. We don’t paint Jesus with a bright smile on His face. Instead, we try to show Him without emotion. He’s calm, still, peaceful. As I looked up at Christ his serenity pierced me. What was I worrying about? It was all in my head; all about tomorrow; all non-reality. Christ was before me, in the present now, in all His serenity. Next to Him, the waves of the sea didn’t seem so daunting after all.

Jesus Christ is the anchor in the storm.

You can imagine this serenity on the face of Our Lord as he preached these words, “Remember the birds. Consider the lilies. Strive first for the Kingdom.” He knows how much we suffer from our worries. He hears us and sympathizes. But He also knows that most of our worries don’t really matter. Only one thing matters: our relationship with God.

But we’re suffering! We’re drowning down here!

St. Augustine once taught, “That Physician, to whom we have wholly entrusted ourselves, knows when to give and when to withhold; as He judges what is good for us. If at times we lack things (which God will often permit, to exercise us), let this not weaken our purpose, but rather, now tested, let it confirm us.” God doesn’t always give us what we want. But he always gives us what we need. He sees the big picture, and we can learn to trust.

Life is so short.

It’ll feel like a split second before you and I are on our deathbeds.

Is that sad?

In one sense it is. And in another way it’s very, very beautiful. We’ve been given this short time to seek only one thing, it’s so simple, the eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

The minute you woke up on your bed this morning, the instant you put your keys into the ignition to drive to church, this very moment, as we’re here together in this sanctuary…this is all a gift from God for one purpose. Nothing else matters. All these things will vanish like fog in the wind. When you meet Jesus Christ face to face, will He say “I never knew you,” or will He say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your master’s happiness!”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Saint Benedict Orthodox Church

3808 Seymour Road

Wichita Falls, TX, 76309