“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” Is there anyone among us today who does this well??
Part of what it means to be human is to experience anxiety. The question for us is not whether or not we experience anxiety. The question is what we do with our anxiety. What do you do with your anxiety?
Jesus’ disciples serve as a mirror of how we seek relief from our own anxiety. “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” His disciples were clinging to the traditional hope that God’s favor rests on one nation. We find that hope today, even among Christians, whose baptismal identity is not nearly as important as their national identity.
It’s not that Israel didn’t matter. It’s that the disciples’ vision is too small. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria”—yes, all of Israel! Jesus says; then he adds—and, to the ends of the earth.” To the ends of the earth? This wasn’t what Jesus’ disciples signed up for. They thought following Jesus was about taking care of their own, focusing on their own people, their own needs, their own pride, their own traditions, their own problems.
And then, all of a sudden he was gone, and they were left gaping at the sky. Matthew tells us that there were “two men in white robes” present who asked, Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? Jesus will return in the same way. They were right. Next Sunday we will hear again the story of Pentecost, when Jesus did indeed return among all nations in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ever since then, disciples of Jesus have been faced with the same challenges. We, too, are often found staring into the distance, maybe toward the life to come, or, stuck in some previous time that we imagine to be better than the present.
And Christ’s response is the same today as it’s always been: Don’t worry about the past. Don’t worry about the future. Don’t place your hope in human institutions. Instead, Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you (ch.5,v.7).
Easier said than done, right? But, when you are burdened by anxiety, where do you turn? Do you cast all your anxiety on Christ? Or, do you carry it around yourself? And, if you carry it around yourself, how’s that working for you?
I made a visit to some relatives of mine this past week. One of my relatives lost her mother a couple of years ago. Since then, she has found reason to blame others for her grief and has stopped speaking to her father and her sister. She is not a person of faith. She has no faith community. Her grief has made her anxious , and she has cut herself off even from those who love her most.
We have been trained by our culture to fly solo. We take pride in our independence. But, our God did not create us to be independent. We were created for interdependence. Every Sunday worship, in fact, is a celebration of interdependence. If, on the other hand, we choose to fly solo we pay a heavy price for flying solo, and one of the prices we pay is…chronic anxiety. How many counselors, psychiatrists and pharmacists do you think are kept in business by our anxiety? These are all important resources for healing but we are invited to consider a deeper solution: Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
There’s an article in this morning’s paper on the skyrocketing number of pistol permits issued in Washington state. People are buying guns like crazy! Women, especially, because they fear for their safety. One woman in the article is quoted as saying, ‘Who can you really rely on to protect you and your family?’ Pretty much yourself.” What could be sadder than that? A society of “lone rangers” so full of fear that they resort to “packing heat” in the desperate hope of finding some relief from their anxiety. This is not a criticism of individuals, some of whom have experienced real trauma. It is an indictment of our national identity that tends to place independence above all else.
When Jesus disappeared from among his disciples, you can bet they were anxious! This was the second time he had left them—first, at his crucifixion, and now, at his ascension. So, what did they do? Listen again to the last part of our first reading: They returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem… 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
This should sound familiar, because this story brings us full circle. Remember the story we heard a month ago, at the beginning of the Easter season? Eleven disciples gathered—maybe in the same upper room–behind locked doors, scared to death? But Jesus appeared among them then and said, not once but three times, Peace be with you. Another way to say it: Cast all your anxiety on me.
They lost him to crucifixion. Now, they lose him again at his ascension. In both cases the disciples gather in an upper room, but this time there’s a difference: 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. This time they were not just eleven; they opened their community to women, even Jesus’ own mother, and his brothers, as well. The disciples’ expectations of God were shaken to the core. They were finding that God was building a very different kind of kingdom among them, a kingdom that was expanding beyond their traditions and beyond their comfortable ideas and relationships. Through it all, they stayed together, prayed together and by the power of the Holy Spirit found a way forward…together. This is no “private” faith. This is no “just me and Jesus” stuff. This is the power of Christian community.
There’s an article in the most recent Lutheran magazine that I recommend to everyone. Peter Marty is a pastor and author from Davenport, Iowa, and he writes a monthly series called “Challenging Conversations.” His article for this month is called “Leaving Church Behind.” He writes about people who leave the church because they’re bored, or hurt, or angry, or indifferent, so they leave a congregation or give up on Christian faith altogether. You’ll have to read the article yourself to learn more, but cutting oneself off from a faith community is a very American thing to do. It represents choices we all face every day: Whether we will fly solo–determine our own destiny, remain independent–or, whether we will come together in prayer and worship, not only the community we know but the ever-expanding community that Christ is building among us.
Jesus’ prayer for us in today’s gospel reading is a prayer that we will be interdependent: Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. We don’t really know what we’re signing up for when we commit to Christian discipleship. And yet, my hope is that Christ’s prayer for unity be our prayer for our congregation, and the whole Church. Together, may we cast all our anxiety on him.