What is making you anxious? As you sit here this morning, what is pulling your mind away from giving your full attention? Every one of us has something that bothers us, that captures our attention. Maybe it’s aches and pains. Maybe you have a diagnosis of cancer or some other disease and you haven’t had the strength to open up about it yet. Maybe you spent a few hours last night looking at your bills and the balance of your bank account, and seeing that one had a higher number, and it certainly wasn’t the bank account balance. Maybe it’s school—you don’t know how you’re going to get through tomorrow, having to sit through another class with him, or how you’re so far behind in your work even though school has only been back in for a few weeks. Whatever your age, occupation, or gender, anxiety is something we all deal with. Something that has to do with this body and life captures our attention, and the devil uses it to turn our eyes from God and His protection and providing to what is going wrong in our life. Whatever the cause of your anxiety, Jesus has a message of joy and peace for you: “Do not be anxious.”
Wait. What? That’s supposed to be Gospel? “Do not be anxious?” I’m coming in with big concerns. I don’t know how I’m going to pay my bills. I don’t know if I’m going to lose my job this week. I don’t know how my kids are going to manage. I don’t know why everything at home seems so unhappy. And, Jesus, Your grand advice, Your solution is “Don’t be anxious?” What gives! How can You be so dismissive? I’ve spent all month hearing Gospel Readings where You healed lepers and gave deaf people their hearing back. I know You raised Lazarus from the dead. I heard the Old Testament Reading just a few minutes ago where You miraculously fed that widow, her son, and Elijah with barely enough flour to make bread. You gave everyone else miracles and to me You shrug Your shoulders, wave Your hand, and say “Don’t be anxious.”
We have a tendency to mishear that statement of Jesus. The devil wants us to hear that statement as dismissive. He wants us to see God as aloof, up on high making demands of us while giving nothing in return. He used to act, He used to help His people. But now He is absent, and doesn’t seem to care or be involved. The devil’s reasoning goes, If the Lord was involved in this world, we wouldn’t have to be anxious. We wouldn’t have to choose between serving God and money because then we’d have all the money, all the health, all the time, all the happiness we need and we could serve Him, love Him, and obey Him perfectly. But because God hasn’t held up His end of the bargain, we certainly shouldn’t be expected to, either. And we know the devil isn’t the only one who uses that kind of logic. That’s what the media likes to report in the aftermath of every disaster, natural or manmade. If we had a dollar for every time we saw a post with that reasoning on Facebook or saw a reporter in waist-deep water coaxing that negative confession out of a hurricane victim, we’d be rich. Repent. We have all been misled by the devil and our own sinful nature. God is not aloof. He is involved in this creation in ways we cannot even comprehend. He loves you and cares about you. He is with you always, no matter how dark your road.
When Jesus says “Do not be anxious,” He doesn’t let that declaration stand alone. It may sound like law, a demand for us to follow, but it really is Gospel. It’s the same as telling a starving person, “Come to the table and eat.” Yes, it’s a command, but it comes with a promise. You don’t invite the starving person to eat at an empty table. You invite because the table is spread with a feast. Jesus doesn’t tell you “Don’t be anxious” and then leave you to your own devices. He tells you “Don’t be anxious” and shows you why you don’t have to be. He tells you “Consider the lilies of the field.” But this word “consider” is much more than “think about.” Its root is the same word as disciple, which means “learner.” So, be taught by the lilies of the field.
The lilies don’t toil, they don’t spin. They don’t stay awake at night, wondering who will water them before the scorching heat of midday comes. They simply exist. They go about their daily business of beautifying God’s creation. They rejoice in the work God has given them to do and go about it knowing that God will sustain them and has their best interest in mind.
What can this teach you about your daily life in the midst of so many and great struggles, dangers, and things that cause crippling anxiety? If God takes care of lilies and sparrows, things that, in the long run, are inconsequential, how much more will He take care of you, the crown of His creation? If the Lord sees and knows every sparrow’s wing stroke, every petal of every lily, how much more does He know what happens in your daily life, how much more does He care about what happens in your daily life, and how much more will He cause it all to work out for your eternal good?
God is not absent in your struggles. He sees and knows every single one of them. And even if it doesn’t make sense at the time, He allows these crosses to come at the time and in the way that they are best for you. Look at these struggles as exercise and faith like a muscle. Without exercise, muscles waste away. The Lord uses these struggles to strengthen your faith. He teaches you that you can rely on Him. It is just like you sing in a favorite hymn: “His oath, His covenant and Blood support me in the raging flood; when every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.” The Lord teaches you that things in this life are perishing, that money, self-help books, drugs, alcohol, sex, chocolate, none of that will help you. He allows every earthly prop to give way to teach you that He alone is your solid Rock, the only one on which you can stand amid the sinking sand of this life. He teaches you that He is always present for you in this place, speaking to you in His Word, feeding you in His Sacraments to strengthen your faith. He teaches you that you can cast every burden on Him and He will sustain you. He teaches you that He is in control of all things. He may not give you a miracle like restoration of hearing or sight, curing of leprosy, or raising from the dead, but He will give you forgiveness. He will give you His peace that the world cannot take from you. He will give you eternal life where none of these things plague you, where no tear will ever again roll down your cheek.
So, what is making you anxious? Do not worry, saying “What shall we eat” or “What shall we drink” or “How can I push on?” Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. He will provide what you need for this body and life. And to help you when everything is overwhelming, rejoice in the greatest gift He has given you: Himself. Come, receive Jesus Christ as He comes to you to give you His peace that no one can take from you, peace that helps you bear all your crosses while here you wander until you praise Him yonder.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.