One of the things I love about the Old Dutch Church is that we’re pretty cool. This is a cool church, as they go. Some churches are pretty lame, boring. Not this one. There are some really cool people here— we’re a delightful mix of artists, farmers, philosophers, sinners, saints, and weirdos. Our historic building is cool, our hospitality cool, our open doors to our community is cool, and our minister, Pastor Renee, she’s cool too, and she’s hot.
This church is pretty cool, and I’ve been thinking this week that the Philippian church to which the Apostle Paul is writing, they were pretty cool too. Of all the churches he planted, Paul had a special affection for this congregation. He calls them his joy and his crown.
This was no boring church. The Philippians were religious renegades. It was rumored that they were cannibals because in the ritual of the Eucharist they ate Jesus. They were accused of being a free love cult because they claimed that God loves them completely and Jesus wants them to love one another completely. The moral majority condemned them for violating natural law by allowing women to serve in leadership positions.
The Philippian congregation was a wild collection of Jews and Gentiles, women and men—Roman merchants, Italian farmers, Greek ranchers, land owners, day laborers, saints, sinners, and weirdos. They were struggling to find their way an uncertain and troubled time. The Philippians were worried, and so Paul writes to them to say that’s the first problem you should deal with, because worry isn’t going to solve anything.
Paul doesn’t just tell them to stop worrying about everything, he gives them a prescription for the antidote to worry. And that’s what I want to let you in on this morning—how to let go of worrying by using the antidote to worry. I’ll get to that in a moment. First I need to explain the image on the front of today’s bulletin.
Would you turn to that with me? Amos said to me, I never thought I’d see the day. What in the world is Alfred E. Newman doing in our church bulletin!
Alfred E. Newman isn’t worried. What, me worry? he says, through his gap tooth grin. Alfred E. Newman isn’t worried. He’s completely worry-free. He’s the exact opposite of a worry wart.
Worry warts worry obsessively about everything and anything, especially their personal troubles and tales of woe, both real and imagined, and they can’t wait to tell you all about in great detail. They use worry as a means of getting attention. Probably you know someone who’s worry wart, so you know how exhausting this can be.
Alfred E. Newman, on the other hand, isn’t worried about anything at all, but here’s the thing—he should be. That’s the irony. Because the reason he’s not worried is that he just doesn’t care. He’s completely apathetic about everything. To him, everything is just a joke. Alfred E. Newman is a fool, and only a fool wouldn’t be worried.
It’s also possible, in typical Mad magazine fashion, that this is one of those double ironies. In which case, silly looking Alfred isn’t a fool after all but an enlightened genius in disguise. Maybe he isn’t worried because he realizes worrying just doesn’t work. What’s going to happen is going to happen, and worrying about it isn’t going to change the outcome one way or the other.
So, Alfred’s image is here in the bulletin to remind us that worry is a conundrum. No amount of worrying is going to change what happens. As somebody said, worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but won’t get you anywhere.
And yet, if we care at all about what is happening to our friends and loved ones and if we are aware of the suffering of our neighbors near and far, and if we care about Mother Earth and the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink, then how can we not be worried?
Letting go of worry doesn’t mean we don’t care. Having concern about something is not the same as being worried about it. The word worry in the Greek NT means to be pulled in different directions. The Old English word in the King James bible means to strangle. Worry is that which consumes our minds and hearts and leaves us feeling strangled and pulled in different directions. Worry weighs us down wondering what to do, and because it saps our human spirit, we don’t do much of anything because we’re too busy worrying about it.
The difference between being worried and being concerned is the level of anxiety involved. Being concerned about something requires our attention and focus. But being worried always involves anxiety.
Recent polls show that we Americans are increasingly anxious about many things—climate change, school shootings, identity theft, the threat of another recession, the quality of our tap water, the cost of healthcare, the list goes on and these are just the big picture issues.
Closer to home, we’re anxious about making ends meet, saving for retirement, living on a fixed income, coping with kids on drugs, taking care of aging parents, holding a broken family together, we’re worried about losing our memory, and not being able to forget, and we’re worried about being in chronic pain while the government takes away our painkillers. The list of things to be worried about is almost endless.
When I was 15 years old I had a 10:00 pm curfew. One Saturday night, I don’t remember now why it was, but I didn’t get home until close to midnight. (This was way before cell phones, just so you know.) My mother was waiting up for me, and when I walked in the door she burst into tears and hugged me said, We were worried sick about you! My dad was nowhere in sight and my younger sibs were fast asleep. But mom was right, worrying can literally make you sick.
No one ever died because they were concerned about something. But worry can kill you, slowly and painfully. Worrying can make you sick and make those around you miserable. In theological terms, worry is driven by fear and rooted in doubt. Concern is driven by love and rooted in faith.
Gandhi said, There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever. Oh great, now I’m not only worried, I feel ashamed. Now I’m worried about my worrying! But it’s true, faith is the enemy of worry.
Jesus is often telling his hearers do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be anxious, do not worry, for who among you by worrying can add a single hour to your lifespan? One time he put it this way, and I’ve always been drawn to this: Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
I like how real that is, how it doesn’t sugarcoat the truth that life can be really hard at times. Some days are disappointing. Some days just suck.
Some days we don’t even have the chance worry about whether we’re going to have a bad day. We just do. When I’m driving and see a car pulled over by the police, or involved in an accident, I know that somebody’s day is going downhill real fast. We even joke about it. You know you’re going to have a bad day when the bird singing outside your window is a buzzard. You know you’re going to have day when you arrive at work and your boss says, “don’t bother taking off your coat.” You know you’re going to have a bad day when your wife says, “Good morning, Bill” and your name is George.
We all have bad days and worrying isn’t going to change that. Worry won’t take away tomorrow’s troubles, but it can suck all the joy out of today. Worry doesn’t get us anywhere. In fact, studies have shown that between 85 and 95 percent of the things we worry about , never happen.
Unfortunately, letting go of worry isn’t a simple matter of telling yourself to stop worrying so much. You can’t will yourself to stop worrying. That won’t work. You need help. Therapy can help, psychopharmacology can help, friends can help, but the only sure way to let go of worry is the Apostle Paul’s antidote to worry.
Hear again his words to the Philippians: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication (supplication means with humility and gratitude) let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding (which means, it doesn’t make sense, it just works), will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
The antidote to worry is prayer. Take it to the Lord in prayer. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. Doesn’t have be a long prayer, you don’t have to get on your knees, fold your hands bow your head and close your eyes, unless you want to, it just has to come from your heart: Lord, I give it up to you. Thank you for taking this from me. You might want to repeat it several times, not for God’s sake, but for yours.
Trust me, this really does work. Sooner or later most of us discover the surprising fact that the most difficult problems in life are often resolved by the simplest of solutions. This is one of them. Using prayer this way is not an escape from reality, it’s a spiritual discipline that can zap worry like a bug light on the back deck. I urge you to try it and see for yourself.
Lord, I give it up to you. Thank you for taking this from me. How odd really, how ironic, that we can know this actually works, but still we resist prayer, we forget to pray, or we use it only as a last resort instead of our first line of defense.
And be mindful that this doesn’t mean God is going to solve all your problems. God may not answer your prayer by simply removing your problems from your life.
But you can be sure that what God will do is ease your worry an even take it away entirely. God will guard your heart and mind against the tyranny of worry. As someone said, every evening before you sleep, turn all your worries over God. Because he will be up all night, anyway.