August 11

Worry: A Suffocating Experience

My high school science teacher had been a Ranger in the 82nd Airborne during the Vietnam War. He told me about his parachute training at West Point. The experience is tough enough for courageous young men, but he said it was especially troubling for a teenager that was afraid of heights!

There were 10 required jumps to make in order to graduate from the training camp. He said that they would be sitting on benches along the side of the plane with an open door that they would walk toward, single file, before jumping from the perfectly good airplane. Each time he would get to the door, he’d grab the side of the door, and feel his knuckles becoming white before he’d feel a perfectly placed foot kick him in the backside, assisting him out of his anxiety.

Someone told him that with each jump, the exercise became easier. But he told me, ‘that he was just as terrified during the 10th jump as he was the first.” For every single jump, it took an extra shove by a boot from the instructor on his backside. And he said before making the final jump, he even vomited! He couldn’t remember, but there may have been several boots helping him out the door THAT time.

The emotion of anxiety is a necessary gift for survival. In an anxious state, the heart rate increases, adrenaline begins to flow, pupils dilate, and the senses become more sensitive. Reponses to threats are sharp. This is the type of worry and anxiety that courage is born from. That is, UNLESS the worry becomes so overwhelming that instead of sharpening our senses, it drains our energy and the worry itself becomes the focus rather than the original threat.

In the words of President Franklin Roosevelt during his first inaugural speech, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Fear can become the enemy! I think the initial story is a great example. Each jump, but primarily the first was anxiety related to survival. You know…is jumping out of a perfectly good airplane a wise decision!? But with every jump following, fear became a disabling characteristic.

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And he goes on to say, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The last verse has been the theme for many sermons and for good reason, because the heart is where we find our commitments and loyalties. When that focus is redirected from God toward our own desires and priorities, we experience the suffocating effects of worry. It comes back to the basic foundation of lacking in trust.

You’ve maybe heard the phrase, “When you begin to worry about something, step back and ask yourself, how important will this seem 10 years from now?” The next time that you find your blood pressure rising from worry, you might want to ask yourself if this particular event or situation is worth the energy that I’m investing through anxiety? Jesus says don’t worry, because the Father gladly gives the kingdom. The kingdom has already been given to us! We don’t have to worry about achieving it or earning it. It is already ours! But we sit in the tension of the already but not yet. The kingdom was ushered in with Christ and we can experience it through relationships with God and others, but we won’t fully experience it until we either die or when Christ comes again.

Remember last week’s sermon when I talked about the RADICAL teachings of Christ? Guess what. We get it AGAIN this week! In verses 35-37, Jesus says, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.”

If this doesn’t blow your mind, there aren’t many things that can! Be prepared to serve and when the master comes, the MASTER will SERVE the slave! There are many differentways to translate today’s text, but here is what has been on my heart this week, particularly with the cottage meetings that have already occurred.

What do we have to fear as a congregation? There are priorities that this faith community has labeled as most important from the interviews and questionnaires of the transition team. From what I have gathered at cottage meetings so far, there is some concern about the direction of some ministries. That concern (some may call it worry) is healthy if it helps to seed new ideas and practices that can help connect Zion to Christ, to one another, and to the community and the world.

On the flip side of the coin, if the worry is strictly focused on changing our practices or traditions, then we find ourselves in a similar situation as my teacher on his 10th jump. What is the fear? Is it a fear of trying new things or is it a fear of letting go of the safety of our comfort zones? Sometimes it is the latter that becomes the most debilitating. Do our loyalties fall in the living God that has promised life abundant or are they connected to a tradition and practices?

We are called to be prepared like slaves for their master. The Apostle Paul makes several references to our role as slaves to Christ. “For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord's freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ's slave.” 1 Cor 7:22. And in Romans 1:1, “Paul, a SERVANT (slave) of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…”

As the church, slaves to Christ, we are called to be SERVANTS. We wait for the master to come to us. But typically servants are not waiting for people to come to them. THEY are going to OTHERS. Servants aren’t sitting quietly in their homes waiting for people to come to them with requests. No, Servants are moving outward toward others asking how they can be of service.

In the process of serving God through our neighbors, we will be prepared when our Master returns and becomes the servant. Remembering Jesus words, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus said, “Do not worry.” Life consists of change daily but the Spirit is always present. Let’s not suffocate from the fear of change. Instead, let’s take a deep breath, trust the Spirit, and open our arms to life-giving excitement and opportunities to point our fingers to a faithful, loving, and gracious God. Amen.