By Pastor Steven Molin
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I don’t know a lot about music, but I do know this elementary fact: If musical notes are blended together in the same key, the chord it produces is beautiful harmony. But if just one note is off key, the sound becomes discord. Keep that in mind as I speak to you; that in harmony, every note is dependent upon all the other notes.
Well, today is Confirmation Day. Twenty-two of our finest will stand before God and us and profess their faith in Jesus Christ. But in the larger sense of faith, every Sunday when we gather, each of us does the same. We enter this worship space carrying joy and pain, confidence and fear, guilt for the past and hope for the future, and we stand here and trust that God will stand with us. If adults are worried today about a stock market drop of 1800 points, young people are worried about flunking a test last week in Algebra. If I’m worried about how I’m going to pay my house payment next month, high school students are worried about how they’re going to pay $35,000 a year for college. If we’re concerned about what’s going to happen in Iraq, our children are concerned that they may be next to go and serve there. Teenagers think to themselves “Growing up is really tough; I sure wish I was an adult.” And adults think to themselves “This life is really tough; it would be nice to be a child again.” Where can we turn when life is so uncertain? We turn to the God who has promised to be there for us, no matter what the circumstance.
And if you think our lives our tough, and they are tough, let me tell you about The Apostle Paul, who is the author of our Second Reading today. When Paul turned from his Jewish faith in order to follow Jesus, his family and friends abandoned him, essentially treating him as dead. Over the course of his life he was shipwrecked, nearly stoned to death, and beaten with rods three times. He experienced 39 lashes from a whip. (Since the Greeks thought 40 lashes would kill a man, they always stopped one lash short of death). This they did it to Paul five times. Paul was imprisoned at least twice, and it was while he was rotting in a dungeon in Rome that he wrote these words to the Church at Philippi:
Rejoice in the Lord always; I’ll say it again, rejoice!
But Paul didn’t stop there. He then offers a four-step equation to face adversity. A four-part harmony, just like a guitar chord, where each step Paul proposes is dependent upon the other three steps. You can’t just do one; you need all four. And where does Paul begin: With this:
Do not worry about anything. Don’t worry? C’mon Paul, is that all you’ve got? I confess that I am a worrier. How about you; any worriers out there? Let’s see a show of hands. Okay…some of you are worriers and the rest of you are liars!
Welcome to my world of worry. I worry about yesterday, I worry about tomorrow, and I worry about next year. One day I decided I would not worry, and at noon, when I wasn’t worrying, I got concerned! Do not worry? For me, it is next to impossible. Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t worry, be happy” is a myth. It doesn’t work. So let me ask each of you a rhetorical question: what are you worried about today. Be honest within yourself and make a mental list: What are you worried about today? Might be the economy, might be your job, might be AP English, might be your marriage. You might be crazy worried about your child, or your parents, or your health, or your dog’s health, or your church’s health. What’s on your list? (pause)
Because Paul offers us the solution to our worry. Don’t worry about anything but Pray about everything.Since we cannot change one thing in our lives by worrying, Paul says “Give it to someone who can do something about it.” Give it to God in prayer. One of the most powerful bible verses I ever committed to memory is I Peter 5:7; “Throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon Jesus, for you are his personal concern.” That means that we each have our own personal valet, just waiting for us to dump our concerns in his lap. Of course, he already knows what’s going on with us; God knows every detail of our lives. But when we tell him “Lord, this is too big for me; I can’t handle this by myself,” it is then that he takes the responsibility off of our shoulders and carries the weight himself. And then, do you know what I do? I wrestle it away from God, take my anxieties back, and I start to worry again. Why do I do that? Why do you do that? Do we enjoy worry? Do we think that if we’re not worried, we’re not being responsible? Or is it more insidious than that; is it that we don’t think God cares enough about us to share in our troubles? People, God cares deeply about you and me and our troubles.
Former Luther Seminary president Alvin Rogness tells of the hired hand on his parent’s farm in South Dakota, who had a simple mantra for living: “I can sleep on a stormy night.” When young Alvin asked him what he meant by that saying, he answered “Before I go to bed at night, I do all that I can: I lock the horses in the corral, turn off the light in the coop, and shut the barn door. I’ve done all I can humanly do, and I leave the rest to God.” If you can’t sleep on a storm night, maybe you think God isn’t capable of caring for you.
Paul goes on to say “Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything, and Be thankful.” Paul is saying that we should pray, trusting that God has already solved our concern. The answer we receive may not be the answer that we wanted, or expected, but once we pray, God is in control, and we can be thankful for that.
Years ago, I was a finalist for the campus pastor position at Augustana College in Sioux Falls. I wanted that call so bad I could taste it. I couldn’t see any other call that would fit me better; I couldn’t see any other position that would fill my desire. I was so worked up the night before the interview, I didn’t sleep a wink, and then, the next day I bombed. I was sick…for about two months.
It was about then that I got to know the candidate that was chosen, Pastor Steve Wohlfeil, who told me that he had to take a $10,000 cut in salary for that position, and now the president who hired him had resigned and he didn’t know if things were going to work out for him as campus pastor. And then a month later, I received a call to become senior pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Salem, Oregon. My prayers don’t always work out this way, but they do just often enough to know that God has a hand in my life, and in your life, and we can be thankful that he does.
Well, the final note in Paul’s four-part harmony to us is this: that if we give up worry, if we pray to God, if we are thankful that God holds us in the hollow of his hand, we can have peace. Not just momentary peace, but an ongoing peacefulness about our lives. The way Paul says it is “The peace of God which surpasses understanding.”
I saw a guy one day who was wearing a button which read: “Lutefisk: the piece of cod which surpasses understanding!” That’s not what Paul is saying! What Paul tells the Christians in Philippi and the Christians in Stillwater is that God can offer us a peace beyond what we can understand. It’s a deep peace, a peace which defies reason to the people of the world, but to the followers of Jesus, it means that the most important question of humanity has already been answered. The answer is this: we will spend forever with God.
If you are convinced that that statement is true, then the troubles of this world seem to be not so scary. Failing Algebra is not the end of the world; trust me, I did it three times. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to study for it, it simply means it’s not the worst that can happen to you. Losing a game, or a girlfriend, or a driver’s license cannot ruin your life. And you know, maybe that’s why, the older I get, the simpler my faith becomes. I still worry, trust me, I still worry; but I have come to understand that God has never left me, will never leave me, and you hold the same promise. Ultimately, ours is the kingdom of heaven. Young Saints, old Saints, don’t worry; peace will come to you. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Copyright 2008 Steven Molin. Used by permission.