Worry Doesn't Have to Kill You----Jesus Can!
8/1/04Times New RomanArial
I told my father right after my mother died, "The only way the Lord could stop Mom from worrying was to take her to heaven." Pity that had to be by dying, but it worked. My mother was a perpetual worrier. If sirens were heard in the distance and my dad wasn't home, they might be for him. When the sky clouded up, my mother would pace from window to window in search of that approaching tornado. So you can see, I'm an expert on worrying; I was raised by a worrier; I am a worrier. But worry doesn't have to kill me. Mercifully, thankfully Jesus can! Let me explain.
Are you a worrier? Are you like Martha, "Worried and upset?" The KJV translates, "anxious and troubled." Jesus uses 2 words to describe a worrier. The first for the worrier's inward symptoms, anxiety. The second for the worrier's outward symptoms, upset. A line in "What a Friend We have in Jesus"reflects the meaning accurately. "Cumbered with a load of care." The Greek word we translate as "worried" or "anxious," just means "have a care for." The second word lets you know it's bad care, a burdensome care.
"Cumbered with a load of care," describes my worrying. I am cumbered with caring about such earthshattering things as getting this done or that ready. Other times the cares that cumber be concern what if's. What if this or that happens? There's a Monty Python song where a guy in a nasally, whinny voice sings about his worries. He says, "I'm so worried, I'm so worried, about the baggage system at Heathrow Airport." Shameful as it is to admit, this is me. Worried about the most obscure things imaginable.
Most folklore has a story about someone such as me. It's a person, usually a woman, who is found collapsed in the barn sobbing uncontrollably. Her husband finds her and asks, "What's wrong?" She replies. "I saw the axe hanging over the door, and I thought what if we have a son, and what if he walks out that door, and what if the ground shakes, what if the wind blows, what if the horse kicks the barn and the axe falls, and what if it hits him on the head and kills him?" This is me. Is it you?
Maybe it is, but so what? Worry is just a neurotic byproduct of a modern age that moves too fast and offers too much information. No worry is an old spiritual problem. It dates to the fall when Adam for the first time worried about the Lord walking in the garden. And far from worry being just a neurotic impulse, it's nothing less than unbelief. It's a breaking of the First Commandment. Worry says God is not trustworthy. Worry says God doesn't love me enough to do what is best. Worry says God is not powerful enough to do what needs to be done to protect me or help me. Worry says, "I am god." If I don't worry, then what needs to happen won't happen.
So do you think you can deal with the load of care that cumbers you? Some of you have a supply of homespun wisdom to get you through, "Worry doesn't help, change, or fix anything." That works fine until worry does help, change or fix something. Don't you know about that guy who worried about heart disease till he finally went and got one of those scans, and the doctors said he did have something and if he hadn't gotten that scan, he'd be dead. Haven't you heard about that woman who always worried about her kids and so doubled and triple checked on them, and one day she found her son passed out. He would've died if that mother hadn't been a worry wart.
Some of you deal with worrying by rationalizing. "I don't need to worry about my health because I eat right, exercise, get medical check ups, have good genes." "I don't need to worry about burglars because I have a dog, a gun, a security system." "I don't need to worry about the future because I have a good retirement, an IRA, lots of investments." Rationalizing works well till the wolf huffs and puffs and blows your well protected house down anyway, till cancer shows up with no history, till your retirement plan goes broke.
But most Texans don 't deal with worry by wise sayings or rationalizing. Nope, they deal with it by working. They believe the don't have to worry as long as they do their best. Doing your best and then not worrying is the Martha plan. It didn't work, did it? Though she worked and prepared and served, she remained worried and upset about many things. So she thought the answer was to get the Lord to make Mary do her best. A first class, First commandment breaking, God-denying worrier, always believes the problem is that others aren't working as hard as they are, i.e., if they were as worried as you, they would be working as hard as you.
But what does Jesus say Martha's and mine's problem is? Choices. Martha comes up to Jesus sharply. She is sure He sees what she does. She is sure that He agrees that Mary is the problem, but Jesus says Martha is. "Martha, Martha," says Jesus in the compassionate voice we use to address a child who is all upset but only has himself to blame, " Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be taken from her." Martha chose the many things around her that really did need doing. Mary chose the one thing Jesus did. Martha chose doing things for Jesus. Mary chose Jesus doing things for her. Martha chose preparing a feast for Jesus; Mary chose feasting on Jesus.
The phrase "what is better" is actually "the good portion." It's a metaphor from a feast. Martha chose to serve; Mary chose to dine. Mary dined on the Words of Jesus. Words like, "Take no care for tomorrow." "Who by worrying can add even one cubit to the length of his days?" "Cast all your worries on Me for I care for you." That's what Mary chose, but how did she come to make this choice which delivered her from worry to the feet of her God and Savior? Was Mary perhaps less of sinner than Martha? Was Mary smarter than Martha and so made better choices? Nope, what happened is Mary died. Dead men or women have no choice, do they? No, they have to be chosen.
But how do we get to the point where we're dead? There are 2 ways. One is to have worry kill you. Most societies have a story about this. There's a person, usually a man this time, who has to go and face a monster. He's worried sick. So he gets the biggest horse he can find, the thickest shield, the longest sword, the densest armor, and then rides off to face the monster. Crossing the first bridge he comes to, the weight of his horse, shield, sword and armor is so great that he breaks through the wooden bridge, falls into the water, sinks to the bottom, and drowns. His worry, his efforts to deal with his worrying kill him. I've been slain many times by the very plans, efforts, and ways I've tried to deal with worry. It's a miserable way to die.
But worry doesn't have to kill us; Jesus can. Jesus kills by showing us that there is no life apart from Him. It is only an illusion, a lie that one can be alive apart from God. All the medicines in the world will not keep your heart beating if God doesn't will it. All the burglar systems in the world will not keep your house safe unless God does it. The Psalmist says it best, " If the Lord does not protect a city, it is useless for the guard to stay alert. It is useless to work anxiously for the food you eat, by getting up early and going to bed late. The Lord gives food to those He loves even while they sleep."
Where's all my worrying now? If the Lord must keep me well, safe, and fed, if the Lord must do this day and night even when I'm not thinking of Him, even when I'm fast asleep, then I am surely stone cold dead, without Him. No matter what I do, think, plan, or worry, I am dead apart from Him. I only can live, I only am alive in Him. In His Words, in His Water, in His Body and Blood there is abundant life. And so Mary set at the feet of Jesus as if her life depended on it, because it did.
Your life depends on Jesus do. God did not lie when He promised Adam and Eve if they ate of the tree they died. They did eat and did die, and so were only able to pass down death to all their children. So all die, says Paul tersely in Romans. But God sent a Second Adam, Jesus Christ born after the likeness of sinful Adam, yet without sin because He is the holy Second Person of the Godhead, God the Son. This God/Man lived the perfect life required of mankind if they were going to live forever. But this God/Man died the death required of mankind to pay for their very imperfect life. You do not have to worry about keeping all those laws of God. Jesus kept them in your place. You don't have to worry about all your sins that call for your judgement; Jesus was judged, condemned and crucified in your place.
The life and death of Jesus breathes new life into dead sinners. The laws of God, and the sins of you, pile up higher and heavier on you till you cry, "I can't be good enough to keep the law or do enough to make up for all the laws I've broken." Now you're dead; Jesus has killed you, but He breathes new life into you like a paramedic giving mouth to mouth and you sputter back to life. You can only live by Jesus constantly giving you life, and the life Jesus gives is stronger than sickness, stronger than death, stronger even than worry. In Baptism, Jesus gives you His life giving Spirit. In Absolution, Jesus declares you to be alive by His forgiveness even though you are still a sinner. In Communion, Jesus gives His living Body into your dying one so that you might live forever.
Jesus is the doer; you're the receiver. Jesus is the Living One; we are only dead apart from Him. But look at the text. Martha looks very much alive as she prepares a feast to feed Jesus but she is dead and remains unfed. Mary sits at Jesus' feet like a bump on the log, dead to the world (She doesn't even speak in this text.), yet she is alive and well fed. In living Martha is dying, in dying Mary lives. Martha is being killed by worry; Mary has been killed by Jesus and so lives only in and through Him. Everything Martha's worried about will be taken from her; nothing Mary is given will ever be. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Pentecost IX (8-10-04); Luke 10:38-42
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas