john davies
notes from a small curate

    Anxious about many things

    Good Shepherd 16/5/2004

    Acts 16:9-15, John 14:22-29

    I have to admit, this was a difficult sermon to prepare. Difficult because I couldn't concentrate. I was being distracted by all sorts of other thoughts - all sorts of anxieties.

    Anxious - about those phone calls I knew I should make, those bits of work I needed to do but hadn't yet;

    Anxious - about the readings, because these words from John's gospel are among the most difficult bits of theology in the New Testament, I'm not sure I fully understand them or know how to explain them;

    Anxious - about being able to concentrate because my next-door neighbour was doing his Saturday morning DIY, hammering and drilling away on our adjoining wall;

    Anxious - about other things like money being tight this month, and the usual Saturday anxieties about my football team (well-founded, again, as it turned out) ...

    Anxious - about many things.

    And right at the centre of today's gospel, Jesus says,

    "Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

    We all get anxious - about many things - a lot of the time. I'm not going to ask you to say out loud what your anxieties are; you carry them with you and bring them to church each week where prayer and bread and wine may ease them.

    I am going to ask you though to know that you are not alone in your anxieties; you share them with the rest of God's beautiful, dearly-loved, and vulnerable people.

    It has ever been so. Ever since Jesus gathered his disciples together and talked about leaving them - leaving them to face the awful question, "How will we be able to live without Jesus?"

    And I am going to ask you to hear these words of Jesus again, the words he left with them:

    "Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

    "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives..."

    The world does not give peace. The world gives anxiety. We live in an anxious world. A world where old boundaries are shifting and old values are being replaced by newer less certain ways of living.

    Our leaders are anxious. Anxious about security - so that a great nation like America can be brought to a standstill these days by an airport red alert.

    Our leaders are anxious about holding onto their position - this week Tony Blair likened himself to an under-fire Premiership manager and said, "I will go if I become an electoral liability."

    Our newspapers are anxious. They're filled every day with scare stories about immigrants invading our shores, about hospital mix-ups and frightening health statistics, about streets full of criminals, perverts and rioting children. The truth is these things happen but are really few and far between - but in the world which The Sun and The Mail help create, they are everywhere worrying us.

    Our church is anxious - it should be said. Anxious about falling numbers which make it harder to pay for the upkeep of ageing buildings and to keep the congregations going. Anxious about fewer people going into full-time ministry, anxious about being split over contentious issues like women bishops and gay priests. Anxious about many things.

    In the world we are not at peace. The world makes us anxious. I have a friend who is employed to make people anxious. He's an advertising copywriter. Each day he goes into work and sits in a room with two or three others talking about how they can sell products to people. Whatever the product, the method is usually the same - make the people worry that without that product there's something wrong with them. The anxiety will force them to buy it.

    So ... worried your hair looks a mess? Buy this conditioner and you'll look great.

    Worried you're overweight? Try this diet - and you'll be fine.

    Worried your car's not the best in its price range? - buy this one, that'll satisfy your needs.

    Worried you're paying too much for insurance? - phone us, we'll sort you out.

    No wonder we're anxious, with all these messages hitting us every hour every day. And my friend the copywriter - do you know how this makes him feel? Yes - he feels anxious about his work, he worries because he knows it's a terribly manipulative job, but like many other people he's trapped in it, he wouldn't know what to do if he left it or if he was laid off.

    Because anxiety is everywhere, shouldn't we just accept it, do we have to try to get rid of it - we could spend all our time worrying about being anxious!

    Some people say anxiety can be a positive thing. Last year I heard David Moyes speak at a sportsmans dinner. At the end someone asked him what motivated him, what was it that made him get out of bed in the morning? I was surprised to hear him say that what motivated him was fear. The fear of losing. That's what keeps him going. I've since heard similar things from other Premiership managers; even the most successful ones. If Arsene Wenger wasn't frightened of losing, Arsenal may not have had all that success. [1]

    The trouble with anxious people is that their fears diminish them. Bootle-born community worker Ann Morisey spoke on this subject at the Greenbelt festival a couple of years ago, and she said a memorable thing: HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE. [2]

    If you are full of fear you won't be able to think straight, and you'll react badly - clam up or hit out or take it out on someone else. Or go for retail therapy.

    Maybe anxiety is behind the controversies over asylum. We are genuinely anxious about our jobs, and about our homes, about our way of life. Understandably in all the upheavals of our day. But the people who hold the key to these things are our employers and our landlords and our mortgage-lenders and our councillors. Not our immigrant neighbours. It seems to me with this issue we let our fears make us strike out at the wrong people. HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE.

    Me, I'm part-Welsh, part-Cheshire, part-Yorkshire because of people moving here to find work two or three generations ago. Look back in your family history, your story will be similar I'm sure. I'm sure there were many HURT PEOPLE in Liverpool at that time - it's always been a tough place to live. But I'm glad they still embraced those incomers, my grandparents and great-grandparents, because I'm happy to be here myself today contributing to the life of the city.

    "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives..."

    How can we know the peace of God in an anxious world? That question was behind the one the disciples asked; "How will we be able to live without Jesus?"

    The answer is that we don't have to live without Jesus; he promises us the Holy Spirit:

    "the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you."

    Through the Holy Spirit we can hear God's voice today. Through the Holy Spirit we can learn what God is saying to us, and eventually put our anxieties to rest.

    We might pray daily for Jesus to send the Spirit afresh to help us face our fears and find new hope.

    We might put on a card on our mantelpiece or write in lipstick on our bedroom mirror the words "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you," to remind us every day of the gift Jesus offers us.

    And through this we might learn to love God more and more so that we can keep his word, and embrace all the wonder of a life freed up, with all our fears behind us.

    [1] See my blog of May 10, 2003 for more on Moyes' motivation
    [2] Quote from the Greenbelt 2002 seminar tape Anxious about many things