Given 6-22-08 at Parkside Community Church, Sacramento
GOOD MORNING! In preparing a sermon each week, preachers have the benefit of the lectionary – a collection of Bible passages for each week that is decided upon by a council of churches internationally. If a pastor uses this lectionary, she or he can then focus on preaching the Bible, instead of offering the same message each week. Using the lectionary also prevents what is called “Proof Texting” – using the Bible to support your own beliefs. My Father use to tell me that “even the devil can quote scripture,” and it is important that we understand the Bible as best we can in its context and not to make our own point. Proof texting has been used in American history as far back as the earliest days of slavery and as recently as, well, tomorrow’s newspaper. In your own Bible citations, you want to avoid proof texting and, as a preacher, you want to stay away from it as much as possible.
Unless, of course… During my time here at Parkside as your Intern, it has been my pleasure to serve as the High School teacher for the Sunday School class. In the last class we had this year, I asked the students what they would like to see covered in a sermon and they responded they would like to hear about the Importance of Relaxing and Reducing Stress. I had always believed – and I act on the belief – that one can hand one’s troubles over to Christ and Christ will take the burden. I can’t tell you where I learned this, but in researching the Bible passages for this sermon, I actually came up with a paucity of choices. I do believe that Jesus the Christ is the answer to all our problems, but on this issue, proof-texting has failed me. Which is why I’m going back to the lectionary the next time I preach. But for now, I’d like to share with you some ideas on trusting God with your burdens, be they emotional, spiritual, physical or financial. (Note: The texts used for this sermon are Psalm 9:7-10 and Matthew 11:25-30 )
Beyond the gospels, we do find Paul’s letter to his friend, Philemon, wherein Paul writes, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” I had a long and undistinguished career in sales, but there is one thing I learned – I can guarantee you the answer is “No” -- if you don’t ask the question.
It is true that God knows everything that is on our heart and mind. But it is up to us to give voice, either out loud or silently, to our problems. When a problem is just a fear floating around in our imagination, it can grow into all sorts of frightening concepts. But once we have given voice to it, it becomes a real thing and if it is real, it can be dealt with. Giving some substance to our concern does not automatically resolve the problem – it is not like Billy Batson saying, “Shazam!” - but it is the first step to solving the problem.
There are many ways to relieve stress – meditation, medication, chanting “Nam Miyoho Renge Kyo,” yoga, self-hypnosis, guided imagery massage, breathing exercises, aroma therapy or any other number of things that might work and which we won’t talk about today.
I also don’t want to pretend that what I share today is the last word on the subject. In fact, I can only pretend it to be the first word on the subject, with a hope that it may start you on your way to a happier life. If you are facing some dilemmas in your life, I believe that the love of Christ is a solution to resolving them. If you are not facing some dilemmas in your life, I believe that you are dead and I’m sorry to hear that.
We all face problems of various degrees and, as believers, or those seeking, I encourage you to turn to God. When we invoke the name of God, in prayer or beseechment, we, perhaps unconsciously, acknowledge the Supreme Being as Lord of all. We don’t call upon God the same way we call upon a teacher or a boss or a parent or anyone else with authority. God is God – Capital “G” and all.
Psalm 18 tells us that “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer. My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. God is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
God is our refuge. But we should not look upon the Creator God as our pal, someone who’s gonna post bail if we screw up. For that, we have the Ultimate Redeemer -- our hero, Jesus the Christ.
It is a brand new ball game when God in the form of Jesus comes to earth. Gone are the pleas to “smite thy enemies, Lord” and in its place, we are reminded – yes, of the Old Testament adage – to “Love Thy Neighbor.” The difference now is that Jesus shows us how to do that.
As a side note, I am compelled to share that in my preparation for this sermon, I learned that the word “smite” actually appears only once in the text of the Bible. But there sure seemed to be a lot of smiting going on!
But I digress. Another difference between the Old and New Testament – and in our reading today – is how the Creator God of the Old Testament tells us that God is a refuge for those who are troubled. We are told that those of us who believe will never be forsaken by God. This is important and there is great comfort in that. And even greater comfort comes to us in knowing that in the Messiah God, Jesus the Christ, not only are we never forgotten, but clearly told to lay our burdens with Christ.
In the Apostle Peter’s first letter in the New Testament, he writes "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
“Humble yourself.” The first step in getting help is acknowledging that you need help. The second step is knowing that you can’t handle the problem alone. Our brothers and sisters with Alcoholics Anonymous know this, as well as others who use a 12-step program to fight their addictions. Their problem is so serious that they must admit their addiction has made their life unmanageable. Even if the conflicts we are facing are not as serious as that, we can still find value in their steps, which include handing over our problems to God and to “seek, through prayer and mediation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.”
I stand here equally guilty of proof-texting the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and I am using this merely as an illustration. If addiction is part of the demons you are facing, please seek out a more thorough solution than what I am presenting here.
Trusting Jesus – giving him your problems – is an effective solution for when I deal with my emotional and spiritual challenges. I want to urge you to seek out Christ as the first solution. Attending church, sharing Christian fellowship, and reading the Gospels – the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – are just three ways to be closer to Christ and to feel comfortable in calling upon him as we would a trusted friend. When we are in a relationship with Christ, we are in touch with love – a love in our life that is unsurpassed. Loneliness, low self-esteem, troubles with a relationship, and other like dilemmas can all be handled by seeking Christ’s message to us – that we are loved and that we are worthy of his love, just by asking for it. In God We Trust.
Just as a happy heart makes us emotionally better, so does it affect our physical well-being. Studies have proven many times over that a person in a faith relationship who attends church regularly is physically healthier than someone in a similar situation who depends solely on earthly solutions. We can also turn to our Christian Science brothers and sisters, who depend on God’s healing presence for nearly every ailment. I do believe – and I take this from their own information – that “no one is beyond redemption. Salvation (does not) occur at some point in the future, but that the presence of God’s goodness can be experienced here and now—and by everyone.” It is their belief that most medical problems can be addressed and resolved through prayer to God. Simply put, they believe in mind over matter. Not the human mind, but God’s purposeful and mindful intention to heal our wounds. Obviously, there is controversy and confusion about this and nothing in the Christian Science belief specifically prevents their members from being inoculated or having a broken bone set by a physician.
And I want to assure you that we can embrace some of their beliefs and still be good Congregationalists, just as there is value in studying Buddhism, Islam, Baha’i or any other faith. While I believe in the power of medicine, be it a Western medical doctor, chiropractics, or the placing of needles in certain parts of the body, I most firmly believe that the power of our Trinity God and the work it can do alongside these human endeavors.
Some of us here may be facing our final days on earth. How can we trust a God who is going to let us die, leaving loved ones behind? I don’t have a flip answer and won’t pretend to understand what that someone is going through. But I would like to share something that gives me comfort. If our illnesses are such that we are not destined to stay on earth; when natural death comes, we still have the ultimate healing available to us. That healing will come at the resurrection, when our sleeping souls are lifted heavenward and we are healed of all ailments. That is the greatest gift we have waiting for us and it is ours for the asking. In God We Trust.
Finances are always a tricky subject for me to discuss. I maintain that as long as Bill Gates goes to work every day, we’ll never have enough money. But how much is enough? Last week we read from Matthew 10, wherein Jesus sends out the 72 disciples with the instructions to “not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.” St. Francis of Assisi followed this instruction 1100 years later, and we still revere his name 900 years after that! I have met people who happily live on the streets by choice and I know others who dwell in mansions and worry about how the bills will be paid. Although prayer and growing in your relationship with God is our theme today, I am not telling you that God will help you pay your bills or get you a new job. No matter how hard you pray. I speak from experience. But if we are having money troubles, we can certainly look at the examples set by the Gospels and others and evaluate our needs compared to our wants. Through prayer, we can focus on a solution and by sharing our prayers – remember that humility thing I mentioned earlier – we may have solutions presented to us.
Regardless of our situation – be it Prince or Pauper, Athlete or Activity-Challenged, publicly Adored or Abhorred – we can find a peace of mind in the Peace of Christ. Because…
In God We Trust.
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