Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The bread of anxious toil

Peter Lockhart

I want you to pause for a moment and think about the things that you worry about. What is it that really keeps you up at nights? Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who is able to sequester your fears and anxieties and sing cheerfully along to Bobby McFerren’s classic, “Don’t worry be happy” but in general we in the west live in a world driven by anxiety.

We worry about the future of our children;
we worry about whether we have enough for our retirement;
we worry about our personal health;
we worry about the impending results of the latest test;
we worry about diseases in society and the emerging super bugs;
we worry about pollution –
in our rivers, in the seas, in the air and in our ears;
we worry about climate change;
we worry about terrorism;
we worry about peak oil;
we worry about the danger of stepping out our door at night;
we worry about the number of people sitting in our pews;
and, so we worry about the future of this congregation;
we worry about rainfall and dam levels and floods;
we worry about who we have to please;
and, we worry about who we are going to offend;
we worry about big things;
and, we worry little things.
We worry and we worry and we worry.

With all this worry it should come as little surprise that more than one in ten of us suffer from a serious anxiety disorder and a further one in ten suffer from depression.

Now I am not going to say that many of our concerns are invalid, they are we face some incredible challenges in life personal and as a human race. Rather I would draw our attention to the words of Psalm 127.

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.

The bread of anxious toil is a wonderful metaphor for the things that consume us. The bigger issues of the globe and the small day by day things that get into our psyche to cause us insecurity are drawn into perspective by the Psalm.

If we consider why we who live in such an affluent society who have so much and who can do so much instead of finding contentment with all our labour saving devices and wonderful opportunities then maybe part of the answer is that we have forgotten that despite our best efforts we are not in total control.

As a teacher I can clearly remember that one of the things that was said to many students was that they could be anything they wanted to be. Not only is this a poor understanding of the simple diversity of human beings it is also poor theology. I worked out somewhere in the midst of my teaching that at best this attitude is a misunderstanding and at worst it is a lie that leads children into delusions of who they are and what they can do, which when they go unfulfilled leads to depression and disappointment.

What this kind of philosophy reflects is the all pervasive attitude of control that permeates Western Society. Timothy Radcilffe, who was the head of the world Dominican Order, reflected on the connection between anxiety and control saying:

“I suspect that this pervasive anxiety derives from the fact that we have a culture of control. We can control so many things: fertility and birth, so much disease can be cured; we can control the forces of nature; we mine the earth and dam the rivers. And we westerners control most of humanity. But control is never complete. We are increasingly aware that our planet may be careering towards disaster… We are afraid, above all, of death which unmasks our lack of control.”

We eat the bread of anxious toil because we have forgotten a fundamental theological belief that God is in control, that God offers to us a future and that even in midst of our sleeping God is at work.

Radcliffe notes a friend who has on his wall a poster with the saying “Don’t worry. It might not happen.” Radcliffe offers a different approach. “Don’t worry. It probably will happen. But it won’t be the end of the world.”

Here is the hope of a man of hope; whatever will be God is with us.

While we rest God creates and recreates; God refreshes and renews. This is revealed so clearly in the coming of Jesus Christ who descends into the dead and then rises to new life to find the true purpose of our creation life with God.

The imagery from the author Hebrews hits home – Jesus has entered the heavenly sanctuary and lives there life with God and shares his grace with us out of love for those for whom he dies. It is Jesus offering that renews and refreshes us in our life, in our living and in our death. This is why the bread that we eat on this day is not the bread of anxious toil but is the bread of life. Here we partake of the true bread of heaven and food of eternal life – not because we deserve it in any way but because God offers it so freely in Jesus.

Whilst we scurry around with our anxieties and worries eating the bread of anxious toil Jesus, the Christ, is in the presence of God the Father reconciling and renewing us that we too might join in his homecoming. It is this bread of new life that we offered, bread for our journey, the bread of eternity.

What can we offer but thanks and praise for this great grace of God which not so much requires anything of us but rather invites us into community with God and one another now. The contrast of the offering of the proud rich compared to the widow reminds us that it is not how much we give nor I would argue even the proportion but the understanding that what we offer comes from our poverty.

In some ways we do not have anything to offer God which will please God and make God love us any more than God already does, yet our giving which comes from the acknowledgement of our poverty – spiritual and fiscal – it acknowledges that we rely on grace and that we are not in control.

The contrast between the proud pietist full of his or her own religiosity and the person who comes humbly offering out of their poverty is strong. We are saved by grace through faith.

When all is said and done the bread of anxious toil which we consume day by day indicates that we have forgotten that unless the Lord builds the house those who labour build in vain. So, it is that when we come here to this place and eat the bread of life we are grounded again in the sure hope of God’s love and control over those things which we are so anxious about and that whatever will happen God is, and God is with us.

Take a moment to consider God’s Word to you on this day.

More on the Widow and the Scribes & Pharisees http://revplockhart.blogspot.com.au/2012/11/devouring-widows-houses.html

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