About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Where Is God When You're Worried?

Lent is the season of getting ready for Easter, and as church seasons go, I really like it. Lent’s not like Advent, when everyone’s so focused on Santa that we forget what the season’s all about. I’ll bet most of us hardly even realize it’s Lent. In a way, that’s good, because it means we’re not so focused on The Bunny that we can’t hear what scripture is trying to say, as the word of God gets us ready for Easter. (And let me say, I love The Bunny, the eggs, and especially the Marshmallow Peeps – It’s just that none of them are in the Bible.)

This Lenten Season, I’m going to do a sermon series called, “Where is God?” Today is Part One, “Where is God When You’re Worried?” Each week, we’ll look at a different concern, or season, of life and ask the question, “Where is God?” Where is God – when you’re worried, or when trouble comes, or when everything’s just too good to be true? My goal is to help us think about God in advance of Easter, so we’ll be ready when we see the fully glory of God in our Resurrected Lord. The point of Lent isn’t giving up chocolate; the point of Lent is thinking God-thoughts, so when we do see God, we’ll know who the heck it is. So, work with me in this Season of Lent so that no matter what happens to you these next weeks, you’ll be asking, “Where is God?”


If you’ve walked through a grocery store these past weeks, you’ve seen magazine covers with that one picture of Britney Spears, with her hair half-shaved off. Do any of you worry about Britney Spears? I do. I mean, it doesn’t keep me up nights. But as the father of daughters, I see this terribly troubled young woman, acting out her terrible troubles in front of everyone in the supermarket. This American idol that teenage girls used to look up to is self-destructing in front of the flashbulbs. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s maybe about two steps away from suicide. Or from ending up like so many of America’s pop idols, like Anna Nicole or Elvis. I worry about these entertainers who get told to entertain us until, literally, they have nothing left. It’s like their souls get sucked out of them – and then in some sick way, even watching their downfall becomes entertaining, hence, the magazine covers. And, I worry about our culture when we’re so obsessed with watching the psychological train wreck.

In the scripture lesson today, some really unlikely people – the Pharisees – are worried. They’re worried about Jesus. They’re worried that he’s heading toward Jerusalem, toward the palace of Herod. The Pharisees – usually they’re the ones Jesus is castigating, calling hypocrites – the Pharisees, these faithful, conservative fathers of faith – the Pharisees – are worried about Jesus. (That’s got to be a pretty clear sign of how dangerous the situation has become.) The Pharisees say, “Get out of here! Herod wants to kill you!” They might not care about Jesus, personally, but they can see the approaching train wreck. Maybe not because they like Jesus, but maybe they’re worried because he looks as though he’s careening down a path of self-destruction, another pitiful soul.

Not everything the Bible has to say about the Pharisees is bad. And likewise, I want to take a moment to say a few good things about worry. You know, everybody always talks about worry as if it’s completely and totally horrible. Bobby McFerrin had that song everybody remembers, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” And that’s usually what we think – happy people don’t worry about anything. I don’t believe that. I think people are happy because they worry about the right things. If you care, you worry.

Take Jesus, for example. Jesus worried. It says so in today’s scripture. “Jerusalem, oh Jerusalem,” he says. “How often I would have gathered your children together like a mother hen gathers her baby chicks under her wing.” I think anyone who cared so much about healing people’s bodies and souls would have worried. Jesus worried, and it wasn’t unhealthy for him. Everybody worries. We worry about our kids. We worry about other people’s kids, too. Sometimes more. We worry about the kids at the restaurant who are jumping on the seat in the booth behind us. We worry about the parents of the kids who are jumping on the seat in the booth behind us. We wonder where the parents are, and if they’re totally dense as to how annoying they’ve let their children become. We worry about our parents. Especially if our parents are getting old. And who doesn’t think their parents are getting old? Teenagers, especially, know their parents are totally old. The worry starts about the time you turn thirteen and never ends.

We worry because we care. Ask yourself, where would the world be without the worriers? The ones who keep a full pharmacy in their purse? Need a Band-Aid? What size? Clear, character, or latex-free? Thank you, you worriers. If it weren’t for you, there’d never be batteries in the flashlight, gas in the car, or Pepcid before a spicy meal. The clueless rest of the world depends on people like you. So, worriers, even though you drive the rest of your family crazy, thank you.

Like a mother hen worries about her baby chicks, so Jesus worries about Jerusalem. Like a good father worries about his kids, God worries about us. But you would think, of all people, Jesus would be able to shake off his worries. Of all people, you’d think Jesus would be able to say, “Fuggetaboutit.” But no. The place, the people who are worrying him the most – that’s precisely where Jesus is headed.

So, “Where is God when you’re worried?” God is not standing on the sidelines saying, “Don’t worry, be happy.” “Where is God when you’re worried?” the answer is this: God is heading straight toward the things that are worrying you the most. The human train wrecks, the self-destructive tendencies, the dangerous city streets – those are precisely the places God is headed. Worry is good to the extent that it shows us that we care. You want to know what’s important to someone? Find out what he or she worries about. Worry is good in that the right person’s worry might even keep you alive. But on top of all this, worry – scripturally understood – when we’re thinking God-thoughts – worry gives us a big, big clue where God is, and, where God needs to be.

The next time you’re really worried, try something. Instead of getting mad at yourself because you’re worrying too much… or instead of getting mad at the people you’re worrying about because they’re not as worried as you are… try this: Take a deep breath, and then ask yourself, “What is this worry teaching me about God?” Ask, “Where IS God in this situation I’m so worried

about?” I’m not asking you to let go of your worries; I’m asking you to learn from your worries.


But what if you can’t stop the train wreck? What if all your care, all your prayers, all your wishing and hoping can’t stop the disaster you can see from five miles away?

Jesus wrestled with this one. He starts out saying, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings… and you were not willing!” I can just imagine his shoulders drooping. “See,” he says, “your house is left to you.” Jesus tried. He worried. He yearned to see God’s children come to him, but they wouldn’t. “Your house is left to you.” He couldn’t stop the train wreck.

The Pharisees wrestled with this one. All along, Jesus has been their nemesis, this irritatingly smart young preacher who drives them crazy, and even they can see what’s coming. “Get out of here!” No. Not even their worry can stop what’s coming.

While worry can be a warning light, while worry can show us what’s important to people, while worry might even teach us about God – in the end – worry really isn’t that strong. Worry has limits. The force of will – the force of other people’s wills – the force of God’s will – in the end – is always going to be stronger than worry.

All through the New Testament, people worried about Jesus. Not just the Pharisees, but the disciple Peter, all the disciples, many of Jesus’ friends and family – they all worried about him. Imagine where we’d be if their worry had been stronger than the will of Jesus. Imagine what kind of a Savior we’d have if Jesus had said, “OK. You’re right. I won’t go to Jerusalem. I won’t talk about suffering and the cross. I won’t say anything more about resurrection and eternal life. From now on, I’ll keep a low profile and stay out of trouble.”

Worry loses its usefulness at the point when we start thinking it’s stronger than the force of will. Worry gets in the way when it stops people from doing what they really need to do. Worry gets in the way when it stops YOU from doing things you OUGHT to be doing. Worry becomes its own train wreck, an obsession, a way of existence that sucks the spirit out of us. If all you do day and night is worry, you’re sinking your energies into a very limited power. If this is where you are, then your spiritual gift may be a sign of a physical illness, and you really should talk to your doctor about it.

In the Bible, worry ALMOST became a horrible, incurable, pandemic spiritual illness when it threatened to stop Jesus from doing the things he needed to do. Praise God that the force of God’s will was stronger than the force of worry. Praise God that God’s care and concern for worried, self-destructive, sinful people like us – praise God that Christ’s love is stronger than our misguided worries.

Something else I want to ask you to think about when you find yourself worrying during this season of Lent is this: Ask yourself if – by your worries – you’re standing in Jesus’ way. Ask yourself if by your worrying, are you acting like of the Pharisees, telling Jesus, “Get out of here!”? Are you saying, “Get out of here, Jesus! For your own good, go! It just isn’t safe here in my life!”? Do you really want Jesus to do what you tell him? Or are you, in your own way, showing him precisely where he needs to be?

Jesus’ final word to Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it – Jesus’ final word to this dangerous place is this. After telling the city, “See, your house is left to you,” Jesus gives them this one word of hope in verse 39. He says, “And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” He’s telling them that there will come a day when they’ll see things differently. He’s telling the city that there will come a day when they’ll be glad he has willfully walked right into their troubles. He’s saying that the city’s threats and worries, and even its murderous intentions, will reach their limit. And the threats and worries, and even its murderous intentions, will bow down to the power and presence of God. Even in a world – even in a heart – consumed by its own worries, God is there. And God is stronger. And God’s will prevails.