January 29, 2017
Sermon: “Becoming a Non-Anxious Presence”, Rev. Steve Anderson
Samuel 7:1-14 & Mark 6:30-34 & 53-56
Can you look at people and know exactly what their needs are? We can’t tell if they have 1,000 friends or if they are lonely. We don’t know if they are searching for purpose and direction or not. They may fear the future because of financial, relational or health concerns. The person that we are looking at may have been bullied today at work, at school, in their home, or at church. They might even be dealing with basic survival issues or feelings of inferiority and inadequacy.
Our passage today speaks to our need for the presence of God, the real sense that God is indeed among us and with us as God has always been and will continue to be. In the second book of Samuel we read about David bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. This is where they believed God lived: inside this golden box with the tablets that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai. But, David wanted a more tangible and observable sign of God’s presence. God spoke through the prophet Nathan and reminded David that God had always been with him and will continue to be, regardless of where he thinks God is or should be.
We are like David sometimes, wanting more, demanding more —a sign of God’s presence with us and among us. We have probably all had times when we felt abandoned by God as well as the joy of having God in and among us. Many people have a deep-seated need to control and limit God to only what they understand, binding God like a servant. We want God to be located in some spot so we can find God when we need God, but only allowing God to be in the part of our lives that we choose.
What we narrowly define also confines us. God, as we have seen throughout history, cannot be confined. David had the best of motives and the right intentions; and he was going to build to the glory of God.
Today, in our time and place, we have many people who wander in the wilderness looking for traces of God in their lives. Thirty-two years of pastoral experience shows me that many people long for a church that fosters their ability to discuss, debate, question, and grow in their faith. This can take many forms. We teach by sharing what we have experienced and what it means to us. We show what the kingdom of God means by modeling it.
St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Faith is taught by our being. Most of the time, people won’t listen though until we have a relationship with them. This is the model that Jesus demonstrated. He went, he saw, he had compassion, he healed and helped, he taught, and then he called them to make a decision for their lives.
He started with compassion, which is a profound feeling from deep within us, like a wound. Compassion is more than just feeling sorry or just praying for someone. Sometimes we try to solve other people’s problems, even when our actions don’t connect with their needs. I remember a mission trip in Appalachia. The yard where we were to work was littered with hundreds of aluminum soda cans. We arrived and asked what we could do to help, thinking that picking up the cans so they could recycle them would be on the list. They told us what they needed, and do you know, the cans were not on the list. We did what they wanted and kept asking if there was anything else. They never mentioned the cans.
We need to work with people and listen and see life from their perspective: listening to what they believe is their problems and addressing those things. We are often so busy doing what we think people want and need that we don’t listen to them tells us what they need.
There is no place that God cannot be found. Christians today must remember that the unconditional promises that God has made to people throughout the ages are still true because God remains faithful and active in our world today. We look back at what God has done, and what God is presently doing and at the future that is filled with hope. This hope is not some naïve optimism, or pie in the sky wishful thinking, but a hope that can actually take root because of what has been demonstrated and shown in the past. Hope that is not based on past experiences is nothing more than cheerfulness that has no depth or purpose. God’s kingdom and rule is right here with us, every moment of every day and we can name those times and places as God met our individual and communal needs, caring for us like a shepherd.
When you face a problem, especially a serious one, what are the automatic, normal things people do? Many look for some way to fight their way out of the situation. Some run for the hills or pull the covers up over their head. Others freeze and are unable to lead others to safety, to follow another’s lead, or to even get out of the way. My experience is that the more fearful people are, the more they take things seriously. The more they divide into “camps”, the more they seek short-term fixes at the expense of long-term gains. Too often, people respond primarily to high levels of anxiety in people instead of addressing the situation that is causing the problem.
They focus on keeping people happy instead of fixing problems. They are unable to receive and process new information. There are many discussions, but few real problems are addressed. Anxiety seems to produce more and more rifts in people, which only means that they will listen to each other less and do an even worse job of solving problems.
Over the past 6 months, I have found myself spending more and more of my time and energy squabbling with people, and I am getting tired of it. So I am making some changes. You’ll be happy to know that they are changes in me. I’m not eating healthier or exercising more or practicing my Mountain Dulcimer again … I want to become more of a “non-anxious presence” in the life of this congregation. This is a term I have borrowed from Edwin Friedman who was an ordained Jewish Rabbi, family therapist, and leadership consultant. Basically, I am going to strive to be less reactive and less tense in the midst of anxious situations and more thoughtful about what I am thinking and feeling as well as what I think others are thinking and feeling.
Instead of getting into petty squabbles with people over things that really aren’t going to matter in ten years, I am going to try to diffuse anxiety by being more centered and steady. Have you ever been in a real emergency situation? What did you observe the first responders doing? Did they argue about what and how to do things? Did they run around complaining about the situation or telling everyone how bad it was? No, they rolled up their sleeves, took chances and tried to make things better both in the short term and the long run.
I’m going to stay connected to people and this congregation, but I’m getting really tired of the negativity and back biting that has been going on by some really anxious people in our church. I’m going to stay connected and be the best pastor you will let me be, but I’m done listening to the hopelessness and cynicism and pettiness, and I’m done fighting over silly little things that really have nothing to do with our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
We are called to be present in our day with people that God created and placed in our lives, people who hunger for justice, mercy, grace, and a sense of God’s power. And we are called to demonstrate how God’s good news of love has changed us and how it can change them. May God give us strength and courage!