Peace in Anxious Times
John 20:19-22; Mark 4:35-41
October 23, 2016
You may be secretly hoping for someone with supernatural powers to calm the storm around you. This week The Washington Post had a lengthy article on the anxiety that this particular election is having on the country.[i] And the anxiety is bi-partisan.
59% of Registered Republicans said that this election is causing them some stress or a lot of stress. And 55% of registered Democrats said this election is causing them some stress or a lot of stress. The article noted that overall 52% of the country reports elevated stress levels which I also found interesting.
The overall rate is a tad lower than the Republicans and a tad lower than the Democrats, most probably because the few people that aren’t paying any attention to the election at all are few that aren’t affected by it.
If you are stressing right now, you are not alone.
The article in the Post said that the American Psychological Association has put out a list of ways to deal with the stress, sensing that it was broad enough that it has become a public health issue.
The suggestions are sensible enough. Don’t overexpose yourself to the 24 hour news cycle. Almost all of us here are not only well-informed, our problem is that we read so much, we know too much. Particularly given that most of our media today is partisan driven, turn it off. You already know how you are voting. It is a spiritual challenge in our technological era, you have to limit the negativity that you take in. You need a sabbatical from the partisan fray.
Secondly, they suggest, avoid discussions that are likely to escalate. Everyone of us has an Uncle Bob or a sister Lisa that you know you are just going to provoke when you bring up some foible of the candidate they support. While it may be fun to ignite their inner “Yosimite Sam”, it is going nowhere productively, so just keep it to yourself for the next couple weeks.
Third, keep a balanced perspective. We have folks on both sides of the aisle predicting catastrophe if the other side wins. But as our psychologists point out, life will go on, and go on pretty well regardless of who wins.
But, I want to just give a shout out to their fourth idea, because it is the most spiritual in its dimension. Live out of your passion and love.
There is a lot that we can’t control in this world and it causes us anxiety. The Psychologists paid some attention to the worry that we have about the future, which is a particularly inefficient use of our anxiety because it is so elusive and beyond our control.
Spiritually, we have to learn to live with anxiety. St. Paul used to pray for a “Peace that passes all understanding”, that is the peace that comes over us in the midst of the battle, when we least expect it. Other people just can’t understand how we can have that peace, but we can.
Paul was remembering the profound example of Jesus who faced public humiliation, then torture, then injustice, then loneliness on the cross, and he died a cruel, ugly death. Throughout the increasingly agonizing ordeal, he found a resource from within, he found a God portal. And he was able to tap into that and maintain his integrity as he stood before Pilate. He was able to maintain his compassion as he hung on the cross with two criminals and offer God’s forgiveness to them as they faced their imminent death. He was able to maintain his composed humanity so that as he breathed his last breath, one of the Roman soldiers said of him in the Gospel of Mark, “Surely, he is the Son of God”.
In our passage this morning, Jesus is depicted as someone who could miraculously, supernaturally alter the physical swarm stirring around him simply by saying to the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” and the raging storm around him suddenly becomes calm.
The Gospel of Mark is written to Romans by a Roman and Roman religion authenticated spiritual truth by miracles. So Jesus is often depicted as a miracle worker. And when the Roman historians wrote about him they invariably said, “He did many miracles”. That means he was the real deal. He was spiritually authentic.
In all likelihood he really did heal people. But this story is also an ellipsis. Jesus has an inner spiritual calm, which everyone saw in him when he was unjustly tried, tortured and executed. And that inner calm is so profound that it can change the world around him. The outer miracle points back to his inner spiritual reservoir, this deeper pool of peace in the midst of anxious times.
But we really can manifest that spiritual power and you know that we do. You’ve seen it. At the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus says to the disciples, in his parting soliloquy “Peace be with you. As God has sent me, so send I you…”
Jesus has passed through death, the great dread filled passage in the ancient world, and he has peace where ordinary mortals are fearfully anxious. He has peace. And he tells all of us that we can have that same peace in those anxious moments in our lives. We can pass that Spirit to each other.
And you know this is true because you have seen it in love. And you know that we need it because you know that one day you will be subject to loss and limitation. One day you will die. Jesus showed us how to die because we will all have to face that one day, much as we avoid trying to think about it most of the days of our lives. But as we get to the second half of life, it becomes harder to avoid because we see so many people around us suffer and die.
The miraculous faith that you see in these situations is moving not because it is supernatural. It is moving because love has a power to change us and heal us for the better. Love changes things. In it’s purest expressions there is nothing quite so warm and humane is there?
[Roll the video on Omoletto “What is Love?” about a man in Australia that takes care of his wife who has Alzheimer’s]
The real cure for anxious times is to invest yourself in helping someone else. And not just doing anything but investing what you are doing with love.
Because if you are lucky enough to commit your life in love to something bigger than yourself, through other people, you will find an inner peace even if things are falling apart around you. Make no mistake Bill’s love for his wife Glad is extraordinary, heroic. She has declined to the point that they have minimal emotional interaction- if you’ve been through this, you know how Alzheimer’s robs you of your loved ones personality slowly but surely. He is living with daily with loss and frustration.
But, through love, this is what he wants to do. He has chosen the deeper love that Jesus came to tell us about. And, the greater miracle to me, is not the supernatural kind. It is the transformation that comes when we release love. Love changes the situation. In this case, it is very material. She has care, compassion. It is better, healing- not a cure- but it is healing.
And that is the great hope, the miracle of love unleashed in our world, the miracle of just compassion unleashed in our world. It makes a material difference.
This week, in the midst of the cynicism and partisanship of an ugly campaign, I had to dial up the past again to see if I really remember things or whether I put a sheen on the past. I watched a few videos’ of Bobby Kennedy.
I’m sure that something came over Bobby Kennedy after his brother was assassinated. His older brother, the brother he looked up to. Bobby had a spiritual conversion, although he never talked about it, so it is my own observation from afar.
But he gave speech after speech about great ideals, about what our country could be, about how young people could make a difference. It was like he had drawn so close to the forces of cynicism and despair when his brother was killed, that he doubled down on idealism in the short time he had left on earth. He was aspirational, hope filled for the future.
He gave a speech in South Africa to Black college students thirty years before Apartheid came to an end. And in that speech he spoke of a future where black and white would live together in freedom. He encouraged them to make it a moral movement, not a movement of violence, because non-violent resistance is the better way, the higher way, the way that will actually lead towards a new day that whites would also embrace.
So many young black leaders were in the audience that day, college students. And I wonder how important it was for them to hear compassion for their cause from a white Senator from the U.S. and how influenced they were by the fact that a white man was describing a way for peaceful transition. Just for them to know that they had been heard, that Americans care and we’ve been through it too.
Bobby Kennedy made a material difference in our land, cut short when he was tragically assassinated. And I’m not making it up. PBS did a documentary film on his life. At the very end, they show a train going across our country. Bobby Kennedy was killed in California. Before he was laid to rest in Washington, they put the casket on a train and that train went slowly through towns all across our country. Someone filmed it from the train.
What you saw over and over and over. That train went through little towns. And those towns had hundreds and hundreds of people that came to pay their respects. But what was so moving to see was how integrated the crowds were. White families and black families. Men removing their hats.
I was like “wow”. It was such a reminder that Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy and so many other leaders of the civil rights movement at that time. We really were moving our country in a better direction. It was a high water mark moment for real integration in our country. It can be done. We can live a higher way, in answer to a higher calling.
And so can you. You will not abrogate evil things from happening around you. Violence will happen, misfortune will visit you. But the higher cause you commit yourself to, the higher way that you live your life, will transform you. And you will know intrinsic worth. You will experience a deeper meaning. And you just might stumble on an authentic you.
Peace and blessing and meaning rest upon you. Amen.