Anxious Hearts

Deut 18: 15-20; I Cor 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28

This is now the second or third week that Paul has addressed the community of Corinth on anxiety.  Of course, it’s something that remains prevalent in our own culture.  I’m sure there are many here that take medication for it to be able to cope.  Not that doesn’t help many, but it never allows us to get to the heart of the fear and anxiety that Paul speaks of because really the heart of anxiety is fear.  In our day, though, it’s only been magnified by the use of internet and social media and most definitely the 24/7 news cycle that just seems to bombard us at every waking moment about negativity and fear that only feeds into our own “unclean spirits” as Jesus speaks of rather than trusting the true voice of authority in Christ.

It must have been an issue that the community was aware of that they were willing to write it as a question for Paul in their correspondence.  Now it’s easy to get hung up on how Paul tackles this issues with married men, women, virgins, and the works, but we’d miss the point and once again avoid the deeper lying issue in the community and our own lives.  Getting hung up on the relational way or commitment way Paul handles it only become divisive and leads to greater anxiety.  First and foremost is this need to please.  He speaks of husbands trying to please their wives and wives trying to please their husbands and single people trying to please the Lord, but for Paul, it has nothing to with that.  It’s not about pleasing anyone else, our spouse, our boss, and institution or anything.  First and foremost, as he concludes today, it’s about conforming to Christ.  It’s learning to trust that deeper voice that leads to a greater sense of love and peace.  The challenge is, is that it tends to be the quieter of the voices, a hush from the Lord that tends to be overtaken by the noise around us, just as it was for the community of Corinth.

The irony is, they know the voice of the Christ but the more they are bombarded by the noise, fear, anger, and such, the more they begin to believe that’s the voice of authority only feeding in more to the unclean spirits within us.  We all have them and they love to be fed by anything that is going to feed them the lie that we’re something less than we are.  That’s not the prophetic voice that we hear of in today’s readings.  As a matter of fact, Paul will go onto say that that’s nothing but clashing cymbals and such, simply noise that comes from no greater depth.  I could only imagine what Paul would think today in the face of so much negative chatter, noise capturing our attentions, pulling us away from our truest selves, our deepest selves, the voice of authority in Christ that remains and yet often suffocated by the outside world.  It’s what this community of Corinth faced in trying to conform to the culture rather than to the Christ.

Even in today’s first reading, though, we hear of Moses speak of the prophetic voice that is to be raised up, which is more often than not how it happens, it has to rise up from deep within us.  It’s a lot of work, which makes medication and coping the easier answer.  For the community that Moses speaks to today it’s more about trusting fortunetellers and soothsayers that precedes this reading we hear.  They’re looking for guidance and direction from beyond themselves, and like Corinth, often succumb to the fear of believing.  The path to the prophetic voice takes a great deal of patience, and Moses will go onto say, a learning of how to discern these voices that work in our lives and recognize the voices that lead us to further fear and anxiety and learn to turn them off.  They are loud and unruly, often appealing to the worst of our instincts to react to everything that comes our way.  The prophetic voice requires that will rise up as Moses speaks requires silence and the space in order for that voice to grow.

We are only a week out from the disciples being called in Mark’s gospel and today they’re already thrown into the muck of it all.  As much as Mark’s focus is getting them to Jerusalem and the reality of the cross, Jerusalem has a way of finding them on the way.  Here they are, first stop, and it’s the Sabbath and they’re in the synagogue and Jesus is going to dispel the unclean spirits.  This whole process of following for these would-be disciples is about learning to trust the voice of the Christ in the midst of Jerusalem after Jerusalem.  Just like the people of Corinth they’ll slip into that fear and anxiety.  They’ll have to face the controversy of the religious and political authorities that feed on that fear and will try to appeal to their worst instincts, trying to pull them away from the Christ out of fearing rejection.  That need to please will leave them with, as Paul tells us, a divided heart which only leads to greater anxiety.  If it’s the prophetic voice, that voice of authority, it will continue to rise up until it is acknowledged and followed.  It’s what will see them through some of the most difficult times of their lives when Jerusalem is faced head on by the disciples and each of us.

We aren’t much different than these communities.  We’ve allowed the clashing cymbals to be the so-called prophetic voices in our lives, rooted in fear and insecurity.  We want things instantly and love to react to it all, especially the unclean spirits of our day and the amount of negativity that bombards us day in and day out that over time drowns out the voice of truth, love, peace.  It doesn’t mean that it’s easy or we’re naïve about the realities of the world, but the voice of authority, the voice of the Christ, the eternal, leads us to the deeper place, beyond the differences and divisiveness of our day.  Paul knows by experience, as does Moses.  It’s the journey we must be willing to take, to learn to discern the unclean spirits of our own lives that we’ve taken for granted and learned to trust.  They tend to have all the answers and try to convince us that we’re right and often unworthy.  The voice of God, though, is always breaking through, rising up, trying to remind us who we really are.  It’s that voice, and only that voice, that will take away our fear and anxiety and lead us to the fuller life we desire, a life of peace and a deeper awareness of God’s love.

A Better Vision

Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2: 2-4; Luke 17: 5-10

Dorothy Law Nolte wrote a poem entitled Children Learn What They Live.  Some may have heard of it before, but if not, the first half goes like this, “If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.  If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.  If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive.  If a child lives with pity, he learns to feel sorry for himself.  If I child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.  If a child lives with jealousy, he learns what envy is.  If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty.”  I thought of that this week when I saw the first reading from Habakkuk speak of vision, but also in light of what has unfolded in our federal government this week and watching how they respond to one another in this period of shutdown.  We all can only live what we have learned in our lives, especially as children.  If we have lived with negativity, judgment, and all the rest that the author speaks of, it is no wonder that we respond in this way.  So often, though, we just figure, well, there’s nothing we can do.  No, there probably isn’t much we can do to “fix” this system, but we can change the way we respond in these circumstances.  If we are responding in the same way as we have seen many of these politicians, digging in the trenches, we really have to ask ourselves just how much true faith is a part of our lives.

Ironically, Habakkuk sees and experiences the same in those governing in his time.  He continues to plead with God about the utter destruction and violent behavior that he witnesses, so often with the poorest of the poor being abused and taken advantage of and Habakkuk can’t stand watching it all unfold anymore.  He keeps pleading with God that this perpetual cycle of negativity and judgment continues and it seems as if prayers are not being heard or answered.  Finally, in the reading we hear today, God responds.  After witnessing such devastation, God tells Habakkuk, remember the vision of what could be.  Remember the vision of what should be and continue to strive for a greater way, a more perfect way, a way, as Saint Paul says, the power that comes from love; all other powers are mere worldly desires.  To be a people of faith, we are challenged to respond in the same way.  I know, I’ve wanted to throw something at the television this week, listening to people throw temper tantrums, like little children, and I had to step back and look at it from a “third eye” and struggle with how we respond in faith and try to stop that cycle of violence and negativity that is so much a part of our culture and the world we live in and very much rooted in the political system.  People of faith must respond differently.

It was a challenge for the disciples as well, who, today, simply ask for an increase in faith.  We’ve heard the challenging parables the past two months here and at times we didn’t want to hear the message because it comes up against the way we live our lives as well.  Just prior to this Jesus tells them that they must forgive, forgive, and forgive again, while recognizing the temptations that will continue to come there way and will try to sway them away from the great vision.  As these weeks go on and we approach the Cross, it is imperative to them to seek the greater vision, the better way of life, and don’t fall into the trap of perpetuating violence in the world, which they will witness first hand with Jesus.  Jesus tells them the faith is freely given; it’s already there!!  You can do the impossible, even change ourselves, if we have just a mustard seed size of faith within!  It’s already there!  We may not change what is out there, but we can change the way we live and respond in life, in our family, in our community, and in this parish.  With a little faith, we can stop the cycle of negativity, judgment, and ridicule that plagues our lives. As we gradually change in here, that change begins to seep out into the world around us.

Dorothy Nolte continues on the second half of the poem to paint that greater vision.  She writes, “If a child lives with encouragement, he learns to be confident.  If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.  If a child lives with praise, he learns to be appreciative.  If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love.  If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.  If a child lives with recognition, he learns that it is good to have a goal.  If a child lives with sharing, he learns about generosity.  If a child lives with honest and fairness, he learns what truth and justice are.  If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself and in those around him.  If a child lives with friendliness, he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live.  If YOU live with serenity, your child will live with peace of mind.  With what is your child living?”

If we simply buy into that cycle of negativity, judgment, and ridicule, we don’t have to ask in the years to come why the next generations are doing the same and continuing the cycle; they have seen us do it all too often.  As people of faith, we are called to seek out the greater vision as Habakkuk is reminded today, despite witnessing so much violence and hate.  We pray that we may have the courage to be aware of how we are responding in these situations in life, and ask ourselves, is it really what we want of the next generation, because they are watching.  We pray that we may respond in the ways that leads to that more perfect vision with love, forgiveness, prayer, and mercy.  If we are grounded in faith, the choice we make should be simple; seek out the greater good for all.