Alfred E. Neuman, the mascot of MAD Magazine since about 1956 has appeared on the cover of almost every issue since then. His motto: “What? Me Worry?” used to imply that one couldn’t care less, that laughter was the best medicine. Today the answer seems far less laughable. Yes. We worry. A lot.
Mental health professionals report that anxiety has surpassed depression as their most common concern in these times. Consider this paragraph from a relatively recent New York Times article entitled, “Prozac Nation Is Now the United States of Xanax” (10 June 2017):
“According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, some 38 percent of girls ages 13 through 17, and 26 percent of boys, have an anxiety disorder. On college campuses, anxiety is running well ahead of depression as the most common mental health concern, according to a 2016 national study of more than 150,000 students by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University. Meanwhile, the number of web searches involving the term has nearly doubled over the last five years, according to Google Trends. (The trendline for “depression” was relatively flat.)”
Anxiety might be making the news more often these days (and perhaps the news we hear sometimes compounding it!), yet anxiety is nothing new to humanity. Jesus describes and addresses a spiritual side to the problem of anxiety. Certainly, there are physiological aspects to it, as doctors often describe. The symptoms are quite often bodily symptoms: restlessness, elevated heart rate, perspiration, feeling short of breath, dizzy, and terrifying panic and more. We neither discount nor deny that anxiety involves our bodies. Sometimes these symptoms spring from a physical illness or problems very easily remedied by a doctor. Still, a person’s body can be quite seriously–even terminally ill–and yet, that same person may be spiritually quite peaceful, whole, and content.
As Jesus observes, sometimes anxiety is a god-problem. Namely, spiritual anxiety results whenever we find ourselves trying to serve more than One. This week’s appointed Gospel reading will serve as the text for our sermon, a portion of our Lord’s famous and beloved “Sermon on the Mount.”
Here Jesus deals directly with anxiety, not as an exclusively physical illness, nor mere mental disorder, but as the state of one who strives to serve two masters, literally two “lords.” Notice especially the word “Therefore” in verse 25–the Word linking this teaching on Anxiety directly with the spiritual conflict of interests Jesus presents in verse 24. Here is the passage for our sermon this week, as Jesus speaks in Matthew 6:24-34 (ESV)
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”