THE LORD’S SUPPER IS FOR THE ANXIOUS PERSON
Prayer: Lord, send Your Holy Spirit to direct us so that we rejoice even when we don’t feel like it, so our anxieties become prayers, and to give us a quiet mind so that we can be content in all situations, dwell on what’s pure and lovely, and trust that You’ll give us strength to do all things that are in front of us, not just for ourselves but for the good of everyone around us. Amen.
Sermon Text: Philippians 4:4-13.
Dear people loved and purchased by God, in Christ, to be His own: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This is one of the most beloved sections of Scripture. There are so many things here that resonate. More things than I can address in one sermon. So many beautiful promises, so much good counsel, to hang onto. Paul wrote this in prison so long ago, and yet it doesn’t need to be updated, does it?
The one that resonates the most today is this one: “Do not be anxious.”
If someone were writing a message to the church today, and tried to come up with the one thing on everyone’s mind that he should address, it wouldn’t be some new thing. It would be this same subject: anxiety.
Now, Paul addresses many other things. But a lot of them are affected by anxiety. For example, he begins with: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” But when you’re anxious it’s hard to rejoice.
Paul also says to let your “reasonableness,” or gentleness, “be known to everyone.” This word also means to be patient, understanding. But if you’re anxious it’s hard to do that, all you can think of is your own stuff.
Paul also includes the need for “thanksgiving” – to be thankful. Again, when you’re anxious you don’t have a thankful heart, but a worried mind.
When Paul speaks about “the peace of God” guarding not only your hearts but “your minds,” and in verse 8 where he has the list of “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,” and says “think about these things,” he’s speaking about having a quiet mind. He’s speaking about inner peace and being content and satisfied in life. Then he actually says that he has “learned in whatever state I am to be content,” and recommends being that way. He’s speaking about a quiet mind. But an anxious mind isn’t quiet at all!
So anxiety can block joy, and gentle patience with others, and being thankful, and having inner peace and a quiet mind. So it’s a real key.
We used to call it worry. The same word for worry in the Bible can be translated anxiety. For example, where Jesus says in Matthew 6, “Do not worry,” the newer Bible versions have Him say, “Do not be anxious.” In 1 Peter 5:7, where I’m used to the version that says, “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you,” the newer ones say, “Casting all your anxiety upon Him.” It’s a very legitimate translation. Worry = anxiety.
But somehow today worry doesn’t seem as bad as “anxiety.” Worry is just what you do, or it’s specific, it’s a specific worry about something you can name. Anxiety often is something you talk to a therapist about. It’s true that sometimes anxiety needs that level of help. Some people have “generalized anxiety disorder.” When we hear anxiety, often we think of being in a state of panic. There are things going on with our brains that we don’t understand. Being in a state of anxiety or panic means the brain can’t handle, or is being overwhelmed by, some outside factors and stresses.
This aspect of anxiety is not sinning; instead it’s a result of sin being in the world. It’s a form of suffering. It’s an affliction and a trial. But when we speak of worry, that kind of anxiety, it is actually a sin against the 1st commandment: we’re not trusting God above all things.
But the question is, what does God do about this? One one hand it might seem like Paul saying “Do not be anxious,” is just putting it back on you. Same thing, when Jesus says, “Do not be anxious.” As if the answer is: Be better at trusting. But after Jesus says in Matthew 6, “Do not be anxious,” He then says: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” In other words, seek Jesus. Be where Jesus meets you.
Worry or anxiety, as a 1st commandment sin, is a sin that Jesus died for. He came to fulfill the commandment to trust in God above all things. He did it for you. And anxiety as suffering, an affliction or trial, is something that Jesus came to suffer for you. He came to share in your suffering. We see Him suffering anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane. He did it for you.
He who suffered for you comes to you in His Word and Sacraments to be with you in your anxiety. Think of the Lord’s Supper this way. The Lord’s Supper is for anxious people who can’t conquer their own worry.
It’s important that He names anxiety and includes people who are anxious in His care, and that where He cares for them is the Lord’s Supper. They eat His body and drink His blood for the forgiveness of their sins, including the sin of worry. But the benefits of the Lord’s Supper are many.
As the Lord’s Supper strengthens us in our faith in God, it strengthens us against anxiety, not only to know that He is with us, but He actually comes into us as we eat and drink with faith, and so He is actually living in us as we go forward. As we face our anxieties, through the Lord’s Supper we face them with Him dwelling within us.
So because anxiety blocks us from rejoicing, and having gentle patience with others, and being thankful, and having inner peace and contentment, then what the Lord’s Supper does for anxiety helps with all of this!
When St. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he is speaking to the church – to Christians – who find it hard to rejoice. So in the Lord’s Supper as Jesus forgives your sins, gives you faith and trust, and strengthens you against anxiety, He makes it so you can rejoice, in the midst of struggles, difficulties and yes, anxiety.
When he says, “Let your reasonableness [gentleness] be known to all,” he’s speaking to us who haven’t been gentle, tender, or understanding. He’s also speaking to us who experience how others are unsympathetic with us. In His Supper as he forgives your sins and arms you against anxiety, He also makes you unafraid that your kindness will be abused. He empowers you to be gentle and soft with others, not when they are less difficult but while you live among them as they are.
When He speaks of “thanksgiving” he’s speaking to us who don’t give thanks, often due to anxiety. In the Lord’s Supper, also called His eucharist, literally thanksgiving, Jesus forgives all the sins of unthankfulness and gives you a clean slate, clearing the way to be thankful and pray. You can give thanks not just when a problem is resolved but when it’s still there. Notice, He directs you to turn your anxieties into prayers and “make your requests” – what you’re anxious and worried about – “known to God.”
Finally, when it comes to inner peace and contentment, Paul is speaking to people who don’t have a quiet mind, don’t have peace inside, and aren’t able to feel content. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus deals with the unquiet mind and the troubled conscience. He gives you peace. He gives you rest. He gives you a quieted mind. Even when things are crazy around you.
Christ strengthens you to think on the things that are good for you: whatever is true, pure, lovely, praiseworthy. Think of that, He strengthens you with this. In the Lord’s Supper He comes to the weak. So then, when we leave the Lord’s Supper we can say: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Amen!