Bathroom Mirror Worthy

One way to surround yourself with Scripture is to write a few of your favorite Bible verses on Post-It notes and hang them on your bathroom mirror.  That way, every time you brush your teeth, wash your hands, or do your hair, you can’t help but see things like “God is love” (1 John 4:8) or “God has a plan for you: plans to prosper and not harm; plans for hope” (Jeremiah 29:11) or “Faith is the confidence of things hoped for, the assurance of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1).

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Maybe not this many

As I read the lessons appointed for Sunday, I ran across a quote from the Track 2 Psalm that was tailor made for my bathroom mirror.  “Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; * do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil” (Psalm 37:9,  BCP).  If I could figure out a way to refrain from anger in car line, my life would be so much easier.  If could manage to leave rage alone, I might not need blood pressure meds.  What really caught my attention was the Psalmist’s refrain through Psalm 37, “Do not fret yourself.”

According to Google, fret is a word that is actually coming back into vogue.  This is probably due to our increasingly stress based lifestyles of working too hard to make enough money to pay of the too much stuff we’ve convinced ourselves we need.  There is a second definition of fret, however, that is actually closer to the original Hebrew meaning. While we all know fret to mean “to be constantly worried or anxious,” it can also mean to “gradually wear away (something) by rubbing or gnawing.”  To put this in perspective, the Grand Canyon was made by water fretting rock.

In the Hebrew, this word that appears three times in Psalm 37, means “to be kindled into flame” or “to heat oneself in vexation.”

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Be it anxiety, stress, or anger, the constant force of negativity in our lives will eventually lead to a flame, which can easily grow into a flame thrower that does real damage to those around us if we’re not careful.

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In this bathroom mirror worthy passage, the Lord invites us to lay aside fretting, to not lot those things that would gnaw us into worry, frustration, and rage get the best of us, and instead, to take delight in the Lord.

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Powerless over anxiety

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I suspect it would have happened no matter what career path I’d followed, but since my ordination to the priesthood 8+ years ago, I’ve been diagnosed with three medical ailments with stress markers.  I’m honestly not sure what there is in my life to be so stressed about.  I have a solid family, a good job in a good church, and, by and large, things are good.  And yet, my body reacts as if I’m making multi-million dollar decisions on a regular basis; like I’m a brain surgeon working on Stephen Hawking; or the guy who decided to give RGIII another chance.

I am, like most modern Americans, powerless over anxiety.  It is as much a personal issue as it is a societal one.  Yesterday, for example, I spent some time in an outpatient surgery waiting room.  As is the cultural expectation, there was a TV hanging on the wall with one of the 24 hour news networks playing at a reasonable volume.  As I sat there listening to talking heads discuss the Presidential election, I realized that the 24 hour news cycle is designed to make us addicted. They create stress, even when there is none to be had, and let our bodies do its thing.  Eventually, we become so addicted to the cortisol reaction, we can’t look away.  As the 12 Step community would say, we are powerless over anxiety.

The Collect for Proper 20 hits that powerlessness head on.  We ask God to “grant us not to be anxious about earthly things,” but we can’t stop there.  As the old joke goes, you can pray to God to win the lottery all you want, but you have to buy a ticket to have a chance.  We can pray for an end to our anxiety, but part of that prayer has to be about changing our own behaviors as well.  Can we turn off the TV?  Can we step away from the balance sheet?  Can we stop focusing on those things which we cannot change, and instead take the initiative to move the needle where we can?  Can we, in the midst of things that are passing away, turn our focus to things heavenly?

Ask any addict, it is easier said than done, but perhaps this Sunday can be a start.  Maybe I can take this prayer more seriously this week, and begin the process of being set free from my stress and be made alive again in God.

A Very Long Walk

As I mentioned yesterday, Sunday’s Gospel lesson is a tricky one.  It is a lesson full of apocalyptic imagery, difficult teaching, and enmity.  I’ll deal with that portion of it more in the days to come, but what I’m drawn to this morning is a glimpse into what brings Jesus to this point of seeming frustration.  Jesus gives us a clue as he begins this diatribe by turning his attention to himself, saying, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!”

This journey from Mount Tabor where Jesus was Transfigured and enjoyed fellowship with Moses and Elijah to Jerusalem where he will turn the tables in the Temple, engage in intense debate, and ultimately be arrested, abandoned by his closest disciples, tortured, and killed has been going on for quite some time, and there is a pretty good hike left to go.  For days on end, Jesus has been thinking about what is to come, wondering how it will all play out, but certain that death on a cross is just over the horizon.

Jesus has been stressed out for as long as he can remember, and here lets his disciples know that he is ready for this period of intense pressure to be over.  Here we find Jesus in his full humanity; feeling the effects of long term stress just like we all do.  High blood pressure, lack of sleep, upset stomach, headache, trouble focusing, irritability, and even a speeding up of the aging process are all effects of ongoing stress in someone’s life.

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Jesus’ walk to Jerusalem was probably not unlike seven years as President of the United States.

Jesus is clearly ready for this very long walk to Jerusalem to be over, but there is still more to come.  More teachings.  More healing.  More parables.  More encounters with the least and the lost.  More controversy with the religious powers-that-be.  The road to Jerusalem is long and winding, and today, we see Jesus at his most vulnerable and yet his most determined.  He may wish the fire was already kindled and the waters of baptism already troubled, but he can read the signs, he knows that his hour has not yet come, and so he will continue on, faithfully proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.