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October 21, 2018  "Servants and All That Jazz"
October 14, 2018  "Contending with God"
October 7, 2018  "For This Reason"
September 30, 2018  "Taking a Knee"
September 23, 2018  "Anxiety Strikes"

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Last Sunday's Sermon

September 23, 2018

Covenant PC/SF

James 3:13 - 4:8

Mark 9:30-37

Anxiety Strikes

Rev. Jeffrey Cheifetz

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Most of the time, Christians live both in the world and in the community of faith; this lection asks us to consider where our loyalties lie when life gets tough.

James 3:13 - 4:8

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? 6But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

We see the disciples embarrassed by Jesus - their awkward silence is deafening, because they see how inconsistent their own lives are with their identity as disciples of Jesus. How might it be with our own lives?

Mark 9:30-37

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

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Sermon theme:

During times of stress, we naturally tend to think anxious thoughts, and we do not do as well as usual in our relationships. The challenge is to keep our center, who is Christ, the still point in the midst of change and seeming chaos.

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Have you ever heard of the "anxious bench"? "The anxious bench was a seat near the pulpit reserved at some revival meetings for persons especially concerned about their spiritual condition. It was also called the 'mourners' bench'." ( dictionary/anxious%20bench)

Now I doubt any of us have sat in one of these, but no doubt the idea of it may "conjure up memories of the waiting spot outside the principal's office, or the bleachers in high school, or the final moments of the sport you once played…". What comes up for me is playing on my high school tennis team.

"The Anxious Bench was a particularly favorite tool of Charles Finney …" and other 19th century Christian revivalists…who [used it and other methods] to affect spiritual conversion…. People could come to the front of the church where the bench was and receive prayer. They could also enter into personal conversation with the preacher, and the pressure of this public position would often cause people to "give in to Jesus." Charles Spurgeon, a contemporary of Finney, rightly questioned the sincerity of such conversions in the long haul of faith. (

What happens in your body when you become anxious? Increased heart rate; we cross our arms; we tense our muscles and take shallower breaths; you feel the pressure by peers to do or say something so that you will fit in; thoughts tumble over one another; we feel moved to do something, maybe several somethings, sooner rather than later; our impatience leads us to make quick decisions, many of which we have the leisure to regret or second-guess later; an inability to think creatively; we talk over other people rather than giving them time to complete their thoughts; and so on.

When I think about anxiety, I think about driving in the Bay Area. I do things ordinarily I don't do (gestures, speeding up, making lane changes; my judgmental side comes out complete with mutterings directed at other drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. (And when I am a bicyclist, I do the same about automobile drivers)

When I think about SftA, that experimental dancing church I helped found, I am pretty sure that I was highly anxious and adrenaline-driven for most of the 2 years of its existence.

And for the worship bulletin for today: between Jennifer and myself, Proverbs somehow got in there rather than James. Sorry about that - I suppose we were too scattered this week.

Ever look back after a period of anxiety, and regret what you said and did?

- what I just ate - not the healthiest food.

- what I just said - not the kindest, or wisest of words just came out of my mouth oops.

Fact is, anxiety is a social disease - it infects others just like yawning does - its like a virus, easily transmitted, especially in this digital and internet social media age where a very high percentage of the content out there is anxiety-driven, and is designed to cause anxiety in others.

Anxiety happens in this church too. Since I announced my departure from this ministry as of November 9, I have seen it in others and in myself. It is a very human, natural thing to have happen. However, as we are aware that it is happening, we can choose either to give into it, or to emphasize faith, or trust, in God, in one another, and in the Presbytery of San Francisco as we go into these next few weeks.

Anxiety is a factor in other social organizations as well - businesses, families, political institutions - because human beings tend to be reactive when changes are made in what has been stable and even set in stone for some time. Our feelings get tweaked, our egos are bruised, we become afraid that we are losing something that tells us who we are in the world, and that gives us purpose and meaning.

So, anxiety can carry the day, whether it is in this church, or in a relationship, or in us individually.

James wrote his letter out of a desire to demonstrate that practical wisdom leads to right behavior in community. (NIB Vol. 12, page 179, Luke Timothy Johnson) He encourages Christians of his era to observe traditional moral instruction, to root themselves in the love of the neighbor and of God, to be people of wisdom rather than give way to self-seeking and oppressive energies. (ibid, page179).

James' letter, like the other letters of the New Testament, hints that what was going on within and outside of the local church of his day was something like what goes on in the modern church - conflict rooted in the inner realities of the eternal human question of how we can manage to live well together given our tendency to put ourselves before others no matter the damage it does to the common good.

God, the giver of all good and perfect gifts, the One who gave birth to all human beings in God's likeness, who gave us the Spirit of life, who hears the cries of the oppressed, who forgives sin, is the one who calls us into a life empowered by the mutual gift-giving and support we experience within the community of faith. (ibid, page 181)

We are made for close friendship with God; and the way we live into that is by giving ourselves, heart, mind, soul, and strength to the one of whom it is written, "8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you."

This is good anti-anxiety advice, because it opens up our heart and mind to God in the present moment; this God who made the galaxies as well as each one of us; this God whose Son lived completely into his own words: "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all" ; this God who promises to be with and for us for all time.

When I take these words into my body: "17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace" , I am reminded that my number one purpose in this life is not to get absolutely everything done, or to reach some pinnacle of achievement that will forever remain out of my reach, or to make everyone around me happy. All those things are illusions created by my own or others' anxiety.

My number one purpose is to live into God, to draw close to God, that I might become as whole and complete a human and humane person as possible, for the good of the neighbor, by the power and grace of God. That is not something I can will myself into. It is something that happens in its own time. My responsibility is to make myself available, present, to God. My willingness to cooperate with that living God creates a Way, a path. My job is to walk it. God's job is to guide me into whatever it is that I will eventually become.

Will you join with me in asking God to free us from the controlling power of anxiety and fear? Will you join with me in asking God to lead us into wisdom and understanding?

Will you join with me in getting up and off of the anxiety bench, and trusting God and the faith community more?

God, may we become your friends, those who hear and live into the words, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."

May it be so.