7th Sunday of Easter (A): Casting Our Anxieties Upon God
By: The Rev. Steve Pankey
As I write this post, it has been five-and-a-half weeks since our last in-person worship service. Based on our Bishop’s Pastoral Directive, it’ll be at least another six weeks before we can gather again. Based on my gut and what I’m reading, it’ll probably be even longer. As I look ahead to what will be the 7th Sunday of Easter, and the 11th Sunday of Quarantine, I really wish that 1st Peter hadn’t made it into the Biblical canon. Quite frankly, the author’s response to suffering and the question of theodicy is pretty weak, and borders on patronizing, especially if we attribute the text to the first Bishop of Rome.
As I write this post, thousands of people are dying everyday of a virus that has no known cure and no vaccine, millions are unemployed and fear losing their health insurance, and stimulus packages of all shapes and sizes are bogged down by governmental ineptitude. Hearing words like “don’t be surprised,” “it’s a test,” or “rejoice as you are sharing in Christ’s suffering,” feel like they fall short, and are the kinds of things that make us cringe when we hear them said at funerals. They are the words that people say when they don’t know what else to say. They might make the speaker feel better, but they ring hollow and can sting deeply those who are suffering under fear, stress, or grief.
In my experience as a parish priest, I’ve found that certain lessons can do more harm than good when they are read and not preached. It is why my congregations have always run with Track 2 in the Hebrew Bible during the season after Pentecost; the lessons just seem to “fit in” better. 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 begs to be preached in the ongoing stress of a global pandemic, if only to keep our members hearing the Bible reiterate dangerous theology like, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” or “everything happens for a reason.”
Arguing that we should preach on a text is fine, but I think Modern Metanoia is better used as a resource for suggestions on how you might preach a text. For that, I think we have to skip past the platitudes of the first paragraph and focus more on the second. The author moves the attention away from scrambling to explain what they think God is doing in our suffering and toward what our proper response to that suffering should be. “Humble yourselves under the hand of God… Cast all your anxiety on [God], because [God] cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert.”
I’ve not been great at the discipline piece, if I’m honest. I’m sleeping too little and snacking too much, but where I do find strength in this time of stress and anxiety is when I, in full confidence of God’s care for me, cast all my anxiety upon God. The Greek word, translated as “cast upon,” is a compound word that appears only twice in the New Testament. Its other usage comes in Luke’s gospel, when on Palm Sunday, the disciples cast their garments upon the colt that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. For me, the image of casting conjures up memories of my friend Will, standing knee deep in Big Lagoon just off NAS Pensacola, casting a net for bait fish. A combination of beautiful ballet and a haphazard toss is required to get the weights to spin out properly and to keep the net from becoming a tangled-up mess.
A similar mix of intentionality and chaos are required when it comes to casting all our anxieties upon God. Intentionality is required because honesty is necessary. Until and unless we can admit our anxieties, our fears, our inability to do it alone, we cannot even begin to find the healing, restoration, and strength that we are promised by God. Once we dig deep and begin to mine for that anxiety, if we really want to cast all our cares on God, then the haphazard nature of it begins. Digging deep, we fling all our fears—like sand at the bottom of a deep hole—tossing them all, even the stuff we’d rather hide and hold onto, so that God can offer full relief. Even so, as practitioners of pastoral care, we know that the process of casting our anxiety upon God is never finished. Like Will’s net in Big Lagoon, once we toss it, we’ve got to reset and cast again. It is a process that never ends. As we cast our anxieties on God again and again, we become more and more sure of the truth that God really does care for us, even when it feels like all hell has broken loose all around us.
The Rev. Steve Pankey is the Rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Steve holds an MDiv from Virginia Theological Seminary (’07) and a DMin from the School of Theology at the University of the South (’17), but the degree he seems to use most often these days is the BS he earned at Millersville University (’02). As a disciple, a husband to Cassie, a father to Eliza and Lainey, and now a Rector, Steve struggles to keep it all in the right order, and is constantly thankful for forgiveness and grace. You can read more from him at his personal lectionary blog, draughtingtheology.wordpress.com.