29 January 2006

What are you anxious about?

4th Sunday of OT: Deut 18.15-20; 1 Cor 7.32-35; Mark 1.21-28
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

Hear it!

It is 12:34am. 1:13am. 2:56am. 3:32am. Finally, it is 4:45am. The professionally calm voices of NPR pop on my radio. With weirdly deceptive ease, a sort of earnest calm, they narrate what happened while I watched my clock in the dark: a car-bomb in Iraq kills 27, a drought in Texas fuels wildfires, the nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea grew overnight, scientists with more money than sense drag us closer their genetic, Frankensteinian utopia, the icecaps melted some more, the ozone layer thinned, the rainforest lost another 12,000 acres…there are one-eyed kittens! three-legged calves! swarms of locusts! rivers of blood! hailstorms of frogs! An angel of Death in the street! The radio pops back on. 4:53am. Get up, Philip! No Snooze button is big enough to tame this world’s worry, this time’s anxious passing.

Paul writes to the always-worried Corinthians, “Brothers and sisters, I should like you to be free of anxieties.” He would like for them to be released from the slavery of their doubts, the chains of their mistrust and the need for total control. He would like for them to be able to live in the world and not flail around panicked about what’s next. What’s After This? Where’s the plan? The map? The schedule? Paul would like for his Corinthian brothers and sisters to be rested in the Lord’s promise of mercy, settled into an enduring trust of their Father, and focused on all the things Christ left them to accomplish.

The Corinthians are being distracted by the requirements of family life, worried needlessly by the demands of husbands and wives and children, taken away from the difficult work, the hard labor of preparing for the Coming of the Christ again. Paul, and all those Jesus left behind, waited for their beloved Master to return to them, to come back for them and take them away. They were anxious about many things, but most anxious about the apparent delay in his return. Paul’s admonishment to them: don’t become too attached to the needs of this world…the things of this world demand their own kind attention, their own kind of sacrifice…stay free for Christ and do what he has asked you to do.

What are you anxious about? What unclean spirits worry you? Do you know the name of the fearfulness that gnaws at your gifts, your trust, your patience, your ease? Do you know the name of the spirit that moves you to hide from God, moves you to ignore God, moves you to defy God? You can all say, “Sure, Father, it’s the Devil!” Yes, it is. But more specifically, can you identify, point out the spirit that steals your peace?

Jesus goes to Capernaum to teach in the synagogue. People are astonished at his teaching, stunned at the authenticity and authority of his message. He speaks the Word, teaches and preaches a Word of power and might, claiming for himself the authority of his Father and, in doing so, claiming for the Father the lives, the souls of those who hear and heed his Word. But notice who is anxious, notice whose peace is rattled: the unclean spirits!

The human spirit there is gifted, graced with the boundless love of God. The unclean spirit is fearful. The human spirit is astonished, opened, enlightened, touched by glory at the Word proclaimed. The unclean spirit is dreadful, nervous, shaken, and most definitely stirred! The people there leap forward to grab hold of the Word and they hold on to the Word as if it were a hurt child, a wandering friend too often lost. They embrace the hope, the expectation of eternal life, the renewal of their lives with the Father, the reconciliation that the God-man, Jesus, makes real. He was sent. He is sent. And he will be sent again.

Moses spoke to his people and said, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen […] I will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.” Our Lord will send a prophet, a voice to speak His Word to us and we will listen. We heard Elijah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah. We heard Amos and Isaiah. And much more recently, we heard John the Baptizer. We heard the Name he spoke to us, the announcement of the Good News of our Savior’s arrival in the flesh. And then we heard the Christ Himself teach us salvation, preach to us the Way of Life through him. We believed. We heard and we believed.

And yet we are still capable of anxiety. Why? I think we forget Who we are dealing with. I think we trudge along, so habituated to hearing the Bad News, that the Good God has done for us is lost in the swirling headlines, crowded out in the competition for our limited attention, our squeezed time. We forget what we have said “Amen” to here. We forget what we have asked for here. We come here to remember. And still we forget.

Here’s a reminder, just a reminder to put a little fear into the spirit of forgetfulness that may be haunting us. This morning/evening, if you participate fully in this Eucharist, you will say “Amen”—“it is so”—to the presence of Christ among us. He IS here. You will thank him for his Word proclaimed and thank him again for his Gospel. You will say amen to his ancient teaching and amen again for taking care of your needs. You will say amen to His blessed Name and amen to his coming Kingdom; amen to His will done in all creation and amen to your need for His daily food; amen to his mercy and yours and amen to his protection from evil. You will say “amen” to offering bread and wine, your body and soul on that altar of sacrifice, to be blessed, transformed and given back to Him. You will say amen to His peace and share it. Amen to the Lamb of God and his sacrifice for us. Amen to his supper. And amen and amen for the Holy One of God who teaches with a new authority, preaches with a new authenticity the Word of Life.

What are you anxious about? What spirits worry you? Remember what you have said amen to here this morning/evening. Remember what you have sacrificed and who you are. Our Lord wants us free of anxieties. Our Lord wants us freed so that we can spread the fame of the Good News everywhere: The Holy One of God is here!


  1. melanie bett4:16 PM

    Yay! finally the podcast is working.
    I just noticed on today's homily.
    My husband has already added it to his podcast subscription list so it will automatically download to his ipod.

  2. Melanie,

    I hope he finds that it helps his spiritual life!

    Fr. Philip

  3. Anonymous4:12 PM

    Father Philip, you have written a comforting reminder for this soul. Thank you.
    Vergilt's Gott.