But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
How many times have you heard those words, or something similar? The song, “Don’t worry, be happy” is certainly catchy, but not as “Hakuna Matata.” Maybe what you heard was a distinctive New York accent saying, “Fuggedaboudit!”
Those four words — “Don’t worry about it” — are, in combination with each other, possibly the most useless words in the English language. You could say “no worries” and the words could mean very different things. Someone could say them honestly “no worries” and it means genuinely don’t worry about it or they could say “no worries” because they’re really mad that you made something they cared about seem trivial or you said something to hurt their feelings and when they saw it, they brushed it off.
They’re useless not because banishing worry isn’t a good idea. Certainly, it is. Duh. “Don’t worry about it” is advice routinely ignored and impossible to obey. It’s a clichéd phrase that often doesn’t get at the weight or depth of the issue.
Some psychologists — borrowing language from medical science — draw a distinction between acute anxiety and chronic anxiety. Acute anxiety, they say, is related to some immediate threat. Leonardo DiCaprio when he comes face to face with the grizzly bear in The Revenant has acute anxiety. You could say he’s experiencing acute anxiety and fear for most of the movie because he just reaches the double digits with his lines.
Yet, if you wake up each morning with a sense of free-floating dread, but have little idea where those dark forebodings come from — nor any idea when or how you’ll break free from them — then chances are, you’re a victim of chronic anxiety. My mom calls this the worry cycle. When you wake up every morning going down the list of worries…your family…your classes…your job…that particular test…that girl or guy that you like…what am I going to this summer…
The word “anxious” is historically related to a Latin word, angere, which literally means “to choke or strangle.” I figured it meant something along the lines of nervous, but I didn’t know it meant to choke or strangle.
There’s another English word that traces its lineage to the same Latin root. The word is angina — the sharp, piercing pain that precedes a heart attack. Angina arises when one of the coronary arteries becomes choked off by arterial plaque, blocking oxygen from reaching the heart muscle.
Anxiety, in other words, can kill you, if you let it fester.
Another English word that grows out of this Latin root, angere, is “anger.” Anxious people, as it so happens, are often angry people. They sense the breath of life being choked off from their soul, and so they lash out, flailing wildly in an effort to remove the threat, whatever they imagine it to be.
Anxious. Angina. Anger. It would be so easy to link this to Star Wars as leading to the Dark Side, but I won’t. In our 24 hour news cycle, we’ve gotten numb to the headlines. Would you say it is worse now, more violent now, more worrisome now?
Although we may imagine ourselves the most anxiety-ridden people ever, gazing back longingly, a quick look at the Scriptures reveals this is hardly the case. Speaking God’s word to the community of Israelites in Babylonian captivity, our text reminds us: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. … For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (vv. 2-3). The good news of the salvation oracle in Isaiah 43 is that God directly addresses this experience of exile.
It can be hard for us to conceive just what Jewish people went through as they were uprooted from their homes, and transported to the Babylonian capital. Not everyone was compelled to relocate, of course — just the political, intellectual and economic elite, the ruling class. The Babylonian rulers seem to have followed the advice, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Settling the cream of Judah’s leadership in comfortable quarters, in a neighborhood of the city all their own, the Babylonian overlords made certain there were none from the defeated nation’s leadership who could raise a rebellion back home.
The entire identity of the Jewish people, by contrast, was rooted in their theological understanding of the land. They were proud to be the chosen people Moses had led out of Egypt to claim the land of milk and honey for their own. The land was the principal sign of the Lord’s favor, the continual reminder that they lived in a state of divine grace. The temple mount in Jerusalem was the spiritual center of their universe. Remember God’s broader plan of salvation is for ALL people, unlike what those Turlington preachers say, but God focused attention on the shocking particularity of God’s love for this one people, Israel, for whom God would pay any price.
When all this was suddenly snatched away from them, not only for their immediate physical circumstances, but, also, whether they could maintain an identity as the Lord’s chosen people without that tangible reality of the Promised Land. They also wondered how they could worship God apart from the cherished temple rites. Their cry of despair is echoed in Psalm 137:4: “How could we sing the LORD’S song in a foreign land?”
Isaiah assures them. He gives the people a word from the Lord. “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Who but the Lord could accomplish such a wonder, redeeming the exiles from their hopeless situation? How could such a miraculous release from their captivity happen, unless the Lord willed it? This prophetic passage pictures the exiles’ journey home, passing even through rushing rivers without hindrance or danger.
The image of passing safely through the waters may recall Song of Songs 8:7: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” What miraculous power is it that brings the exiles home, across the mighty Euphrates, but divine love? How is it that God can bring us out of the muck and mire of our own lives and set our feet on solid ground?
God is with us. We are not the first generation of human beings to feel inundated by worry. True, we often use our mass-communications technology to construct an echo chamber to amplify our natural anxieties, but the fundamental psychological fact of worry is no different. By nature, we are a worrying people. At times, worry keeps us appropriately vigilant so we may fend off tangible threats. Yet, more often than not, it’s simply a burden.
Yet the Bible in today’s text reminds us that we need not fear.
We can live without anxiety because:
– God created us – In John Wesley’s notes he wrote about this particular passage. “I have not only created them out of nothing, but I have also formed and made them my peculiar people.” God formed us. When you build or create something, you know it inside and out. God, as our Creator, knows us better than we know ourselves. Moreover, the text says, God redeemed us, God calls us by name and God says “you are mine.”
So worry is a lack of trust. If we truly believe that God says, “You are mine,” then how can we be anxious about the things that cross our paths?
This does not mean that there will not be waters to pass through, or fires to put out, but God promises to be our faithful shield and strength.
Such anxiety does not honor the God who created us, calls us by name and not only says “You are mine,” but “you are precious in my sight” (v. 4).
I invite y’all this week as worries or fears flood your minds and hearts, that you come up with 3-5 word phrase like, “Lord have mercy” or “God give me peace” that you say in your head as these thoughts come unbidden. The Holy Spirit will lead and guide you and we as a community will be here for you.
The Bible says that we should “Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Here, the writer echoes the comforting voice of Isaiah the prophet.
Two Days We Should Not Worry
There are two days in every week about which we should not worry; two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.
One of these days is Yesterday with all its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders, its aches and pains.
Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back Yesterday.
We cannot undo a single act we performed; we cannot erase a single word we said. Yesterday is gone forever.
The other day we should not worry about is Tomorrow. With all its possible adversities, its burdens, its large promise and its poor performance, Tomorrow is also beyond our immediate control.
Tomorrow’s sun will rise, either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds, but it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in Tomorrow, for it is yet to be born.
This leaves only one day, Today. Any person can fight the battle of just one day. It is when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities Yesterday and Tomorrow that we break down.
It is not the experience of Today that drives a person mad. It is the remorse or bitterness of something which happened Yesterday and the dread of what Tomorrow may bring that renders a person wild with anxiety. Let us, therefore, live but one day at a time.
Matthew 6:25-34 says it this way, “25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
Chronic anxiety — unlike the acute variety — isn’t based on outside threats. It rises from within. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The great God of the Universe knows your name. And some of y’all may freak out at that. Don’t worry. Confident that you are more than your name, that you are first and foremost a baptized and beloved child of God, you can look at the world, and even around your neighborhood, with new eyes. How would that affect how we live? If we know the Living God? How would that shape us being in the world? Do we spread peace that way? Would that affect how we see the challenges that come daily into our personal world? And the broader world? I’ll let you wrestle with those questions. It’s easy to say what we would do, it’s much harder to banish worry from hearts and minds, to act as peace agents in the world, seeing if we could help, only a little, and trusting God will be our strong fortress……all the days of our life. Amen.