Idolatry Leads to Anxiety

Homily for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost and the 3rd Sunday of Matthew in the Orthodox Church

Romans 5:1-10; Matthew 6:22-33

Ours is an age of anxiety.  Many people are overcome with worry about matters large and small.  Some certainly do need the help of physicians and psychological counselors in order to cope with their fears.  The sickness of our souls remains, however, at the very heart of all our collective and personal brokenness.  If our souls are not healthy, we will never find the peace that truly satisfies us as God’s children who bear His image and likeness.

The Lord spoke of the health of our souls in terms of vision: “The eye is the lamp of the body.  So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”   Christ taught that, if our spiritual vision is clear and focused, we will see ourselves and our problems in light of God’s kingdom.   Then we will be able to serve our one true Master and gain strength for being at peace, regardless of the circumstances of our lives.

If our spiritual vision is clouded and unfocused, however, we will not have the strength to see our problems and challenges in light of the Kingdom.  We will instead stumble in the darkness to the point that we make the passing things of this life our constant obsessions, which is a path only to greater worry, anxiety, and fear.  For example, many people make money and possessions false gods for which they will sacrifice just about anything.  Jesus Christ teaches that we are not to worry about our food, drink, and clothing.  Instead, we are to trust that our Heavenly Father knows that we need these things.  “Seek first His kingdom and righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”

This teaching does not condemn reasonable provision for a decent life for ourselves and our families.  It does not deny that the necessities of life are God’s good blessings.  Instead, it gives us a clear example of how spiritual blindness enslaves us to idolatry, which leads only to constant worry.  Poverty, hunger, and famine are always possibilities in our world.  Economic depression, natural disaster, war, crime, disease, and disability are obvious threats to having adequate food, clothing, and shelter.  There is simply no way that we can protect ourselves completely from such dangers.  If we make the physical necessities of life our gods, we cannot avoid being consumed by worry about them. That kind of idolatry inevitably fuels anxiety.

If the eyes of our souls are gaining clarity and focus, however, we will not blindly view life’s necessities as the highest good, and neither will we make the lack of them the greatest evil.  Instead, we will be illumined with the light of Christ to the point that we will see even the worst circumstances of life in this world as opportunities to serve our one true Master.  We will already participate in God’s reign as we learn to trust more fully that our Heavenly Father will provide what we need in this life and beyond.

When we struggle to see that God cares for us in the midst of our challenges, we must remember St. Paul’s example of using suffering and difficulty for growth in holiness:  “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance character, and character, hope.”  Not simply wishful thinking, Paul’s hope is grounded in “the love of God …poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us.”   Christ died for the ungodly, including us, and has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts and souls to enlighten us with the glory of the Kingdom.  In this context, our difficulties and needs are opportunities for gaining greater healing for our souls.  We must use these tribulations to gain greater spiritual strength, clarity, and vision by growing in trust, humility, and patience.

When we are overcome with worry about any problem or threat in life, we must use our weakness as an opportunity to gain greater spiritual strength:  as a reminder to guard our thoughts as we turn our attention from obsessing about what we cannot change to an earnest, humble plea for the Lord’s healing mercy.  That is how we will open ourselves to greater participation in His life and, thus, find true peace.

Some lose the joy of life because of worry fueled by the love of money; others become miserable because of domination by anger, fear, lust, gluttony, self-righteousness, or other passions.   These and all our other habitual sins are symptoms of our spiritual blindness, of our darkened souls which keep us from seeing ourselves, others, and the entire creation in the glorious light of the Kingdom.   As long as we remain in the dark, we will never see anything clearly and easily stumble and fall.

Those who are sick do not need relief only for their symptoms; they require healing from the causes of their disease. They need therapy that goes to the heart of the matter. We will find that kind of healing in the spiritual life by:  opening our souls to the light of Christ through daily prayer; reading the Bible and the lives and teachings of the Saints; and watching our minds and mouths to reject thoughts and words that are not pleasing to God.  We will find it by fasting in order to humble ourselves before the Lord and gain strength in refusing to be enslaved to selfish desires.  We will find it by taking confession on a regular basis as we embrace the mercy of the Lord through sincere repentance. We will find it by:  forgiving those who have wronged us and asking forgiveness of those we have wronged; giving generously of our time, attention, and resources to those in need; and attending the Divine Liturgy regularly as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ as often as possible.

This way of life is for our healing; it is for our good.  It is what is necessary for us to open our darkened souls to the brilliant light of Christ as we learn to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.  It is how we may gain the clarity and strength to serve our one true Master as we come to place our problems, fears, and worries in the context of trust in a Lord Who has conquered even death itself for our salvation purely out of love for His sons and daughters.

Regardless of the form that darkness takes in our lives, we must not despair.  Instead, we must use our weakness and pain as reminders to open ourselves to the light of Christ as best we can.   Stumbling around with our eyes closed is a good way to become disoriented and hurt ourselves.  All of us have probably learned from experience that nothing but brokenness, pain, and worry come from embracing spiritual blindness.  Since God created us in His image and likeness, we will never find ultimate satisfaction by looking for fulfillment in the passing things of this world.  Doing so will only make us miserable and weak.

Let us, then, open ourselves to the healing light of Christ, trusting that He will respond graciously to even our small, faltering steps to put our lives in the context of His Kingdom.  That is the ultimate cure for our worries.  If we trust primarily in ourselves and what we can get by using worldly things according to our own designs, we will inevitably be consumed by anxiety and fear.  But if we gain the spiritual clarity to behold all things in the light of His glory, we will know peace from the depths of our souls.  The One Who dwells in our hearts has conquered even death itself and made us participants in His eternal life.   He delivers us from slavery to the fears that are rooted in our blindness.  He makes it possible for us to experience already the joy of heaven even as we live and breathe in this world with all of its and our problems.  As the Lord said, “Seek first His kingdom and righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”

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