When Possibilities Make Us Anxious – Sermon Prep

Is it ADD, or just a good, old fashioned lack of discipline? I keep saying I’m going to write regularly in order develop my ideas more clearly, but… you know… things come up… interesting things…

One of the latest interesting things has been the invitation to preach at my Church, DaySpring, on February 10th, and I’m asking you to share the sermon development process with me.

Burt, our former pastor, started a tradition known as the Lectionary breakfast. Every Friday morning Burt would have breakfast with interested members of the congregation to discuss with them the shape that the coming Sunday’s sermon was taking. He then invited their thoughts and reflections on where he was going with it. Occasional these ideas would show up in the sermon, but Burt says that even when the group’s thoughts were not used directly, they were always helpful.

I can’t go to Lectionary breakfast because I see clients when they meet. Besides, I need your “fertilizer” to hit the ground with more than just two days time before I preach! So, I want to share my thoughts with you here, and ask you to share back with me your responses.

The Lectionary passages for the day are:

  • Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
  • Psalm 32
  • Romans 5:12-19
  • Matthew 4:1-11

I was immediately drawn to the encounter between the woman and the serpent. For years now I’ve been using the Garden story as a way of reflecting on how Christianity tries to make sense of the pervasiveness of anxiety in human experience. From time to time I’ve had the honor of speaking to folks working in the field of psychology on the topic of integrating spirituality and psychology, and the story of “THE FALL” provides an excellent vehicle.

My summary of the story goes like this:

  • We were created to live in a vibrant relationship with God and each other.
  • We were created to participate in meaningful work (stewardship of creation).
  • We do not recognize our limits (1. There is a God. 2. You are not that God).
  • We “fall” from our intended existence.
  • Death (anxiety) becomes the pervasive feature of human existence.
  • Anxiety, then, continues to corrupt our relationships and our work.

For some reason, that I don’t recall, I began to introduce the encounter between between the woman and the serpent with the statement, “Then one day, Possibility slithered in to the garden.” My point simply has been that the serpent was able to get the woman to question the state of her life.

  • “Are you sure this is really the best possible life for you?”
  • “Are you sure that the Owner of this garden isn’t really just holding you back?”

The woman’s curiosity is piqued enough that she ultimately decides not to trust and limits that God has put in place, and so she “sins,” and then invites the man to sin, which he seems more than willing to do. The rest, as we say, is history.

Now there are lots of fascinating philosophical and theological conundrums here. For instance, we’d never say that the woman’s curiosity was “bad” or “wrong,” would we? And we certainly wouldn’t say a person should repress their curiosity about the possibilities in life, would we?

My conclusion is that its not the possibilities that are a problem, but rather the the state of our own souls as we consider our possibilities that can make or break us.

This is what I want to unpack for my sermon: How do we embrace the possibilities in life so that they foster spiritual vitality rather feeding our broken spots?

You can help me by simply reflecting back to me some of what you’ve learned about yourself when it comes to the possibilities in your life?

  • Do possibilities invigorate you?
  • Do possibilities terrify you?
  • Do you tend to see new possibilities as fresh opportunities to “co-create” with God?
  • Or does every new possibility just seem seem like a new way to fail?

Clearly, some possibilities are “designed” to appeal to the small self (see the Matthew passage), but many possibilities in life are a problem because of the anxiety we bring to them.

So…. What thoughts do you have?

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About Wes Eades

I've been a pastoral counselor, marital therapist, and overall listening ear since about 1989 or so.
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5 Responses to When Possibilities Make Us Anxious – Sermon Prep

  1. Brandon says:

    Wes,

    I like the ability to participate from so far away. We should do this more often. I like your approach, and will probably steal it for my sermon as well – but I’m not there yet. I still have this week to do.

    That said, I happened upon this quote that I (at least) think applies:

    The cause of this deviation [of the natural energies into destructive passions] is the hidden fear of death. – Maximus the Confessor.

    I hope all goes well in Waco.

    Thanks,
    Brandon

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wes,
    This is a really interesting approach to this passage, one the hits home for me. I think I find myself teetering between the two ends of the spectrum. New possibilities often excite me about all that may develop and all the ways to “co-create.” But they also create anxiety within me by offering a new opportunities to fail. It is the unknown that can be paralyzing at times… Things can go either way. I sometimes find myself asking questions like, “What if I take this new opportunity and everything falls apart?” “What if I’m failing by not taking this new opportunity?” Then I go on to wonder if my false-self is keeping me from saying yes to the new possibility (might I fail?) or is my false-self exciting my about being able to co-create something new (ego/pride). It is amazing the mental tricks we can play on ourselves as we try and discern various steps in our journeys! After much questioning, the only thing I find I’m able to do is to continue to let go of all my questions. I have to let go of them over and over again. It is an act of submission, surrender, and trust for me. I turn to God with an open heart and open hands, saying, “I let go of this, and this, and that. May I be your vessel. May I have wisdom to see clearly… Amen.”

    –Chris Fillingham

  3. Carn-Dog says:

    Dr. Eades,

    I hope it’s ok that I stumbled onto your blog. I’m the teaching pastor here at UBC and my friend Chris Fillingham tipped m off that you were wrestling with this text for this coming Sunday. I’m trying to do the same thing…hence his suggestion.

    Anyhow, really appreciate your look at the text. I find your psychological (can I call it that) read of the text both creative and honest. I guess to answer your last question, I would respond that I love opportunity less and less as I get older and inherit the blessing and liability that is my family. For example. In college I was a proverbial Evil Knievil, or at least I approached consequence like he does. Then I got married and moved to Texas and started seminary without a full time job…much to my father-in-laws chagrin. This was scary, but still slightly fun. Now I have my first son and am expecting a second. After graduating seminary this last summer and again facing the opportunity/possibility of getting out into the real world, and I about died. Never been so anxious in my whole life. I guess I only enjoy risk/opportunity now if I can calculate the worst possible outcome and determine if I can suffer that scenario. Perhaps that’s not real risk though.

    I have this question. Perhaps I’m poking holes in the “story” that I shouldn’t, but why would eve have broken spots in her soul at this point in the story? And if we grant that she did, what constructive does the text teach us about the deliberation of the choice? I guess that is a hard one to answer here since they make the wrong one, but I’d love to hear your feedback.

    Josh Carney

  4. dmaust says:

    Wes,

    You say…”My conclusion is that its not the possibilities that are a problem, but rather the the state of our own souls as we consider our possibilities that can make or break us.”

    You also imply that we should not chide Eve for exploring her curiosity – curiosity killed the cat.

    I have more than once placed myself in situations because of my curiosity that resulted in anxieties extraordinaire. I think Christ teaches us to temper our curiosity (so to speak) in recognition that our soul (as you note) is predisposed to the wrong choice. As Josh points out, it may be mostly about “…the deliberation of the choice,” [Josh…intersting point since technically speaking man/woman was not yet fallen]

    “Guard your hearts and minds…” comes to mind.

    I agree, the possibilities are not the problem, the soul is hopelessly predisposed but for grace, so maybe it is the our choice in proximity to the possibility that sets the stage. And I suppose that choice is driven in part by how much we beleive the truths that we have been taught. As you point out…”she ultimately decides not to trust and limits that God has put in place, and so she “sins,”

    You affectionately put as part of your description that you are a Narcissist. I suppose she was, I am and that is the bias with which we test all our curiousities. We believe we should have everything and more and irritated when we are told otherwise.

    My only caution is that when we think through these issues is that we try (hard to do I know) to analyze them from God’s perpsective of His creation as oppossed to our perspective as the created.

    I agree/support your points below…anxiety is often translated as regret for me.

    We were created to live in a vibrant relationship with God and each other.
    We were created to participate in meaningful work (stewardship of creation).
    We do not recognize our limits (1. There is a God. 2. You are not that God).
    We “fall” from our intended existence.
    Death (anxiety) becomes the pervasive feature of human existence.
    Anxiety, then, continues to corrupt our relationships and our work.

  5. Brandon says:

    Wes,

    Based on things that you said, I am beginning to approach the combination of the texts (Eve and Jesus) as an illustration of our design. In full humanity (pre-fall) we possess the ability to not trust (to act with anxiety) and eat the fruit of sin. Once that “fall” occurs, we are perhaps more predisposed to continue to choose that fruit of self-deception (listening to the smaller self). But, in bearing the mystery of the Christ, we are restored to our full humanity, and once again given the opportunity to act in trust (to listen for our true-self) and understand, once again our relationship with the Lover of our full humanity. That is the grace of the story, the restoration of the self through the bearing of Christ’s journey. Anxiety cannot be overcome without the ability to live into perfection, and that means knowing our place in relationship to the Creator and creation. To not sin (feed our anxiety) is not to live by some moral code (not eating this fruit or that – to not walk more than so many steps on Saturday), but to live in communion with the one who is the source of our being, and as such the source of our necessary boundaries. It is the communion with God or the lack thereof that often provides the most anxiety for me.

    Brandon

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