Sermon What Can You Control? Scripture – Matt 6:33-34, Rom 8:28; Given by Virtual Worship Service at St. David's North Austin Medical Center on 5/10/2020
Sermon What Can You Control?
Scripture – Matt 6:33-34, Rom 8:28
It’s Mother’s Day and I want to say to all the women, mothers included, that we are so grateful to you and all you have done in our lives – wives, mothers, Step-mothers, aunts, grandmothers, great-grandmother, and mentors – all the women in your life. All you ladies walk with us, care for us, love us, and give to us – including sometimes picking up after us – and we are so blessed by your presence. May today be a blessing to you and a break from your life of giving.
NAMC and our community are coming out of the restrictions due to the COVID – 19 pandemic. – surgeries happening, families present for certain areas - there is a “light at the end of the tunnel.” It may be a different world when we come out of the proverbial tunnel, but it’s better than we are at present – but there is loss, there is grief, there is pain, that we have to see and deal with. But there is hope, too, and blessings that are in the darkness or chaos – I hope you can see that, too. My pastor, Dr. Lonny Poe, entitled a sermon during the midst of this pandemic called “pause” where he tried to make the point that we could use this time to reprioritize our agendas, and work on ourselves. It is that mode I begin – with a focus inside of us…
Some of us humans have issues with what we can control – at least I do. Control gives us some sense of ownership over our world and over ourselves. It is as if – if we can control something – anything – then the world seems a little safer, a little more manageable, a little less fearsome.
For whatever, reason, a lack of control is often worrisome if not terrifying. Maybe Admiral Bill McRaven said it better in his book Make Your Bed after a riveting speech at UT graduation in 2014 prompted him to write the book. He spoke to the UT graduates about 10 things he learned in the Buds Course (the Navy SEAL entrance course) that changed his life. In the beginning of the book, where he is talking about “If you want to change the world… start off by making your bed” Admiral McRaven states of the American military people “[t]hey all understand that life is hard and that sometimes there is little you can do to affect the outcome of your day.” So, his advice is to make you bed when you get up – why? I say – in part - because it’s something you can do, and gives you control over something in your life. And as Admiral McRaven said in the speech – “and if you have a miserable day…you can come home to a bed that you made…and that will give you encouragement for tomorrow.”
So that sounds good – do what’s reasonable and what you can control… but sometimes we want to control more than ourselves, and that is what gets us into trouble.
Maybe you are able to control somebody else. I have learned in my 53 years that is an illusion – at least for me… So I ask a question that you may ponder to yourself: Have you ever had people in your life you can’t control?
Like your boss, when he or she just won’t get it that it would be so much easier if he managed like this?
Or your family? Why don’t they just all get along – they’re so much alike (and different) - can’t we just be relatable family?
Maybe your students? If you would just listen and apply the formulas like I say, it would be easier – it really would…
Or your patients…
Why can’t you control them? If you’re like me (at least the me I used to be), it isn’t for a lack of trying!
And what does the spiritual side of us say? Is there anything that helps us deal with control (or lack of control) there?
Religions (or faith) have at their heart control by someone else, though some humans constantly fight that… we have seen it when religions get used by someone or a group of people to control people – like the Spanish Inquisition, the Witch Trial of Salem, the genocide in Rwanda, or the radical Christians or Muslims that bomb buildings or do atrocities in the name of God or Allah.
But what do the religions say about control? Let’s look at a few.
It is the month of Ramadan for Muslims. To them, I say: “May Allah brings lots of happiness and blessings to your lives during this blessed month of Ramadan.” (Ramadan Kareem prayer).
Islam, from the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century, brings us The Qur’an – the religious beliefs - and the “habitual practices,” called the Sunnah.
Habeeba Husain writes “Islam recognizes this very big knowledge gap that humans have in regard to their own lives. It acknowledges we do not know all, nor are we supposed to. What Muslims are encouraged to do in these kinds of situations is “tie their camel” and then put their trust in Allah. In other words, do your due diligence and leave the rest to God. There is only so much we can control about our lives, and to be able to deal with the rest we need to rely upon and trust God.”
So, Husain relies on the Qur’an. Here are some “scriptures” he holds dear when he ventures into uncharted territories:
“…place your trust in Allah. Surely, Allah loves those who place their trust in Him.” (Q. Sūrah 3:159)
“If Allah helps you, there is none to overcome you. And if He abandons you, then, who is there to help you after that? In Allah the believers should place their trust.” (Q. Sūrah 3:160)
“…Enough for me is Allah. There is no god but He. In Him I have placed my trust, and He is the Lord of the Great Throne.” (Q. Sūrah 9:129)
“And He will provide him from (sources) he never could imagine. And whosoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. Verily, Allah will accomplish his purpose. Indeed Allah has set a measure for all things.” (Q. Sūrah 65:3)
This gives my brother Husain some comfort in times of need.
The Israelite faith (the Jewish faith) is – in my Christian view - all about the LORD’s control, or YHWH’s control - for those who are not Jewish – and the human struggle to give all things to the LORD. It is about the relationship between YHWH and His people.
One of the books of the Hebrew Bible, in the Neviʾim, of the Latter Prophets, specifically Jeremiah, in 29:11 says:
Jeremiah 29:11-13 English Standard Version (ESV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[a] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 29:11 Or peace
One of my favorite verses in in Proverbs, in the the Ketuvim, or Writings, states in 3:5-6:
Proverbs 3:5-6 English Standard Version (ESV)
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
In Jonah, which is one of the 12 Minor Prophets, we learn from the prophet Jonah and his story. You know, the man who was swallowed by a fish or whale for three days, only to be expelled and set onto dry land? Well, that was Jonah running away from what the Lord had commended him to do, and the LORD correcting his path. He then went to Nineveh – which YHWH had already commanded him to do, and save the city of Gentiles from utter destruction (for Israelite Jonah didn’t want to save the Gentiles). As if that wasn’t enough, after Jonah had been used by God to save the city, YHWH gave Jonah a fig tree to shade him from the desert sun. When God made it wither during the day, Jonah was exacerbated – how could God do that? God was trying to make the point of the Gentiles in the city, but isn’t human control funny? Jonah – mad at God – because of a fig tree that God controlled, not Jonah?
In Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths are designed to help people transform their lives, according to one theorist. The Four Noble Truths are:
The First noble truth: In life, there is suffering, because of the impermanent nature of things.
The Second noble truth: Suffering is due to attachments and expectations, to grasping and clinging.
The Third noble truth: It's possible to end suffering by giving up attachments (clinging) and expectations (grasping).
The Fourth noble truth: The way to end suffering due to clinging and grasping is through balance and living in the present.
In The Art of Mindfully Letting Go, Ronald Alexander stated: “The four noble truths can help us break out of the need to be in control and, instead, enter into an acceptance of the present moment. Only in the present will we find the courage to cross the threshold of the unknown and relax into the changes we cannot avoid. I find it helpful to take a mindful pause throughout the day and check in with one or more of them. It's a lovely compass to follow.”
Buddha’s enlightenment was – at least partially – a need for humans to wright the issue of controlling everything. Instead, “accept the present moment” as it is.
In Christianity, which is my home faith, it is a process of turning from selfishness to selflessness. You cannot do it alone, and need the Triune God: The Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit – to do it for you, as you become Christlike. You worry about doing God’s will, and the rest will be supplied by God. And when you are weak, like the Apostle Paul said, God is strength comes through you.
We believe in the Hebrew Bible, which we call the Old Testament, and the New Testament. I’m going to provide 2 Scriptures from the New Testament, and talk a little bit about one of them.
The first one is also one of my favorites, and one I cling to when the world looks dark. It is in Paul’s letter to the Romans, specifically Romans 8:28. It says:
Romans 8:28 English Standard Version (ESV)
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[a] for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 Some manuscripts God works all things together for good, or God works in all things for the good
The second one, which I will comment on a little bit, is Matthew 6:33-34.
Matthew 6:33-34 English Standard Version (ESV)
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:33-34 Commentary
This is part of the famous Sermon on the Mount. You heard the verses before in the Scripture reading by Jacob – Matt 6:25-34. Jesus said – in essence – why do you worry? The birds of the air have enough, the lilies of the field have enough – and you are God’s children, too – will He not take care of you? So don’t worry about these things. Worry only about doing the will of God, and God will take care of the rest.
The idea – for Christians – is that they do the will of the Father – bringing in the Kingdom of God (which was started by Jesus) – verse 33 – by loving God; by loving their neighbor; by doing love, care, compassion; by treating people like they would like to be treated; - and God will take care of the rest.
And if you do that, verse 34, you don’t have to worry. Just do it one day at a time. One commentary put it like this: “Address each day's problems as they come, confident that your life is in the hands of a loving Father, who holds the whole world in his hands and will bring it to a worthy conclusion.”
My mantra in life, and especially for times like this crisis, is: Do what is reasonable (under the circumstances), and let God take care of the rest.
Lack of Control
So maybe you’re hearing me say that what you want is a lack of control, i.e., I’m trying to ask, “What does lack of control get you?” If you’re hearing me say that, I will correct myself at least in your ears. It’s not lack of control; it’s controlling what you can.
I hope none of you have to live through a stroke; believe me, it’s a journey that breaks you down, changes you physically, and alters your view of this world and the next. It is - at least in my case – partially a spiritual journey. One thing I know – after my stroke 12 ½ years ago, I was broken – in a lot of ways. After I woke up from the anesthesia-induced coma, I could not move the right side of my body, I could say one word but didn’t know what it meant, and my mind was in a fog. I prayed to God: “Why did You leave me down here – especially when my wife, Amy, was 7 ½ months pregnant with our fourth child.” They didn’t need a fifth – me! God was silent for a time, and then I got the impression that He said in my heart – “You have a purpose. Do what you can, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
There have been miracles upon miracles, done by God and care providers that have me walking, talking, and thinking to do ministry in this place. For that, I’m so thankful. But it was when I was broken and could do nothing for myself that I had to surrender to the people around me and to God. Yet, there is a freedom in that once you decide that you can’t do it all on your own. Try it for a while and see if you agree…
To put it frankly: I couldn’t control anything, and that realization was my freedom! But it’s a process that has pain, struggle, and frustration along the way. But it’s made me a better husband (hopefully), a better father, a better person, and better minister (with God’s help).
COVID – 19 Pandemic
So, what do we do in this COVID-19 pandemic – even when there’s a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel? When – at least your subconscious – is screaming “control” something to balance yourself out! The inner person – that often times you can’t even hear, especially in times of “fight or flight” crisis management – is saying – crying – I’m out of control and I don’t like it…
Listen. You have got to control something. Like Admiral McRaven, and the military, who – along with the first responders – train to be in crisis – says – along with me - “Control what you can.”
I was visiting with Jimmy Taylor, the Clinical Nurse Coordinator down in the Peds and Children’s ER last week. We get along well because he and I have a lot of things in common, including the military. In fact, he’s a reserve officer in the Nat’l Guard. He was telling me about Tania Glenn’s Deployment Brief that she gave to – among other entities – the Williamson County Emergency Services. Dr. Glenn is a Clinical Psychologist and has worked in crisis environments. Check it out – it’s on YouTube under Tania Glenn Deployment Brief – 1,2, and 3. Helpful stuff to you first responders and their families, and things you can do to remain vigilant in this fight against the pandemic.
Ms. Glenn, who was also a Licensed Medical Social Worker for years, talks about stress management in her first brief. Things like:
Talk it out when issues come up - with a trusted co-worker, friend, family member, or counselor
Exercise – just do it, even if you don’t feel like it
Relaxation – when you’re off, do whatever works for you (within reason)
Control Substance Abuse – alcohol, medications
There are some other things to do; if you’re interested, talk to me and or watch Dr. Glenn yourself. The briefs are only 5-10 minutes long each.
The HCA Healthcare had something similar on the iMobile on Friday, May 8, saying in brief:
Please remember to take care of you!
- Commit to meditating 10 minutes per day
- Go for a walk
- Keep a food journal
- Get 8 hours of sleep
From HCA Healthcare
Bottom line: If you control yourself, then the rest will be easier, and you’re prepared to “fight the fight” as the apostle Paul would say.
In the end, you’ve got to trust that everything will be alright – use religion for that.
God has the same problem with humans wanting to control things - it's called free will. Remember Adam and Eve and them doing exactly what God told them not to do in the Garden of Eden? They ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. Even though they disappointed God, and rebelled against what He said, He still gave them garments, loved them, and even stayed with them out of the Garden.
If you are Christian, you can see that God did the same thing – He controlled what He could – sort of – although He’s sovereign and can do anything, He just decides not to… in this, He gave us free will in the hopes that we would truly love Him, but the fall and death were the consequences. So, He sent His son – part of Him – to pay the price for our sins.
So, control what you can - yourself, give grace to the other people – who are trying to survive in chaos, and trust that God will take care of everything else.