“Do not be anxious about anything.” Philippians 4:6
A story is told of Isaac the son of Jacob, a Jewish rabbi living near the Polish city of Cracow many years ago. I cannot find this story anywhere, I think I must have heard it on the radio and written it down – if someone can tell me the source I would be glad to know. The story goes like this:
One night Isaac the son of Jacob had a strange dream – he dreamt there was treasure buried under the bridge to the imperial palace in the Czech city of Prague. “What a strange dream”, thought Isaac to himself when he woke the next day. The next night Isaac the son of Jacob had the same dream: under the bridge to the imperial palace there was treasure buried. “What a remarkable dream”, thought Isaac to himself the next day, “the same dream two nights in a row”. That night, Isaac the son of Jacob had the same dream for a third time, there was treasure buried under the bridge to the palace in Prague.
Having the same dream three nights in a row clinched the decision in Rabbi Isaac’s mind – he must go to Prague to find this treasure. Prague was many, many miles from Cracow and for an old rabbi it was a long and hard walk.
When he reached Prague he found that the imperial palace was heavily guarded, many of the guards were guarding the bridge – the rabbi knew there was no hope in digging for treasure here.
He was spotted by the captain of the guard. “What are you doing here, old man?” asked the captain.
The rabbi decided he might as well tell the truth. “I had a dream that there was treasure buried under this bridge”.
The captain of the guard roared with laughter, “Treasure under the bridge indeed. You silly old man, are you not old enough not to believe in dreams? I myself had a dream last week. I dreamt there was treasure buried in the house of a rabbi called Isaac the son of Jacob. What would you makeof that dream, old man?”
Isaac the son of Jacob said nothing. He turned and walked back to his home outside of Cracow. Digging up the floor of his house, he found the treasure of his dreams, enough to Isaac and his family for years to come.
I suppose the point of the story is that the thing we most want is often closest to home.
“Do not be anxious about anything” writes Saint Paul. Why? Why shouldn’t we be anxious? What is the hope we have? It is eternal life, no need to worry, no need to fear, every reason in the world to live our lives in a radically different way.
But do we live as aren’t anxious about anything? We do not.
We live our lives like Isaac the son of Jacob, always looking for something, always feeling that there is just something lacking.
How often we are like Isaac the son of Jacob, dreaming of something more than what we have. When we are asked what it is we we most want we talk about things like happiness, contentment, peace of mind, and similar thoughts.
Why are we anxious? Where is our faith? Can we give an account of our hope?
Like Isaac the son of Jacob, we will search far and wide – we are not quite sure for what. If we have a certain house or a certain car or a certain lifestyle, then we will have got there, then we will be happy. Like Isaac, the son of Jacob, we arrive at our destination and find there is nothing there.
Christians do not need to search, the greatest hope, the most precious treasure, is at home, it is within us. Everlasting life – here and now, what more can we possibly want? Why is it that we are so despondent? Why do we fail to show the joy and the delight and the sheer celebration of this hope within us?
Perhaps it is only in the extremes of life that we are driven to think on Paul’s words, only in the extremes of life are we able to not be anxious about anything.
During Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror across Europe, there was a systematic attempt by the Nazis to exterminate the entire Jewish population. One Jewish family found refuge with a non-Jewish friend who hid them in the attic of his house. Eventually the man’s friends discovered that he was hiding the Jewish family. They were sympathetic but they warned him that he was putting his life in danger. “I am here”, he said, “and the time is now”.
In those few words that German expressed a truth about life that most people never come to realise. Centuries earlier the mediaeval mystic Meister Eckhart had expressed the same thoughts, the only life I have is this one, the only time I have is now.
Because we fail to accept the joy, because we fail to accept the hope, that Jesus offers us here and now, we go through our lives wishing that things were different. We spend years wishing for a past that will never return or looking forward to a future that never comes.
How different our lives might be if, like Saint Paul, we could give up anxiety. We have this one life, this one opportunity, we pass this way but once. We are here and the time is now.
“Do not be anxious about anything.” The reason is that Jesus has died and has risen again for us, the hope is everlasting life. When we truly accept that hope, life is never the same again, the treasure is found, the search is over.
Sermon at Saint Matthias’ Church on Sunday, 17th December