Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. (Luke 21:34-35)
According to our Lord this is perhaps the greater temptation -- we seek to medicate our despair, our guilt, our fear, and our shame. When Jesus points to the destructive consequence of carousing, He points us to the deeper problem that is behind much of our self-indulgence -- our anxiety over daily life.
I suspect that every Pastor hears this often from parishioners. I do. Their lives are weary with stress and pressure, with anxiety and fear. We joke about not listening to the news in an effort to relieve some of the burden we face in the world around us. It is no joke. We seek the solace of bottle and drugs, of self-indulgent excess in pleasure (more often than not sexual). We are doing nothing more than medicating our way through life.
In some respects that is, then, what we expect from religion and faith. We seek medication -- something to dull the pain if not relieve it and something to offer distraction or diversion from the things that trouble us that will not go away.
Some of what is wrong with preaching today is that the preacher seeks to be healer and fixer of our ills and fears instead of voice of God speaking Law and Gospel. We treat the sermon as if it were a prescription pad and the Gospel as if it were medicine designed more to ease the burden than address what is wrong. So we preach more about ourselves and more about today than about the Lord and the promise of His coming.
The same can be said for church. Whether we seek to repair the world around us or find help to repair what is wrong in us, the church has become like Angie's List -- a directory of programs and people we can use to meet our needs. Where people make terrible financial choices, we offer counseling and programs designed to make them better money managers. Where people have doubts or fears about parenting, we direct them to programs and people who can help them (not all that more spiritual than the nanny programs on TV). Where our kids are bored and lonely, we fix them with exciting things designed primarily for their pleasure and connect them with others so that they find friends. None of these is terrible. But it has replaced the real purpose of the Word and the real nature of the community called, gathered, and set apart by that Word.
We do not need more medication. We do not need a Lord who offers us medication to dull our pain. We need a Lord who is strong in our weakness, who has born the cross that we might bear our crosses, and who leads us to the peace that passes understanding -- even amid the pain and struggles of this mortal life of change and chance.
There is a difference between medicine designed to address the cause and the medicine that merely dulls us against the symptoms. The Gospel is definitely the former and not the latter.
Jesus has come and brings pleasure eternal,
Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End;
Godhead, humanity, union supernal,
O great Redeemer, You come as our friend!
Heaven and earth, now proclaim this great wonder:
Jesus has come and brings pleasure eternal!
Jesus has come! Now see bonds rent asunder!
Fetters of death now dissolve, disappear.
See Him burst through with a voice as of thunder!
He sets us free from our guilt and our fear,
Lifts us from shame to the place of His honor.
Jesus has come! Hear the roll of God’s thunder!
Jesus has come as the mighty Redeemer.
See now the threatening strong one disarmed!
Jesus breaks down all the walls of death’s fortress,
Brings forth the pris’ners triumphant, unharmed.
Satan, you wicked one, own now your master!
Jesus has come! He, the mighty Redeemer!
Jesus has come as the King of all glory!
Heaven and earth, O declare His great pow’r,
Capturing hearts with the heavenly story;
Welcome Him now in this fast-fleeting hour!
Ponder His love! Take the crown He has for you!
Jesus has come! He, the King of all glory!