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All Stressed Up And No Place To Blow

Matthew 11:25-30

If you are a member of our congregation here at First Presbyterian, you are aware of the fact that my partner-in-ministry, Dr. Jim Cook, and I are enjoying a lively, loving, light-hearted competition with each other to see who can come up with the catchiest sermon title. Today I pulled the stops out. I am going for the winner. “All Stressed Up and No Place to Blow!” Top that, Jim Cook!

But all kidding about titles aside, the subject of today’s sermon is one of utmost seriousness. We are living in a tough, tense world that often “stresses us to the max.” A couple of years ago, the Comprehensive Care Corporation of Tampa, Florida, published a booklet about stress in our modern world. The facts are disturbing. Listen:

  1. One out of four (that’s 25% of the American people) suffers from mild to moderate depression, anxiety, loneliness, and other painful symptoms which are attributed mainly to stress.
  2. Four out of five adult family members see a need for less stress in their daily lives.
  3. Approximately half of all diseases can be linked to stress-related origins, including ulcers, colitis, bronchial asthma, high blood pressure and some forms of cancer.
  4. Unmanaged stress is a leading factor in homicides, suicides, child abuse, spouse abuse and other aggravated assaults.
  5. The problem of stress is taking a tremendous toll economically, also. In our nation alone, we Americans are now spending $64.9 billion a year trying to deal with the issue of stress.

I share these sobering statistics with you to help us see the enormity of the problem; to help us see that if we are experiencing stress related problems, we are not alone; and to help us see that in a world that is “all stressed up with no place to blow,” we can find the secret of peace and poise and power for our everyday living through Jesus Christ.

There’s a wonderful little story about a mother who one Sunday morning said to her 10-year-old son: “Billy, I’m not feeling well enough to go to church today, but I want you to go, as usual, and then you can tell me about it.” Obediently, Billy carried out his mom’s wish—when hereturned home, his mother asked: “Well, Billy, how was church?” Billy responded: “Fine.” Mom then asked: “Where did you sit?” Billy said: “Oh, I think I sat about where we usually sit.” Billy’s answer was just vague enough to make his mother suspicious. So she asked: “And what was the sermon about?” Billy began to stammer a bit as he struggled to come up with an answer: “Uh … well … hmmm … let’s see … oh, yes, I remember. It was something about ‘keep your shirt on and you’ll get a blanket.'” Well, that did it. Billy’s mother was convinced that he had cut church, and so she called the pastor and asked him what text he had preached on that morning. He replied: “Be patient and the Comforter will come”!

Well, actually, that’s a pretty good verse to remember these days: “Be patient and the Comforter will come.” You see, we need the strength, the comfort, the peace, the poise which God alone can give. Jesus expressed it this way: “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Come to me, all you who are exhausted and stressed out and weighed down with worry, and I will give you strength and comfort and peace. We have the answer in our hands. We have had it all along. Yet, too often, we look for help in all the wrong places.

Did you hear about the farmer who went to a government bureaucrat specializing in animal health? The farmer sought help from the expert because ten of his chickens had suddenly and inexplicably died. The government expert instructed the farmer to give aspirin to all the remaining chickens. Two days later, the farmer returned. Twenty more chickens had died. What should he do now? Quickly, the expert advised: “Give all the rest castor oil.” Two days later, the farmer returned yet again and reported thirty more dead chickens. The government expert now strongly recommended penicillin. Two days later, a sad farmer showed up. All his chickens had now died. They were all gone. “What a shame,” said the government expert, “I have lots more remedies to try.”
Well, the world offers many remedies to the problem of stress, but the truth is that most of them don’t work. The world offers many so-called experts in stress management, but the truth is that there is only one Great Physician who can give us the strength and comfort we need. The world offers many so-called solutions for the tensions and the burdens that push us down and pull us apart, but the truth is there is only one Prince of Peace who can soothe our jangled nerves and save our troubled souls.

Along the rural roads of India, every now and then, you will pass a post about shoulder high with a strong shelf built on top of it. These posts are called “Soma Tonga.” The people of India who walk the roads carrying heavy loads on their backs can stop at a “Soma Tonga”, which means “resting place”. There they place their heavy load on the shelf and rest awhile before continuing their journey. Little wonder then the new believers in India call Jesus Christ “my Soma Tonga”—the One who gives me rest, the One who takes my burden, the One who renews my strength.

On the basis of that wonderful thought, I want to affirm today that in a world that is “all stressed up with no place to blow,” some say escape the stress, others say endure the stress, but I say elevate the stress.

Some say, “Escape the stress.”

“Stress is bad,” these people say, “so avoid it at all costs. Get away. Run away. Fly away. Take a pill to ease your nerves. Take a drink to drown your sorrows. Take a shot to kill that pain. Do whatever you have to do to escape the stress.” Well, that’s a popular answer these days. If you doubt that, then watch the TV commercials and watch how many of them advocate this escapist philosophy. They claim they have just the right pill, just the right drink, just the right place, just the right trip to solve all your problems.

Please don’t misunderstand me. There are times when it is appropriate and helpful to take properly prescribed and administered medication. There are times when it is good to take a vacation and “get away from it all” for awhile. But that’s not what I am talking about. I am talking about an escapist approach to life which declares that the overriding task in life is to run away and hide from the problems and the pressures and the demands and the challenges of life.

But that’s no answer. Dr. Jay Shirley of the University of Oklahoma tried to construct a stress-free environment. He took individuals and had them immersed in water at body temperature. All sensory information was cut off. They could not see or hear or taste or smell or feel anything. Air was fed to them through a mask at precisely 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They were almost in a womb-like existence. They were totally removed from all the stress-inducing factors in life. Dr. Shirley discovered that no person could stand that existence for longer than 6 hours. It seems that the absence of stress becomes very stressful itself. Therefore, since we all have a need for a certain amount of stress and tension in our lives, to try to escape from stress is unwise at best, foolhardy at worst.

Others say, “Endure the stress.”

One morning, a first-grade teacher walked into her classroom to find little Johnny, six years old, standing up in front of the class with his stomach stuck way out. Thinking that was an odd thing to do, the teacher inquired: “Johnny, why in the world are you standing there with your stomach sticking out?” Johnny said: “Well, I had a tummy-ache when I got to school this morning and I went to the nurse and she said: ‘Just stick it out till noon and maybe it will be OK!'”

Some people go through life like that—just sticking it out till noon, “just coping”, just enduring, just surviving. In a recent “Peanuts” cartoon, Charlie Brown explained it like this: “I have a new philosophy of life, Linus. From now on, I’m only going to dread one day at a time!” That’s a light treatment of a very serious subject. Too many people today see life as “daily grind”, as a grueling test to be endured. But where’s the joy? Where’s the zest? Where’s the enthusiasm? Where’s the excitement? For these people life is drudgery. They cope. They withstand. They bear up. They persist. They endure. But they miss the point that life is a wonderful gift to us; and that even with all its stresses and strains and problems and pressures, God wants our lives to be meaningful and productive and abundant and joyful.

Early one morning, the writer, Robert Raines, got in his car and started driving through the beautiful Pocono Mountains in northern Pennsylvania. As the sun began to rise, it highlighted the beautiful colors of autumn which were splashed over all the trees. It was a glorious sight to behold—looking out at the wonders of the mountains and the valleys below. And then it happened. Robert Raines saw one of the most beautiful things he had ever witnessed in his life. Standing on the slopes of one of the mountains, facing the gorgeous valley below, was a young man in his early twenties with a trumpet pressed to his lips. Do you know what he was playing? With his lungs expanded fully and releasing all the energy in his soul, he was playing the Doxology on his trumpet.

“Praise God from whom all blessing flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!”

Get the point. With all the stresses and problems in this life, still we have so many Doxologies to sing, so much to be thankful for, so many blessings to count. Life is more than a gruelling, endurance test. Life is more than a survival game. Life is more than a coping competition. So some say, “Escape the stress.” Others say, “Endure the stress”. Not I.

I say, “Elevate the stress.”

In other words, we are to do something positive with the stress in our lives. Bring it to Christ and Christ will give you the strength to turn your problems into possibilities, to turn your obstacles into opportunities. So elevate your stress. Let it spur you to action. Use the stress to do something good for the cause of Christ. Let me be honest at this point. Stress is a friend to me. If I were never under stress, I would never get around to writing a sermon. I would procrastinate. I would put things off. So elevating the stress in our lives means letting the stress spur us on to creative action.

Some years ago, Senator Hubert Humphrey, on the campaign trail, was giving a speech, when a heckler in the crowd hit him with an overripe tomato. The audience gasped. But Hubert Humphrey responded beautifully. He quickly wiped away the tomato splatterings and said: “Speaking of agriculture …” and he continued his speech to a thunderous approval and a standing ovation. He could have stopped and left the platform. He could have gritted his teeth and ignored what happened. Instead, he elevated it. He turned trouble into triumph.

Remember the powerful words of our text today. Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Then Jesus added these words: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” The key word there is “yoke”. It means “service”, or “ministry”. What Jesus was saying was this: “Put service to God and others first in your life. Let that be your number one priority, and everything else will fall in place for you.” In other words, redeem the stress in your life. Use the stress. Elevate the stress. Let the stress lift you to creative service for the Lord in your life.

Remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Talk about a stressful life. He had been captured by the Nazis and placed in one of those horrible concentration camps. And yet in that deplorable situation, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words: “O Lord, whatever this day may bring, Thy name be praised.”

Remember the Apostle Paul? Beaten, flogged, stoned, robbed, scourged, criticized, imprisoned, ship-wrecked, run out of town. Talk about stress. Yet he says: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Whatever life throws at me, I am going to elevate it and use it to serve my Christ. He is my rock. He is my fortress. He is my strength. He is my Lord.

Can you say that and mean it? This is our calling as Christians—not to escape stress, not to simply endure stress, but to elevate the stress, and to use it to serve our Lord. Dear friends, I love you way too much to ever tell you anything that is not true. The peace, the poise, and the power of Jesus Christ can be yours if you simply elevate Him in your life.

Amen and amen.

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