This week someone asked me, “What fear were you referring to in your Sermon?” And I realized it was a really good question for two reasons. First, I refer to fear, the climate of fear in our society, the use of fear by our public leaders, and the many ways that we are incited to fear by our media (social & news) in many of my messages. And I think it is one of the most stubborn social problems of our time. Second, I am purposefully non-specific about the causes of fear to allow each person to ‘fill-in-the-blank’ for themselves.
So when asked about the specific fear I had addressed in a message it is obvious that there are many fears in the hearts and lives of my community. Fear of illness, fear of aging, fear of foreigners, fear of other religions, fear of death, fear of deportation, fear of failure, fear for our children, and these are just a few. Some are rational, and some are highly irrational. And I realize this is where I am usually preaching. As I formulate a message that addresses fear, I am addressing the irrational fears that are driving so much of society at the moment. Here is just one example.
June 17, 2015 was the date of a terrible and evil crime: the murder of 9 people gathered for a Bible study at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston SC. This was a heinous act of violence and cowardice. In the months that followed many churches across the country developed “security ministries” and hired “security ministers,” and some even installed metal detectors. And none of those things happened because of “a concern for safety.” They all were irrational reactions to fear. There are tens of thousands of churches in this country, and do we choose to allow fear of what happened in one of them to change how we welcome people!?! If so, we are allowing that one violent act to have violent impacts on many more communities of faith, and the very faith we preach.
We live in a dangerous world, and we always have! And at every point in history that the church has chosen to arm itself, or defend itself, or shore up it’s defenses, bad things have happened and the church has been a part of those bad things. And by contrast the times in history when the church has taken a stand of open reconciliation and welcome, especially in the face of opposition, most often we have been a force for good, even in violent times. That does not mean bad things won’t happen to us. And I am not advocating for a ‘Pollyanna-ish’ non-response of wishful thinking. But when we choose defense or a show of force as our response we give up our credibility as a community of faith. There is something greater that God is calling us to, and there always has been.
When Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, (John 18:11) and allowed himself to be arrested and crucified, he was showing us what it meant to follow where God leads, even in the face of violence. Saving us through sacrifice, not responding in kind. God’s peace has always been displayed in Love, not superior fire-power.
Our hope in times of fear has never come from our own reaction or response. Our hope comes from God. We are reminded in the words of scripture, many of which were written during times of violence and struggle.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.”
When Jesus said “Don’t be afraid” and “I am with you always”(Matt. 28:10, 20) I believe he meant it.
Thank be to God!