What Matters Most

When I think about the early church and how people gathered for worship, it seems this pandemic has sent us back to the first ways of doing church: the household. The “Pause Button” has been pushed on us. We are limited in contact with the wider gathering, but that should not limit community with God and with others. We have been forced to slow down; to see what matters most. It’s possible we could come out of this closer to our Creator and closer to creation itself. We could come out of this with new passion, and clarity for our purpose as a congregation in Christ’s Holy Church.

This pandemic has forced us to innovate, to be creators ourselves. Maybe God is showing us the essentials of “church” in this pandemic.

Will we be wiser in our dealings with one another?

Will we have conversations we would never have had before?

Will we sense the Lord’s Spirit on the move shaping our attitudes and guiding our thoughts for the future?

When Judah was overrun by the Babylonian Empire resulting in the total loss of their economy, their youth and young adults carted off to slavery, their temple and most other buildings were destroyed, the people were devastated and did not see hope for a future. The prophet, Jeremiah believed otherwise. If I change “Babylon” to “coronavirus,” might we hear what those ancient people of faith heard from their prophet and leader about their future?

“The Lord says, ‘When coronavirus’ time is over, you will more clearly see my concern for you and I will keep my promise to bring you back home. I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for. Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you. You will seek me, and you will find me be-cause you will seek me with all your heart.’” (Jeremiah 29)

The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church, Lewisville, NC. Join in our livestreamed worship on Sundays via Facebook or YouTube.

Do Not Be Afraid

The phrase: “Do not be afraid” appears in the Bible 365 times—one for everyday of the year. That means that we can get up every morning of the year and recite this phrase. (Well, except February 29th during a Leap Year.)

And then, there is this great passage in Proverbs that states: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10) To have no fear, is much easier “said” than “done.” In fact, I don’t believe it is humanly possible to have no fear. This is how we are wired. Some psychological studies show that about 10 percent of adults suffer from one or more phobias. The real number is probably higher.

Most of us fear snakes, alligators, and grizzly bears – which makes evolutionary sense. We couldn’t survive as a species without a healthy fear and respect for nature. Their has been a wide acceptance for exposure therapy, which asks patients to come face to face with their deepest fear – over and over again– until it eventually helps to extinguish it.

I have done some research and gathered a few modern day phobias that caught my eye:

  • Agoraphobia: Literally translated from the Greek, as the fear of the marketplace or crowed places… today it might be called the fear of Walmart.
  • Rhytiphobia: Fear of getting wrinkles.
  • Homilophobia: Fear of sermons. (I know some who have this)
  • Ephebiphobia: Fear of teenagers.
  • Anuptaphobia: Fear of staying single.
  • Coulrophobia: Fear of clowns.
  • Catagelophobia: Fear of being ridiculed.
  • Nyctophobia: Fear of darkness.
  • Necrophobia: Fear of death.

There are two kinds of fear : Fear that is good, which keeps us from driving 100 mph, or other foolish things that you can think of. And fear that is harmful, like a phobia that paralyzes us and keeps us from doing things we could or should do.

Conquering fear is not simply a matter of self-determination, it is a matter of dependence on a power that is bigger than us, a power that is more powerful than our fears. And this power must be one that we trust and are willing to accept. We may not understand why God allows disease and evil to exist alongside of love and joy and happiness… but, as followers of Christ, we put our faith in what he said and how he lived.

When you think about it, Christians have a strange image of God: A naked, bleeding man dying on a cross. Now, some might react to this and say that this is not their image of God. But, “Christ and him crucified” is our confession of faith. The symbol which the writer of Revelation uses, portrays Christ as a slain lamb that is alive. Which is basically illogical. But, symbols aren’t supposed to be logical— they are supposed to point to a message and at the same time, offer a hopeful identity to those who embrace the message. So how do we interpret this symbol? What question is God trying to answer by giving us a crucified
man for a God? If Saint Paul is correct in his statement that Christ “became sin” to free us from “our sin.”

What, then, is our sin? (Romans 8: 3) One answer is: Our inability to deal with our fear – our fear of failing, losing, being rejected, suffering and dying. Often, in our efforts to conquer our fear, we convince ourselves that we are not as bad as “those other people”, but actually better. This can lead to seeing others as “less”, even to the point of agreeing to exclude them from society if it means we benefit. (Cain and Abel retold)

With the world gripped in the fear of the coronavirus and the fear of what we are losing because of it, we might be careful not to let our fears take over and look for blame wherever we think we can justify it. In our desire to be saved from our sin (fear), we might be careful not to scapegoat others, finding it easy to leave the most unfortunate ones behind.

Maybe that’s why Jesus says two things to so many that he healed and relieved of suffering: First, “Your sin is forgiven.”
And second, “Your faith has made you whole.”

Saint Paul says to his congregation in Ephesus: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own
doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2: 8)

The way through is always much more difficult than the way around. Cheap religion gives us the way around by touting the sin of others, and elevating our status with the Almighty. True religion give us the way through. Jesus did not take the way around. Jesus went through and did not find blame either with God or with his perpetrators—he loved them.

Christian mystic, Saint Catherine of Genoa in her collection of “Spiritual Dialogues” wrote: “Why Jesus, is there so much pain on the earth? Why do people have to suffer?” And Jesus answers her: “Catherine, if there were any other way I would have thought of it a long time ago.”

Saint John says, “In Christ, love has been perfected among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment; for
in this world we are just like Him. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives our fear, because fear involves punishment.
The one who fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us.” (1st John 4: 17 – 19a)

May God perfect us in love, so our fear may be removed.