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.

Quietly Courageous

I am currently reading a book by Gil Rendle called Quietly Courageous which is making an impression on my thinking as we go through this anxious time. He speaks of the wilderness time that Jesus goes through to determine what God is calling him to be and to do. When Jesus returns from the wilderness, he proceeds, not like John the Baptist, not like Judas Maccabees, not like other Messiah figures of Israel’s history, but quietly developing disciples and communities that are built on loving relationships.

Jesus’ core message was that God loved them, God forgives them, God accepts them, even in the midst of their infirmities. Jesus showed this by loving, forgiving, healing and accepting—especially the ones that other communities found unacceptable. The communities that were established on the concept that “Doing unto others as you would have them do to you,” is significantly different than the popular concept of “Do what you want as long as you don’t stop others from doing the same.”

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching about how this “Godly Community” will act toward one another:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

He also told them a parable:
Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.
(Luke 6: 32—36, 39—40)

How can we be “Quietly Courageous” as we seek to live in community during this time? Might I suggest one small way… can we begin calling it “Physical Separation” instead of “Social Separation?” We are created to be social. We just have to find new ways to continue loving, giving, healing, forgiving as we do our best to remain physically separated for the needed time.

Jesus’ teachings were meant for his time and his community, but we can learn and benefit from his words of wisdom—especially during this coronavirus lock down. The season of Lent was created from the examples in Jewish history when the people found themselves in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place where we may not go voluntarily. And when we find ourselves there, we do not know how long it will last or in what ways we will be changed because of it. While in the wilderness, two questions are needed answering: 1) How will we now be with God? 2) How will we now be with one another?

The first example was Noah and the story of the flood. When nature forces us from our homes and communities, God will be with us as we rebuild. The covenant God makes with us is realized.

The second was the Exodus, and the responses are found in the Ten Commandments and in the organization of the 12 tribes.

The third was the Babylonian conquest, destruction of the Temple, and exile of the community. The responses are found in the Levitical Code, the rebuilding of the temple, and synagogue communities which held the people together in remote areas.

In the New Testament, the fourth example is Jesus’ wilderness experience. And the community’s response to Jesus was to form communities we have called the church, which opened the message of Jesus and God’s grace to those outside of Judaism. A very courageous endeavor indeed!

Maybe this pandemic is our generation’s “wilderness” and we are asked to answer the questions: How will we now be with God? How will we now be with one another?

Maybe this is our time to be quietly courageous.

I end with a prayer from William Sloane Coffin of Riverside Church, which was written during the sixties when our country was torn. It was introduced to me by one of my pastoral mentors and I believe it is needed today:

O God, whose mercy is ever faithful and ever sure, who is our refuge and our strength in time of trouble, visit us we plead, for we are a people in trouble.
We need a hope that is made wise by experience and is undaunted by disappointment.
We need an openness about the future that shows us new ways to look at new things, but does not unnerve us.
As a people, we need to remember that our influence is greatest when our power seemed to be weak.
Most of all, we need to turn to you, O God, and our crucified Lord, for only his humility and his strength can heal and free us.
O God, be our sole strength in this time of trouble.
In the midst of anxiety, grant us the grace to count our blessings: especially health, food, sleep, one another, a spring that is bursting out all over,
a nation which despite all, has so much to offer so many.
Help us, O God, to see our failures as lessons to learn and to grow, our losses of finances as a way to find renewable resources,
our mental anguish as a sign to stop and observe Sabbath rest, and our close encounter with death as a means to appreciate and celebrate life.
Send us forth into a new week with a curious mind, and a free and joyful spirit looking for all the ways the Holy Spirit is showing your glory among us. Amen.

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church, Lewisville, NC.

Join Our Lenten Wellness Circle!

Please join us on Wednesday evenings from 5:30pm to 7:00pm beginning on February 26, 2020 for a very special Lenten experience. Living Compass Wellness Circles are a committed small group of adults who meet for six sessions. By the time the group sessions end, participants will have had a chance to:
  • discuss how faith informs our wellness and daily decisions;
  • assess our current state of balance and wellness;
  • learn important lessons about change;
  • and set goals for changes we feel called to make.

Many compasses compete to guide our lives. The Wellness Circle experience makes faith the compass that guides decisions in all areas of our lives – heart, soul, strength, and mind. When we use faith as our compass, we are better able to experience wellness and wholeness.

What:               Living Compass Wellness Circles (small groups of 6-8 people) (Download more details about the group experience.)

When:              Lent 2020 (6 Wednesdays: February 26, March 4, March 11, March 18, March 25, April 1) from 5:30pm to 7:00pm (No meal is provided but you are welcome to bring your own “bag supper” if you like.)

Where:             Unity Moravian Church Fellowship Hall | 8300 Concord Church Road, Lewisville, NC

Who:                 Anyone who wants to explore the question: “How is the Spirit calling me to greater wellness and wholeness right now?” Members and non-members are invited to participate. Interested in a parent circle? Let us know when you sign up! Childcare provided. 

How to Sign Up: 

Visit this Google Form (http://bit.ly/UnityWellnessCircles) or use the sign-up sheet in the Narthex (on the round table). You may also call the church office at (336) 945-3801.  A $5 donation is requested to offset the cost of each participant workbook, but no one should consider cost a barrier to their participation.