Sermon preached by The Reverend Charles Royden
Ordinary 19 Year C 2010
Faith and Fear
Fear is one of our most basic human instincts.
It can be useful in its right place, We know that we should be afraid of standing too close to the edge of the platform when a train comes. It is good to be afraid of being caught doing something, hence we generally do not drive our cars too fast.
Yet fear can also be crippling. We can fear change and this can cause us never to move outside our familiar patterns of behaviour, never to take on new challenges. Fear can hamper our spiritual growth by holding us back, thinking that perhaps we are not up to doing what God might want us to do. Fear is mostly a bad thing, restricting us and turning us into people who achieve less and fail to fulfil our potential. Fear comes from inside ourselves when we put ourselves down when we think poorly of ourselves and have low self esteem when we judge our failures and deny ourselves forgiveness Fear can also come from outside. It might be when we read the newspapers and think what a dreadful world it is. The challenge to deal with fear of crime is as difficult as crime itself. We might be frightened of the economy We might be afraid of terrorists blowing us up!
So how can we overcome our fears, how can we reach out to become more the people that God wants us to be?
The writer to the Hebrews in our reading today gives us the example of Abraham. He was called by God to go to a place which he didn’t know, to put his life and that of his extended family at risk. How did Abraham achieve the strength to do this great thing? We are told that he did so by faith. ‘Faith is trusting God, even though we do not have physical evidence or scientific proof of his promises’ So we are encouraged to think that the way to be fulfilled, the way to realise all the good things that God has for us, is to place our trust in things which we cannot see or touch. This is completely contrary to the way in which we are encouraged to behave in our secular materialistic society. As humankind rejects the spiritual value of faith, it substitutes instead secular values and so places high esteem upon things which we buy in shops. Now we have had this new thinking around for quite some time now and we are in a position to judge whether it has worked. Do the values which secular society espouses produce happiness? The answer must be firmly, ‘no.’ Increased wealth, fame, possessions, pursuit of these things simply do not provide the satisfaction which the human soul craves. We know this instinctively ourselves, without looking at the wreckage of the lives of so many celebrities and people who have pursued the wrong goals. Religion is so often pilloried as the cause of human problems, wars attributed to religious zeal and intolerance. These things are not caused by religion and bigotry. Eradication of relgiion is not an answer, there are too many examples of poeple people like Stalin, Lenin who had no religious faith but were guilty of terrible crimes.
So it is that in the gospel reading from Luke, Jesus says that the way to tackle fear is by faith. The disciples are told by Jesus not to be afraid. The reason they are not to fear is because "your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." God has done something for his little flock, and he has not done it begrudgingly or with reserve he has done so Jesus says, ‘freely.’ Jesus is not saying that God has decided to do this one day in the future, when we die or when the world ends. This not something which God has on his wish list The tense which Jesus uses when he speaks to his disciples is one which indicates something that is present right now. It has already been "freely given."
The first message which we must hear this morning from our readings is that we will discover peace and our souls will be fulfilled, only when we set our hearts on the Kingdom.
The second message stems from this. When my family goes on holiday we always play a game. With children parents and grandparents this means that there usually about ten of us and we all pull names out of a hat and during the course of that holiday we look for a present for that person. We are supposed not to spend more than five pounds. Then at the end of the holiday somebody starts off and gives the first present, then when you receive your present, you in turn give a present to somebody else, until everybody has their present. Receiving the present from somebody, obligates you give a present to somebody else. Now it has never happened, but imagine if one of may family in the middle of the game said, well this year I haven’t bought a present to give. There would be uproar, especially if it was my present. You receive the gift, you are obligated to share your gift. Well it is exactly this same type of obligation which Jesus tells us rests with us. In the world of that time, a gift once given obliged the return of a similar gift in the future. A generous gift has been shared with us and so Jesus tells that we now must be generous with others. God has opened his Kingdom to us, now we are told to reciprocate. In this case, in return for God's gift of a new way of life, our return gift is to be given not to God himself, but to the poor. Therefore, "sell your possessions and give alms." This might sound like a sad life, having to give things away. However we know from teaching that he sees a right attitude towards material things as the key to a happy life. Jesus is quick to point out that material possessions can be very easily taken from us easily.
If we place our hearts in perishable goods then we risk breaking our hearts. the message of Jesus is clear, invest our lives not in material goods but in the lasting treasure of living out the kingdom. We are told to be dressed and ready for service with the candles burning. In the old translations the words used are to have our loins girded The reference to girded loins recalls the passover experience of the early Hebrews (Ex 12:11). Girded loins means fastening your clothes into your belt in such a way that you wouldn't trip over them if running, or get caught up in them if working. It's an expression meaning heightened anticipation and readiness for action. (The early Hebrews girded their loins because they could smell freedom.) Be like that, Jesus says.
The message that we have is that we are to be ready, but this is not some dreadful task like soldiers having to keep watch in case the enemy attacks. We are waiting for the Lord, and when he comes we are told that he will not be grim-faced, he will not come with a big book which records our failures. He will not come to put anyone in their place. To those who are watching for him, he will ‘sit down with them, and drawing near, will serve them"!
Today you might have all kinds of fears that trouble you, faith in God drives out fear. Faith is the antidote to fear. The way to overcome all fear is by seeing things with the eyes of faith, seeing things not from this world, but the kingdom. You and I live not in this world, but in God’s world, and that changes things. In God’s world we do not need things to make us happy or to feel valued. God does values us because we are his children, not because we have passed exams or achieved great wealth and status. In God’s Kingdom there is no need for past failures, forgiveness is needed for all and is shed abroad freely for all, it is Christ who girds his loins to serve us. Today is all about seeing things differently, seeing things with the eyes of faith from God’s Kingdom perspective, it changes everything for the better. Charles Royden Faith is taking the first step when you cannot see the whole staircase Martin Luther King