A Reason Not To Be Afraid
“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid!” John 14:1
How difficult it is for many of us today to live with no fear in our hearts. We live in a time of dramatic and rapid change. Job stability is no longer a given. Violent acts interrupt our serenity and communications media amplify their frequency because of the tragic loss of human life. Political discourse occurs at many decibels above civility and courtesy. Frequent interaction with electronic media where actions occur at the push of a button help create unrealistic expectations that the dynamics of personal relationships ought to occur at the same pace. Rapid movements in the economic sphere have us facing peril one day and prosperity the next. An emerging polarity of opinions by people proposing a path to the future finds little middle ground on which ordinary people can stand. And perhaps it wouldn’t seem so bad, except that events in other countries offer little consolation. In such times our anthem can easily become the opening line of the refrain to an old spiritual sung in the slave communities of the 1860’s: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen!” Interestingly, this old spiritual doesn’t conclude with its lament. The second line of this spiritual points us in a direction in which to find consolation and hope: “Nobody knows but Jesus.”
We are not the only age that has ever faced complex and difficult choices. Throughout this Easter Season we have been reading from the Acts of the Apostles. In story after story, our community of faith remembers its origins through stories of conflict and heroic sacrifice. Peter and John are thrown in jail, repeatedly. Stephen is martyred. Paul, who consented to the stoning of Stephen but whose repentance leads him to become the great apostle to the nations, is plagued as he travels from town to town. Great disputes, attempts to stone him, physical punishment, storms and shipwrecks followed him everywhere. In the end he too would lose his life for the sake of Jesus Christ. In the ages that followed holy men and women struggled with the breakdown of cultures and civilizations, with the betrayal of the Church by its own members whose sinfulness impugned the reputation of every believer, and with their own personal weaknesses. And yet – despite every setback, every challenge, and every failure, the confidence of those who have walked before us in faith never wavered. They did not walk alone. They walked in the power of God’s Spirit. Jesus not only knew their sufferings, he endured those sufferings. And through those sufferings Jesus brought about a new beginning to the world in the resurrection. Heaven and earth are now joined in the person of Jesus and in the hearts of all who believe. In His Spirit, in the Spirit of faithfulness to the Father, Jesus invites us and sends us to allow the gift of heaven on earth to move from our hearts into the actions of our lives. Those actions, by the grace of God, can become the foundation of a new life beyond fear.
Born again in Christ and living in His Spirit, we the Church of the 21st Century are tasked with the diagnosis of what ails us. Secondly, we must be willing to make necessary changes in our own lives. From transformed lives we can offer the world a new choice. Effective diagnosis will require that we start with listening and prayer. Change must begin with us. Nothing convinces another more of the worthwhile effort of change than living witnesses. Such witnesses must have the courage to propose their new way while allowing others the time to learn with them and to discover the wisdom that such change could bring about.
As a nation we close the month of May by honoring the sacrifices of those who have died in combat to preserve the peace which allows us the freedom to build a new day. These heroic men and women paid the ultimate sacrifice just so that we could be here today and so that we could choose what kind of world we would leave behind. The greatest honor which we can pay to them is to embrace the sacrifices we will need to make in our time. Jesus, himself, embraced death so that we might be free from the bondage of sin and the fear of death. In His Spirit he accompanies us through the living community of the Church, His Body. Jesus indeed knows our suffering. He knows even more who we can become through our suffering.
To live our Easter faith we must be fearless. We are realists. We know well the dangers of walking in faith. Yet we stand before the world with a confidence that comes not from our own inner strength. We claim the peace which Jesus offered and from this peace we derive the grace to think, to analyze, to listen, to communicate effectively with others, to propose new solutions and to live through the change. At times, weapons of war and human sacrifice may be necessary to create the space for a new world. Only life in Christ and His Spirit can bring true and lasting peace.