“Nothing to fear, but fear itself”
Philippians 1:21-30, Matthew 20:1-16
In my previous job, I was transferred from a town with a population not unlike what’s here in Dubbo, to another town of similar population in another part of our great country and upon hearing of this, a person I knew said: “you poor thing, you’re moving from heaven to hell”.
That person had never lived in either, but on the face of it-it was probably a fair comment. Both were essentially isolated from cities but that was where the similarities ended. The first was beautiful with green and lush parks and a very stable community. The second in context was barren with a transient society and which back then held the dubious honours of being based on per capita, the second highest worldly rankings in both stabbings and alcohol consumption.
I really enjoyed the second town. Instead of feeling invisible and like an outsider, I felt accepted not because I was a local or neither that I was some fresh blood, I just seemed to be accepted because I was there.
Far from heaven to hell, I was released from the confirmation that I was less than those around me, to the realisation that even though that maybe the case, these people didn’t seem to mind.
It seems a harsh judgement but that’s how I recall it. Until I remember at the first location I was single and so shy that I would cross the road if I saw some girls coming in case they might acknowledge me (to which in my later years I realised was a fear of an occurrence that would have been rare at best), and at the second location I was married and so no longer moving every two or so years feeling alone and cautious.
One thing I learnt from my earlier nomadic years is that you cannot “judge the book by the cover” as whether it be a location or community, it’s the people in it that make all the difference. Similar I learnt that though that be the case, when we open the book-even though the pages may read differently; when the surfaced is scratched the same story reads the same throughout with the same fears and needs of both rich and poor, the resolute and the wavering and the inviting and the not so.
At his inauguration as the 32nd president of the United States of America in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt faced with a struggling economy and an unemployment rate of 25% gave his famous “that the only thing we have to fear is, fear itself” speech. A speech in which he went onto say:
“A host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment. There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act and act quickly.”
That was 1933 and here now in 2014 in the face of present day wars and rumors of wars, changing climate patterns, social and moral decline and disharmony and economic downfalls we might say that the only thing to fear is to not be awake enough to be fearful.
A doctor once said to his patient that my job is to get you to the grave in the best possible physical condition possible and when we look at what both Paul tells us we could say the same of the church in regards to life on earth as we all await our appointed physical re-union with Christ in eternity.
My earlier fears I carried as a shy nomadic single person seemed to have dissolved with my meeting and marrying my life partner and though I jest that has brought about a somewhat different form of fear, as we have heard from Paul in his letter to the Philippians, in the face of adversity there is strength to be gained from likeminded people because though Paul endures both the threats and realities of both imprisonment death, and while in the face of this he clearly sees departing this world and being with Christ as “better by far”, he sees that his presence of earth is important to the progress and joy of those he serves and so concludes through necessity to prefer to remain and do the practical work of an apostle on earth rather than enter the bliss of heaven.
Matthew 6:34 instructs: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself as each day has enough trouble of its own” and in Paul we see that instruction coming to life as he puts his desires towards his brothers and sisters in Christ up and against fears of where his journey seems to be leading to in earthly terms.
Courage under fire that I hope we need not physically have to endure as for now our courage resources are best focussed not on the problems and seemingly growing symptoms of a sinful world, but focussed on the answer that is Jesus Christ the Saviour.
Courage not focussed on how we will deal with what awaits us in our tomorrows, but courage based on what Christ has already given us in our yesterday’s when he was pierced on the cross to bring us forgiveness amongst our sin and eternal safety among the earthly chaos.
The irony though abounds that fear of chaos in the Western world with its self-serving belief structures that does not currently seem to be advancing the numbers in the faith as it does to parts of our world where poverty, hunger, persecution are a reality.
Two seemingly different worlds at different spectrums and realities that the assembly of those of faith in Jesus Christ talk into. The realities forewarned of by the apostle Peter when tells us to: “Be alert and of sober mind. (For the) enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
The assembly of those in faith, the church, which meets people and situations where they are at and has the courage to talk into them the truth and hunger of the Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit to save and give heavenly security as seen in Jesus Christ, up and against the hunger of the roaring lion who deceives with earthly fears and lies.
In 2nd Timothy, Paul has now got to the end of his line in Rome to where he was to be a martyr for Christ and concludes his work was done, and his warfare accomplished and both encourages us in our lives as with acknowledging his own. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Not the good fight, race and faith of which he can boast, but that of which he boasts in Christ.
I have kept the faith; not so much the grace of faith, that was kept by Christ, the object, author, and finisher of it, and through his effectual grace and powerful intercession; but rather the profession of faith, which he had held fast without wavering and the doctrine and truth of faith, which was committed to his trust, which he had kept pure and incorrupt against all opposition.
He had kept his faith and been faithful in his trust in Jesus as a good steward of the mysteries of God; not concealing and keeping back anything that was profitable, but declaring the whole counsel of God; and now what remained for him was the crown of righteousness; and this he says for the comfort and encouragement and imitation of Timothy, others and us here today.
We, you and I are part of the Church, the body of Christ on earth. We are the ones who present Christ’s love before others with real tears, real joy, real service and real sacrifice.
A reporter watching Mother Teresa bind the wounds of a leper said “I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world!” To which she replied, “Neither would I”.
What a privilege we have been given in Jesus Christ. We, you and me have received faith, forgiveness and eternal life in Christ despite ourselves, and because of that alone, together as one we go forward with courage to not conceal and keep back these truths of Christ, but go forward with those truths with the honour of serving Him in a time that needs Him most. Amen.