Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sermon: Don't tell me of Faith that Fears to Face the World

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
Psalm 42 and 43
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight oh God our strength and our redeemer.

Fear can be a very strong motivator.  It tells us we are in danger, fills us with adrenaline, hightens our senses and prepares us to run or fight if we need to.  But fear is not logical, it reacts first and doesn’t bother to ask questions.  So while in small doses fear protects us, too much of it can be extremely detrimental to our lives.  Fear is what causes stress and anxiety and anger.  Or to put it another way, as Saint Yoda of Degoba said: ‘Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.’

In today’s Gospel story Jesus encounters a man with many demons in him.  He falls at Jesus’ feet and shouts "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.”  And Jesus casts out the demons into a herd of swine.  The demons had made the man wild, he was unable to control himself and he would break his restraints and run wild.  His demons were legion.

There is so much in this world to fear, to be angry about, to lose sleep over.  We are faced with economic concerns, health issues, environmental decline, work and family expectations and if that were not enough we are forced to worry about gun violence.  Where there is not anxiety, there is anger, rejection of the other, hate of those we perceive as our enemies.  Our fears are legion.

And in response to the overwhelming drive of our fears, we too yell out to God “Do not torment me, what do you know of my life?”  How can God understand us?  When faced with so much sorrow, so much injustice and pain, How can Christ’s commands to love in the face of hate, to turn the other cheek be anything but torment to us?  And yet, I imagine we all would welcome being miraculously healed of the anger and anxiety that plagues us.  Alas for us healing from our ‘demons’ is not so easily done. 

God promises to instruct and guide us, he promises to change us but does not promise that change will come easily.  In fact it will most assuredly not be easy, but if we do as Paul says and have faith we don’t need to fear.  Unfortunately fear is the very thing that will get in the way of faith.  After all there are so many things out there to fear, just like the Galatians we may fear that we are not doing the right things to please God so we make up rules and start adding caveats and addendums to God’s love.  We may fear that the world will have a negative influence on us so we build walls to keep the wicked world out.  Fear permeates everything we do.  We fear failure or rejection, we fear bodily injury, or like the Gaderenes in today’s Gospel, we just fear what we don’t understand.  Whatever our fears are they keep us distracted and unfocused, and at times it can get so bad that we find ourselves, like Elijah, begging God to make it stop, to take care of it all for us, to come in like a great wind and sweep away all of our problems. I wondered for a while at God’s interaction with Elijah in today’s reading.  Why would God send an earthquake wind and fire to then finally show up as a still small voice?  I think it was because Elijah was so distracted by his fears of the future that God needed physically to shake him into the present or Elijah would not have heard him.  If we want to hear God we cannot be ruminating about the past or worrying about the future we have to be in the present because that is where God is patiently waiting for us to join him.  
But even if we do make ourselves present God will not shelter us from the world, that sounds rather harsh, doesn’t it?  But as Paul said we have to “clothe ourselves in Christ” and just as Christ was incarnate in our broken world, being clothed in Christ is a way into, not away from, the world’s hardships.  Stewart Headlam, a 19th century Anglo-Catholic priest and activist reminds us that Christians “need neither an infallible book nor an infallible Church.  [We] stand on the Word made flesh through whom the world is continually made anew and by whose spirit humanity is guided to an ever deeper understanding of the truth.”  Our faith is meant to be tested and strengthened by our experiences. We are meant to be present in this ever changing world.  When we put on Christ We put on courage to put aside our fears and prejudices and face the world with love and compassion, we put on the convictions of our faith that forgiveness and service are always more important than judgement and power. 

I am going to close with a short poem, actually it is a song by John Bell but don’t worry I am not going to sing it, it goes like this;

Don’t tell me of a faith that fears to face the world around
Don’t dull my mind with fickle thoughts of grace without a ground
Don’t speak of piety and prayers divorced from human need
Don’t talk of spirit without flesh like harvest without seed
Don’t sate my soul with common sense distilled from ages past
Inept for those who fear the world’s about to breath its last
Don’t set the cross before my eyes unless you tell the truth
Of how the Lord who finds the lost was often found uncouth
So let the Gospel come alive in actions plain to see,
In imitation of the one whose love extends to me
I need to know that God is real,
 I need to know that Christ can feel the need
 to touch and love and heal the world, including me.