Tag Archives: fear

The Ideal Lifestyle

What sort of lifestyle would you really like? Some years ago David Atkinson pointed out that many people half believe the myths about the problem-free lives of “ideal” people, which does not help at all in facing problems. We all face problems, and many involve fear.

Peter tells us (in our reading of 1 Peter 3:13-22), ““Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”, which might sound like wishful thinking. But he gives a reason: “in your hearts revere Christ as Lord”. If Jesus is Lord, there is no need to fear anyone else. (Peter means it – he is talking to those facing persecution). It is part of the Easter message. Jesus has faced everything, and won! Since he is Lord of all, if you serve him, there is nothing to fear.

That does not mean you will lead a charmed life. V 17 “ For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” Suffering may come, but cannot take away the really important things, so don’t worry about it.

Why do good people suffer? God knows, but it happened to Jesus, and many others, and sometimes that is how the gospel spreads. V15 “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,”. Christians had, and have, a great impact. Arguably that comes more from simple believers sharing their faith, hope and love in difficult times than from learned arguments. Hopefully that is one of the things which will emerge from the coronavirus crisis. If Christians are known for being unafraid, practically helpful, but always gentle and respectful – that will get attention and raise questions, leading people to Jesus.

It is not about slogans, or advertising budgets, but a reality in our communities. Verses 19-22 might seem unclear, but Peter is talking about the commitment pledged in Baptism, and the grace of God which transforms people through the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

What sort of lifestyle would you really like? Have the myths of happiness in idle luxury, unconcerned with the world around, poisoned you? Or would you value a life without fear, experiencing the ups and downs, but in company with God’s family and travelling to a wonderful destination? Part of the Easter message is that the best lifestyle is yours for the asking.

If you know the truth behind “Jesus is Lord”, and claim it through baptism, then you have nothing to fear. Yes, you may still suffer (which threatens your comfort, not your security). And certainly you will be called on to explain your hope. But I think that gives most of us something to work on.

In hard times

What do you say to someone having a hard time? Perhaps feeling isolated, threatened, and bruised. One answer is found in 1 Peter, which we are going to follow through the lectionary readings for the next few weeks. It offers a commentary on the significance of the resurrection.

So what do you say? We’ll look at todays reading – 1 Peter 1:17-23. Start with that first verse: “live in reverent fear during the time of your exile” – not perhaps the sort of encouragement we would expect, but follow it through.

“Exile”. Not literally – the letter (see 1:1) is not to refugees, nor to Jews living outside Palestine, but to Gentile Christians living, as Abraham had done, as one passing through the world on the way to heaven. It may be that these Christians felt the social exclusion shared by some Christian young people – because they were different. Peter encourages them to be different, for a reason.

“you know that you were ransomed”

1 Peter 1:18

I hope you do, too! Ransomed is a word we understand from kidnapping and the taking of hostages. But we can be more precise. Ransomed from v18 “futile ways inherited from your ancestors”.

We can all look back at wasted time – and perhaps worse – when we did not offer a service as effective as we should have to God. That is what we were – and are being – saved from.

Ransomed by v18b not valuables, but the sacrifice of Christ. No detail here of how, but a reminder of the real cost. Also v20 “for your sake” – this becomes personal. Yes, in Passiontide we think about the suffering of Jesus, and in Easter of the joy of his Resurrection. But when we put those together, we see that the implications of the Resurrection are more significant because of their cost.

Which brings us, knowing what we are Ransomed from, and what we are Ransomed by, to what we are Ransomed to v21 to trust in God “so that your faith and hope are set on God” Peter will return several times to talk about holiness of life. About the need for Christians to take on board what has been done for them, and then to live the life. Now he speaks of obedience to the truth, and love. v22

New birth is a new status, but more important the start of a new life, which, unlike the futility described in v18, is to last and grow into something valuable, serviceable, and eternal

What do you say to someone having a hard time? Most of us try things like, hope it gets better soon. Peter takes a rather deeper line. Remember who you are, what your ransom cost, then take full advantage and live it to the full.

Threat – and opportunity

The world seems very different from just a couple of weeks ago. The threat of a virus – covid-19 – has changed our lives, causing strain and fear. Can Paul’s words from his letter to Ephesus offer any help? (We read Ephesians 5:8-14)

Christians are just like everyone else in having to respond to the situation, take instructions, and know that many things are changing, and some will never be the same. Paul’s challenge would seem to be that we do this with love, deliberately imitating God.

Yes there is evil in some of what is happening. Fear, insecurity, we could make quite a long list. These things can divide people and strain relationships. Can there be anything good in all this?

“Live as children of light” we are told. No secrets, no selfish advantage, but an open attempt to live generously and well. What does that mean, when we cannot go and meet people, join for worship, offer help? Perhaps it is a helpful challenge. It makes us think again about how we live our faith.

We cannot gather to worship, but we can join in broadcast services, or listen to our leaders and teachers via the internet. We cannot go and see people, but we can be in touch by phone, e-mail, messaging. We have more time spare that we are used to – and can use it well, or badly.

What it will mean to live in the light as Christian disciples? That will vary in detail from person to person. But for all it will be a life sharing with others, probably in new ways, which need exploring. We may self-isolate to avoid the bug, and the problem of others catching it from us, or perhaps having to care for us – but that is physical, not emotional. Don’t lower the portcullis and prepare to resist any who come near!

When we get back to something more like normal, what will the churches have learnt? Will they try for “business as usual”, or will they be glad of having tried new ways of supporting one another, new friends made, new skills learnt? It’s not that the faith has changed, but the times mean that the practice of faith has to adapt. Is the understanding we have gained so far equal to changing, and meeting a new world with the light of Christ?

Aslan

When CS Lewis wrote “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” the lion was a key figure. Friendly, so that the children trusted him, he was never tame, still less a stuffed toy or little brother. The Lion was powerful, different, and while not frightening, at least awesome.

As we read Hebrews 12:18-29, we find first an account of the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. It was a fearful experience, even for Moses, and more so for the people. Not only were they barred from the quaking, smoking mountain, they even had to keep livestock away. The God who was giving the commandments was not one to be treated lightly.

And we know better? I think not. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that the Christian experience is different. Jesus brings us a new Covenant, and teaches us more fully about God. But there is no suggestion that God may be treated lightly. Quite the opposite. As verse 25 points out, it is even more necessary to take to heart what is given us from heaven. We can rightly be thankful that the kingdom given to us is secure, but careful that the God we deal with is “a consuming fire” – never to be played with, always respected.

CS Lewis was surely right in the characterisation of Aslan. A lion, a wonderful companion and good friend, but a terror to the enemies of love and justice.

Repent!

The realism of the gospel story sometimes gives us a glimpse of real evil, as it does with Herod in Mark 6:14-29.  Hearing of the mission of Jesus’ twelve disciples, travelling two by two, he fears Jesus is John the Baptist reborn – and Mark doubles back to tell the story of John’s earlier death.

John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod because of his criticism of his liason with Herodias.  This was against Old Testament law, both because Herodias had been married to Herod’s brother, and also because of their close relationship (in a family tree that is very complicated!).  Adultery and incest may be good for selling books and films, but Christians stand against both because of the need for families to be places of security for people to grow into adulthood and be safe from exploitation.  Few families are perfect, but “anything goes” means the vulnerable and weak pay the price, often a heavy price!

Herod is torn.  His wife wants revenge, but he knew that John was a “good and holy man” and “liked to listen to him, even though he became greatly disturbed every time he heard him”. Why? Because he is guilty, and knows he is wrong. But he won’t do anything about it. John stays in prison. – perhaps he was frightened of the political consequences of letting him go. (Josephus says that is why he had him killed).

Then a Princess dances at his party, and he makes a foolish promise.  Herod should have seen the danger, and even after the request should have said no, given the girl something else, and sobered up.  But instead, John is murdered.  Later, Herod’s guilt appears as he hears of Jesus.  He knows he is wrong; perhaps he is even frightened. Is that enough? No, because he won’t change sides; he won’t repent – that would mean going beyond knowing he is wrong, even saying it, to turning away from it.

So what is Mark telling us? Yes, that guilt is a terrible thing to live with, but to get rid of it, you need not only to know you are wrong, and say that, but to repent. To turn away to what is good, and do that.

But Mark is also setting the scene. It’s not just about Herod and John. John was a prophet, preparing the way for Jesus. His truth telling takes him to prison and death. What will happen to Jesus? Will he also end up being buried by a few friends?

You know the answer – or do you? Yes, Jesus will confront the evil; evil that will not be won over by good, that cares only for itself. But who will win? Appearances can be deceiving; Jesus will die – and rise. Herod, Pilate, the plotters: they are the ones who will disappear and lose.

Herod was not a nice man. He was given every chance, but failed to take each opportunity. He thought, rather guiltily, that he had removed a threat. In fact, he had been swallowed alive by evil. Don’t be sorry for him, keep a safe distance.

Problems getting there?

It must have been hard for Jairus to make that approach to Jesus! (Mark 5:21-43).  Jairus had a position, in the synagogue, in the community.  He knew Jesus was not popular with some people – important people.  There would be comments and criticism!  And – what if Jesus said no, and wouldn’t come, or couldn’t heal his daughter?  We don’t know how much of a struggle it was, but we can begin to guess.

It must have been hard for that woman to touch Jesus in the crowd!  He might have been so angry!  But she had to try.  She felt she had nothing to lose (though it could have turned out badly).  It looks as if Jesus is being cruel in making her come forward – but I think it is more about making her sure about her healing and his acceptance, so that she can resume a life, with faith.

It looks as if Jesus is being cruel making Jairus wait while he stops to talk to the woman.  That’s when the messengers come to say that his daughter has now died.  But again, it works for the best.  Jairus has even more reason to trust and be thankful to Jesus, and to face down any criticism or hostility.

Of course, Mark is pointing out that, while we have different difficulties asking Jesus for help, and trusting him, we all find it hard.  But we all need to take the risk, – and despite our fears, we will be welcome, and find the best way.  We don’t know how these two people went on, just as I will have no idea what effect reading this will have on you.  It’s more important that God knows, and that your trust in him grows.

April Fool Easter?

It’s not often Easter falls on 1st April. (Yes, I looked it up! It has happened once before in my lifetime – 1956, and will come again in 2029,2040, but not then till 2108). I mention it because it seems to fit with Mark 16:1-8 – a funny end to the gospel, as the women run from the tomb, afraid? We almost want to ask, “Are you serious?” (Yes, verse 8 is the end, although there are 2 other endings given in most bibles, they are not in the best manuscripts, and look like attempts to “round off the story” from other gospels).

We can suggest all sorts of things:

  • Mark wanted to explain how unexpected this was, adding to the authenticity. If you were going to invent a story – be more plausible!
  • Better: He continues the theme of the failure of Jesus followers (the men are no better!) – which emphasises what God does, and the hope for imperfect believers (yes, like us!) later.
  • And perhaps: This is the end of part 1. Part 2 is being written by the believers for whom Mk wrote – they know about the spread of the Church (it has reached them in Rome), about the importance of the Resurrection, and the power of the risen Christ. What Mk is saying – to us as well – is “Now, write the next chapter”

Fear of the unknown is real in today’s Church, too. As we face changes, there will be voices that cover the fear with cynicism or ignorance. Perhaps we can go back to the good old days? Perhaps the changes we don’t like thinking about will never happen? But no, what is past brings us to our present. The present we need to face with faith.

“We just have to carry on as we have in the past”. No. The past contains some big mistakes. In Wales we have failed to engage with younger people, or indeed to evangelise their parents and grandparents, for half a century now, and unless we find the courage to do so, the Church will die out in Wales with us – and we will have to answer for failure, complacency, and unfaithfulness. (There may be other fears and failures where you are – something to think about).

And that is why it is important that the women were afraid, and that they got over their fear. If you look at Acts 10:34-43, you will see how Peter felt all sorts of doubts about going to a Gentile – it took a dream, and a summons to show him God’s way, but the result was vital.  He went beyond his fears.  If you look at 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (another reading set for Easter Sunday) Paul was not surprised his friends in Corinth were daunted when some of their congregation died, and they wondered if they had somehow missed out, or made a basic mistake in the meaning of the gospel. He had faced death himself, more than once, and could sympathise, but also remind them that the Christian Good News was, in 2 words, “Jesus, and Resurrection”.

Peter and Paul are both clear that the Christian faith stands, and faces fear, on the Resurrection of Jesus. That did 2 things:

  • it meant life had to be lived with a new perspective and horizon, no longer just for 70 years (more or less), but for life and eternity. It challenged fear of death, and of illness.
  • It meant Jesus was right. God raised him, and underlined all that he had taught and done. Fear of the unknown is now limited – God knows. We have reason to learn to trust Jesus.

What we face is not new, except in detail. The shadow of death, the fear – of the unknown, the unexpected, or just of not coping, is still real. It is a fear that needs to be faced, with a risen Lord.

Something missing?

The story of the angel’s visit to Mary (Luke 1:26-38) sometimes gets crowded out (as it may this year) with the rapid approach of Christmas.  That would be a pity, because it has plenty of interest.

It is full of realism.  Mary has to be told not to be afraid – this is not the land of fairy stories where angels appear and disappear without comment.  She is perplexed, for the message doesn’t seem to make sense.  But the thing that strikes me is something that isn’t there.  There is no apology.

There could be several, or so we might think.  The angel does not apologise for frightening her, puzzling her, disturbing her routine, or (more significantly) for giving her a job which will be emotionally draining, at times deeply traumatic, and immensly difficult. There is no offer of counselling, compensation, or even reward, because  . . .   ?

Because, in the end, and despite our assumptions, God is entirely within his rights. That sounds harsh.  God is not playing with people’s lives, but there is a lot at stake, and what is asked is only what has been freely given.  Mary is indeed given a most difficult and demanding role – which is what her life was intended for, and which will bring its own rewards. It is the same for us. God does not apologise for the demands he makes on our lives – our whole lives, all our time, money, and effort. It is what we are intended for, and brings its own rewards.

Perhaps, sometime over Christmas, we shall each feel a bit sorry for ourselves.  You know the sort of feeling: undervalued, ignored, overworked . .  Mary could so easily have felt like that, or just refused her mission.  We celebrate her faith because (whatever she went through on the way) she understood that life is meant to follow the plan of God, and that is how it achieves the best things.