I. Introduction – Remembrance Day – Pause in memory of those who have bought our freedom
- Pray for soldiers, army personnel, authorities, those in the battlefield
- Pray for end to war
- Since September 11 our societies level of anxiety has gone up dramatically
- Our fuses are shorter – we blow up about things that would normally not fade us
- Even politicians: Jean Chretien (of all people) poking inappropriate fun at Joe Clark for shaking during a presentation in parliament
- Level of anxiety has gone up in general population – over 60% of Americans are worried/anxious about further terrorist attacks
- That’s up 31% since Sept. 11
- If this is happening in the general population, is it any surprise to notice higher levels of anxiety in the church?
- I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel that “I’ve got so many troubles that if anything bad happens today it will be two weeks before I can worry about it.”
- At such a time I’m happy for the new pill that’s now available for splitting headaches: it’s a special combination of aspirin and glue
- If I was a student this would have been my bedtime prayer last night since my sermon wasn’t done: “Now I lay me down to rest, and hope to pass tomorrows test. If I should die before I wake, that’s one less test I have to take.”
- And then there are the times when I envy those people who keep their heads when everybody else is loosing theirs, because they have no clue how serious the situation is
- Let me share with you some of the ways in which anxiety affects us here at Springfield
II. Anxiety in the church and what to do about it
1. How anxiety/fear affects our congregation.
a. start with myself – wanted to use the projector – key didn’t fit
- then I had a fit, and blew up in the face of a very dear brother
- as it turned out it was all my fault and I had laid blame where it did not belong. I felt very ashamed.
- Later on I found myself apologizing for my childish behavior
b. Gossip – anxiety affects us also in the way in which we talk about each other. So often we assume something about another person, and start “sharing our concerns” about them, without checking for the validity of those “concerns”. Untruthful rumors have never yet, to my knowledge, strengthened the witness of the church. Gossip is not gospel. Instead it hurts fellowship.
c. Murmuring/Complaining: did you know that some people actually believe that God has called them to complain? Well, I’ve searched the scriptures and I’ve looked at many passages, but I’ve not yet found “complaining” on the lists of Spiritual gifts. In fact, the opposite is true; murmuring/complaining is a clever scheme of the devil to divert/redirect our attention from the work of Being the Church to throwing eggs in the face of Christ’s Bride – the church.
- Murmuring always happens underground, behind the scenes, and so often under the cover of spirituality or concern for the spirited well-being of the church.
- Being dissatisfied with something that could be done better is not the problem. But letting it fester until someone becomes bitter, and blaming others rather than taking responsibility – that can cause problems.
- When we sacrifice our relationships with each other in order to get “our way” we are headed for trouble.
d. Fear of Change – Anxiety causes rigidity; uncertainty about the future can cause a lot of anxiety in the church. “Robert Piersig describes how monkeys are captured in India. A coconut shell is hollowed out and chained to a stake. The shell is filled with rice. An opening is carved out, just wide enough for a monkey’s hand to go through, but too narrow for a fist filled with rice to exit. The monkey is trapped by it’s own rigidity. Monkeys cannot understand that “freedom without rice is better than capture with it”. When a congregation is trapped by it’s own resistance to change, the congregation becomes the monkey. – (Not just change for the sake of change).
e. Forced conformity – do you ever feel like someone wants/pressures you to be like them, think like them, feel like them, believe like them? And you have that eerie feeling that if you don’t you’re in trouble or the church is going off the straight and narrow because you views are slightly different. Sometimes our thinking in the church gets very stuffy, almost fused. It’s like in some families when one person has a headache, everyone takes an aspirin. Using the language of body in the Bible, we sometimes want all the parts to become an eye or a nose or a leg. And we force people to conform to our understanding.
- there are many other ways how we foster an unhealthy anxiety in the congregation. And we need to pay attention to how you and I as individuals contribute to that. And we need to turn away – repent if you will – and be creative in building loving relationships that will last.
2. What can we do about the anxiety in our lives?
1. Let me get back to the passage form 1 John 4:16b-18 (Read v.18) “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
a) This verse sure packs a punch – doesn’t it. What made me curious was “fear has to do with punishment.”
- What was John’s congregation scared of? What made them anxious? FEAR OF PUNISHMENT! I did some digging and I found that John was speaking to the problem of false teachers who were making big claims about the nature of Christ. There were those who believed that Jesus was not really human because God is Spirit, and so he didn’t really suffer and die. John corrects this false teaching by telling them that Jesus was fully human and fully divine.
b) The false teaching was creating a lot of anxiety – a lot of fear about the future, indeed about eternal salvation itself. So John gives them the antidote to this spiritual “Anthrax scare.” There is no fear in perfect love, he says. Therefore, we must become more perfect in love towards one another to drive out the destructive force of fear.
- Proverb: “Suspicion enters by the door through which love and trust exit.” When love and trust fade, suspicion sets in and the church no longer witnesses in unity. I question your motives – you question mine…
c) In order to conquer our fears we must make a choice. It is a conscious decision to love. And I’m not talking about the easy come easy go kind of superficial love. I’m not talking about the kind of love that lasts only through fair weather. I’m talking about the kind of love that goes the distance…that is as interested in the other person as we are in ourselves. I’m talking about the kind of love that takes courage and addresses difficult issues directly with each other rather than through a third person, or via the grapevine. John talks about the kind of love that is totally honest and truthful, and that respects the elbowroom that we all need to fully develop into the Christian disciple that God wants us to be.
d) Our behavior has a lot to do with whether we foster anxiety/fear or love as illustrated by an ancient Sufi tale called the Watermelon Hunter – “Once upon a time, there was a man who strayed from his own country into the world known as the Land of Fools. He soon saw a number of people fleeing in terror from the field where they had been trying to reap wheat. “There is a monster in the field,” they told him. He looked and saw that it was a watermelon.
He offered to kill the “monster” for them. When he had cut the melon from its stalk, he took a slice and began to eat it. The people became even more terrified of him than they had been of the melon. They drove him away with pitchforks, crying, “He will kill us next, unless we get rid of him.”
It so happened that another man also strayed into the Land of Fools, and the same thing started to happen again. But, instead of offering to help them with the “monster”, he agreed with them that it must be dangerous, and by tiptoeing away from it with them, he gained their confidence. He spent a long time with them in their houses until he could teach them, little by little, the basic facts which would enable them not only to loose their fear of melons, but even to cultivate them themselves.”
The Land of Fools is where anxiety and fear rules the day. At any given time any and all of us dwell in the land of Fools, and we too rush in to “fix” the problem and the people. In the process we fail to love and grow in our relationship to each other.
Let us not become watermelon hunters. But let us come alongside each other with a desire to understand and with love and compassion.
- We live in an anxious time – it affects every aspect of our lives: work, school, family, church, and government.
- We are called to be different. The Church of Jesus Christ is called to stick out like a sore thumb. To live in Faith!
- By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, “that you have (LOVE) one for another.”
- As we approach the advent season we want to call to mind again what God did for us in Jesus Christ. We want to celebrate God’s love for us and our love for each other in Holy Communion. Let us challenge each other to use this time to let go of our anxiety, that we may love and trust more fully.
- I would invite you, in the name of Jesus, to strengthen your bond of love with his body. Welcome, accept and encourage one another as Jesus Christ also accepts us. If there are broken relationships, let us be eager to make the first step towards reconciliation.
- May God grant us grace to grow in the perfect love that drives away all fear.