Say to those of a fearful heart, “Be strong, fear not! Behold your God … He will come and save you.” Isaiah 35:4
Who are the fearful of heart? I guess we all are at one time or another. Personal concerns, for others — family — community — country — world. The United Nations pledge for a better world. Poverty. Education. Health. Disease. AIDS! Public apologies from CEOs of major corporations such as Ford, Firestone, and United Airlines. The breakdown of moral standards, seen in movies and on TV. Suspicion. Mistrust.
More than 1,700 years ago, a Christian leader named Ciprian wrote to his friend Donatus:
It seems a cheerful world when I view it from my fair garden. But if I look out from here beyond these walls, you know very well what I see: thieves on the roads, pirates on the high seas. Under all, roots misery and selfishness. Really a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world.
A recent book, What People Believe, paints a grim picture. Americans are writing their own moral codes. Only 13% of them believe in following all Ten Commandments. (God didn’t tell Moses to tell people, “It is multiple choice.”) One third of all married couples have had an affair. The 90s are an age of the worship of materialism. “Do you want to be a millionaire?” “Is that your final answer?”
Jesus made it clear that life is not defined by possessions. That what we are is not what we have. But the world says otherwise. You are what you own. Jesus calls the world’s view “foolish.”
Have you heard the story of an Amish man who stopped his farming to watch a new neighbor move in? Among the many items that were taken out of the van were a deluxe refrigerator, a state-of-the-art stereo, TV, and VCR, a whirlpool and hot tub. The next day, the Amish farmer and his wife took some homemade gifts to welcome the new neighbor. As they were leaving the Amish man said, “If anything should go wrong with any of your appliances or equipment, don’t hesitate to call me.” “That’s very generous of you,” said the new neighbor, “Thank you.” “No problem,” the Amish farmer replied, “I’ll just tell you how to live without them.”
The richest men and women in the sight of God are those who care for and nurture what has been loaned to them. The truly rich are the stewards of all that they have been given charge over.
Here at St. James’s we have apprehension and worry about the future. What will the new rector be like? What changes are ahead? There will always be changes and changes make people nervous.
The Bishop of Maine told a story about a town meeting in a small village in his diocese.
For years the town had wrestled with the problem of the town jail. It was in terrible condition. It was about to fall down. Finally the town meeting came to a decision. “We will build a new jail. We will use the material from the old jail to build the new jail. And we will use the old jail until the new one is ready.”
This happened in Maine. I know it won’t happen here!
Is there hope for the fearful hearted? Of course there is!
Ciprian’s letter continues
I have found a quiet and holy people. They have discovered a joy which is a thousand time better than any pleasure of this sinful world. These people don’t despair. They are the Christians — and I am one of them.
This is where you and I come in. This is our commission.
People are searching for something, someone to believe in, to hold on to, to give meaning to their lives. Even more than faith in something, what people are seeking is someone to believe in. Christianity is primarily being — being in fellowship or communion with someone — and that someone is Jesus Christ. We are members of his body, and so are members of one another.
The disease of this world is fragmentation. The goal is to be made whole in God. It’s true what the poet said: “No man is an island.” Robinson Crusoe was headed for madness until he saw the footprints in the sand and found Friday. A common need and a common destiny bind us together. “Hold fast that which is good. Quench not the Spirit.”
The greatness, the glory of this dear, wonderful parish, is the life-giving presence of the Spirit — not born of men and women, but the Holy Spirit of the Living God. It resides in no single individual, but in the glorious fellowship of rich and poor, high and low, in that noble company of men and women, boys and girls whose glory it is that they “follow in His train.” People will be drawn to Jesus by what they hear us say and what they see us do.
“Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only.”