Monday, October 13, 2008

faith, fear and the financial crisis (matthew 14. 22-33)

The disciples find themselves in the midst of a storm. They are out on the water, and their boat is being battered by the wind. It is chaotic and unsettling, and they have the sense that they are sinking. They are filled with fear.

We have lived now through several weeks of a storm that has and is threatening our community, our nation, and our world. We have been battered by the winds of a stock market that has lost over thirty percent of its value, we have been battered by the winds of a financial shock that has erased trillions of dollars of funds that many have been counting on for retirement, we have been battered by the winds of the disappearance of some of our most respected financial institutions, and we have been battered by the winds of a corporate change that will affect many people in our city.

If you listen to the radio, or watch television, or read the newspaper, you will hear phrases over and over again: toxic, flat-lining, tsunami, the cracking of confidence, chastened, the sinking of our economic systems into a sea of debt, greed and fear. It was this last phrase, the very real sinking feeling, that led me to reflect on this gospel passage. You could watch a financial news program or view the website of the Wall Street Journal or open an e-mail, as one was sent to me, and you could visualize the sinking, as the values moved lower and lower. It was as if we were battered by the winds, and we were sinking, and it produced a very real emotion: fear.

What would you imagine is the most common command in the Bible? It is not that we should love God or that we should love each other, although this is present in the scriptures and this is true. It is not that we should not sin, or not do harm to one another, although this also is in the scriptures and is true.

The most common command in the Bible: do not be afraid. Why does this command appear so often, actually 366 times in the scriptures? Because fear is a fundamental even primitive emotion that protects us. And fear is not always irrational. Many of us have particular fears: fear of death, fear of heights, fear of public speaking, fear of the dentist, fear of spiders or lobsters or dogs or snakes, fear of failure….Fear is an internal warning system that we are in the presence of danger. And in response to fear we usually act in one of three ways: we flee, we hide, or we fight.

This seems natural and appropriate. So why the recurring command: do not be afraid. At times fear can take on greater, even out-sized proportions in our lives. John Arey, who directs the Methodist Counseling Center and is a part of our congregation shared an insight last Sunday afternoon in a small group, and the insight came from his practice of therapy with a large number of individuals: that since 9/11 many people have been gripped by a fear that they cannot quite name or shake. Fear is appropriate at times, but there is also the kind of fear that takes up residence in our minds and hearts, it becomes attached to us and it paralyzes us. It affects us physically, mentally, spiritually.

I mention this because, from what I hear, we may be in the midst of this economic storm for some time: some say a few weeks, some a few months, a few years. Many of the most knowledgeable people I know will tell you that they do not know where this will all end. It is fear, and it is also fear of the unknown, and that is chaotic and unsettling.

Years ago a well-known theologian made the comment that the ordinary Christian should interpret the world with a newspaper in one hand a Bible in the other. The newspaper tells us something about what is going on in our world, but it does not tell the whole story, and that part of the story has everything to do with our faith.

The disciples are in the midst of the storm, they are being battered by the winds, they are sinking, and then…they see something. They see Jesus in the midst of the storm. At first they are so overcome by fear that they do not recognize him. But then they hear his voice: “Do not be afraid”. And here we encounter the good news. The good news does not deny the bad news, and the call to see our situation through the eyes of faith does not mean that we are escaping. We are simply invited to see our way forward in a different way. Jesus is asking Peter, and us, to do something. What would that be, for us? Henri Nouwen, the spiritual writer, uses these words,. He says that we can…

“Make the conscious choice to move the attention of [our] anxious heart away from these waves and direct them to the One who walks on them and says, “it’s me. Do not be afraid”.

Over the past few days I told a few people that I would be preaching about all of this today----trying to bring the newspaper and the Bible together. I had a different sermon put together and yet I realized that this would be weighing upon our hearts and minds. And so I asked a few people who seem to be living in this midst of this particular storm a simple question: what would be helpful for me to say, and what would not be helpful?

I will share a couple of responses. One member of our church said,

“Help us on Sunday morning by focusing our attention on the really important gifts that God has given us. Help us to look beyond today's economy and crises to the "not material" love that God give us. Help us to focus on Jesus' love for us and His promise to take care of us - in the midst of this storm He is with us and He is with us Always”.

Another said, talk about… “The increased needs of the Community. There will be fewer dollars to help the needs of our community. And those needs will be greater than ever. I believe there will be more requests for the church’s help in local missions. This is a time for leaders to step forward. People need direction. People need words of comfort. People want to see the leaders step forward. The power of prayer. People need faith. People need a rock to grab in these turbulent times. God is that rock”.

And another: “Being a bit of a news junkie, I was listening to a wide variety of stations. After a steady diet of economic doom and gloom and the analysis of how terrible things will be under either political candidate, I finally had to turn it off to take a bit of a break. I found it to be quite refreshing. I'm not suggesting we hide our heads in the sand but a relaxing moment or two, taking a walk, or a reflective moment of prayer and getting away from the news reports may provide a little solace.”

What do we do in the midst of the storm? It is a time to be grounded in faith---reading the psalms, singing hymns. It is a time to re-connect with friendships that sustain us. It is a time to become more compassionate to those most greatly affected by these circumstances. Our church will serve women from the Salvation Army shelter next week. That is just one opportunity, and there are many. It is a time to simplify our lives, to clarify what is most important to us. And it is a time to recall that our security is in God and not in the stock market, our identity is in Christ, and not in our personal wealth. The question “What do we do in the midst of the storm?” may be connected to the question “Where is Jesus in the midst of the storm?”

Peter hears the voice of Jesus. Lord, if it is you, let me walk to you, on the water. That is living in faith. Jesus says, “come to me”. He begins to sink, again, and he cries out, “Lord, have mercy”. And Jesus takes his hand. It is a simple teaching about learning to take one step at a time, learning to live by faith and trust

Somehow our fears must be channeled to faith. Somehow, we benefit by seeing not only the storm, but Jesus in the midst of the storm. And when we see Jesus in the storm, we will see not only the comfort and assurance, but also the hope and even the blessings. Several people asked me to say that one of the most important things we can do is to see the blessings that are there for us, in the midst of the storm.

And so I thought back to another storm that has affected our lives. I thought of Hurricane Katrina, and how this church responded to the people who were battered by the winds of that storm. I thought of charter hall, absolutely filled with clothing, furniture. I thought of hundreds of volunteers, weekend after weekend. And I thought of some of the people who came to us from the gulf region.

One of those was a man named Mr. Wingate. His journey from the storm was from his home in New Orleans to the Superdome to a bridge to an airplane to the Charlotte Coliseum, which now no longer exists, to us. Many folks in our congregation stayed in touch with Mr. Wingate on a weekly basis. Well, that fall turned into winter and Christmas came, and this is the mental picture that has formed in my mind. Pam decided that on Christmas eve we would invite Mr. Wingate to have dinner with us. At that time Jacques Lamour from Haiti was also living with us, and Uzma, a high school and college friend of our older daughter was spending Christmas with us, and there was our family. It turned out to be quite a unique Christmas.

I reflected on the various storms that each of these folks had been through, Uzma from Pakistan, her father having died that fall. Jacques coming from Haiti, adjusting to a new culture, a new church, a new family. And Mr. Wingate, coming from New Orleans, living in a small apartment in the north Sharon Amity area. I thought about how they must have overcome fear, how they had passed through the waters, how they were entering into a new future.

Well, we were about to have dinner, we formed a big circle and had a prayer, then we had a feast, this was on Christmas eve between our third and fourth services on that day, we talked for awhile, and then Pam and I drove Mr. Wingate home. It was a quiet drive, and along the way Pam said “Well, I hope the party was ok”. There was a quiet pause. And then he said, “it wasn’t that bad”.

We laughed about that later, and we realized he was telling us the truth: in light of everything he had been through, surviving the storm, living in a new place, spending Christmas eve with a bunch of strangers. All things considered, “it was not as bad as I thought it was going to be”. He had survived.

Remembering the storm that brought him to us helped me to get a perspective on the storm we are now living through. This is serious but it is not a time to panic. We are going to make it. Who knows what will happen in the market tomorrow morning or this week, or in the economy next month or next year? This is the unknown, and over this we have no control. But there are some matters over which we do have control. We can look for Jesus in the midst of the storms of life----however they come to us---and we can listen for his voice. He is still speaking: Do not be afraid.

We can make the conscious decision to move from fear to faith.

Sources: Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love. John Ortberg, If You Want To Walk on Water, You Have To Get Out of The Boat.


Blogger ElderChild said...

“Love Not The World”

”For the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one”(I John 5:19)

Rather simple to "see" what the world is, for those with "eyes to see"? The Messiah declared the world to be wicked, and i believe it rather simple to "see" that the world is that 'place' where money is 'god', and 'god' is money. That 'place' where The Only True GOD's Order, which is HIS Will, has been cast aside, replaced by the "imag"ined systems of mankind, and especially the religious systems which create but confusion, dis-order, and every evil work. Yet to those who are of this world, such a 'place' is a paradise. And what better represents such a 'place' than that which is called the u.s. of a.?

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world will pass away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of The Only True GOD will abide for ever.” (I John 2:15-17)

“If you were of the world, the world would love it’s own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his Master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:19-20)

“Where do wars and fighting among you come from? Do they not come of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts. You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is to be at enmity with The Only True GOD? Therefore whoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of The Only True GOD.” (James 4:1-4)

“The world cannot hate you; but the world hates Me, because I testify that the works of this world are evil.” (John 7:7)” and “The Messiah gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of The Only True God, Our Father.”(Gal 1:4)

The Messiah testified: “If the world hates you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”(John 5:18) Truly, Truly, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life in this world shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall have it unto life eternal.” (John 12:24-25)

John testified: “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hates you.” (I John 3:13) “ James testified, “Whoever would be a friend of this world is the enemy of GOD”(James 4:4)

The “earth” is The Creation of The Only True GOD, Father of ALL! The “worldly” systems are the creation of, and under the dominion of “the god of this world”, he who is “the father of lies”, he who “has blinded the minds of those who believe not The Messiah”! All the nations of this world are under the dominion of, and serve, the evil one for he provides the fuel that feeds mankind’s “imag”ination, and mankind’s “imagination is destroying and perverting Creation(land, air, water, creatures, Truth, Love, Peace, Faith, Simplicity, .etc.) ;-(

And the “strongest thing” in the evil one’s worldly systems? “Woman”…… yet The Truth, that which is of The Only True GOD, is stronger even than woman. (read I Esdras 3&4 of the Apocrypha) And Truth, Love, Peace, Faith, Mercy, Hope,,,etc,,, all that is “good”, is of The Only True GOD and is of HIS Spirit, not of this world. Those born of The Spirit, those born of The Only True GOD, are the brethren of The Messiah, for they received "a love of The Truth that they might be saved”. Reborn!

And those who have received "a love of The Truth” have separated themselves from this world and those of this world, for they have taken heed unto The Call of The Only True GOD to “Come out of her MY people.” They are “in, but not of this wicked, evil world”, and The Only True GOD has received them, and is "A Father unto them, and they are HIS sons and daughters”. And they follow, and desire to be like their Master and Brother, The Messiah, He Who was “the firstborn of many brethren”. And as “The Messiah was a servant of The Only True GOD”, so also His Brethren are “servants of The Only True GOD.”

The called out ones are not “adulterers and adulteresses”, they are not “friends of this wicked, evil world”, they do not “fornicate with the god of this world” for they know that “to be a friend of this world is to be the enemy of The Only True GOD.” They are at war against the evil spirits that possess those who are of this world.

And they do not “allow that woman Jezebel, which calls herself a prophetess, to teach. For she teaches others to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. The Only True GOD gave her a chance to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.” (Rev 2:20-21)

“fornication” and “adultery..” in that which is recorded above signifies spiritual fornication with “the god of this world”, which is to love that which is of his world.

Once again, the “earth” is The Creation of The Only True GOD, Father of ALL! The “worldly” systems are the creation of, and under the dominion of “the god of this world”.

Those who “love this world” all serve “the god of this world”, and play their part in the processes that seek to destroy The Creation of The Only True GOD. “And The Only True GOD will destroy them who destroy the earth.” (Rev 11:18)

Global warming, polluted air, land and waters, toxic wastes, sexual perversion, evil inventions of destruction, greed, hate, carnal warfare, dis-ease ,,,etc,,, are all destructive processes that have their root in “the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life”.

And as stated, “woman is the strongest thing of this world”. Yet stronger than woman is The Truth, which is in those who have “received a love of The Truth”.

The Truth Is Alive in those who have been born of The Spirit for “they no longer love this wicked, evil world and it’s things, nor do they love their own lives in this world”.

They but seek and desire The Will of GOD, their Father and Creator, as they await their final transformation. “Corruptible to Incorruptible" ndeed and Truth!

Now “the ground was cursed for Adam’s sake” because he “hearkened unto the woman”.

Adam listened to a woman rather than obeying The Only True GOD. Yet because of Faithful Noah, The Only True GOD “no longer would curse the ground for man’s sake” because Noah obeyed The Only True GOD! (Genesis 8:21-22)

And the Faithful today are exhorted to “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” And Faithful women are exhorted to “be in silence.” “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. For I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” “For Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (I Timothy 2:11,12,14)

A man and woman joined together in obedience and submission unto The Only True GOD are blessed indeed. All who are not obedient, all who will not submit themselves unto The Only True GOD will have to answer to HIM..period..

Be not of those who deny and defy “The One GOD, Father of All”. Be not of those who are destroying and perverting HIS Creation(land, air, water, creatures, Light, Truth, Love, Peace, Hope, Mercy, Thankfulness, .etc.)!

Paul testified, “The Only True GOD is The HEAD of The Messiah, The Messiah is The Head of the man, and the man is the head of the woman”. Multitudes pervert GOD’s Order because they have been seduced by ” the commandments and doctrines of men and devils”.

Multitudes are seduced by the religious systems that are in and of this evil world. Seduced because they love this evil world and their own life in it!

“Set your affections on things above”. Desire heavenly, eternal things. Quit serving ‘time’ in the prison that is this world and take heed unto The Call of "The Only True GOD" to ”Come Out of her, MY people!”

Once again, “Come out” from among those who are destroying and perverting Creation and be of those who follow The Messiah on “The Way to The Truth of The Life”.

“Come out” of the worldly systems, which are the product of mankind’s “imag”ination, especially the religious systems. "Pure religion and undefiled before GOD The Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the world." (James 1:27)

Simply, all other religions are impure, defiled and of this wicked, evil world!

Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world, for "the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one" indeed and Truth.......

Truth is never ending.......

11:16 AM  

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