This God seeks company with crooks, goes looking for friends in low places, descends all the way to hell and then when we nail him on a cross his first words are, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Amazing love, how can it be? That you, my king would die for me?
Hebrews 11 begins, “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). After defining faith, the author spends the remaining of the chapter giving examples of faith: By faith Abraham, by faith Isaac, by faith Jacob, by faith Moses, the writer continues, “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets” (Hebrews 11: 32). We have the Who’s Who of biblical faith. Legends performing great deeds.
But if we read closely, we discover faith is not just for great deeds. Faith is for the endurance of being mocked. It is to get someone through a flogging and imprisonment. It is for standing strong when being dragged through the streets and for finding courage when they pull out the saws to cut you into pieces. Faith is for more than parting waters, conquering kingdoms, taming lions, and knocking down giants. Faith is for walking through suffering, battling through defeat, and standing when we are tempted to fall.
This is why the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12: 1). Faith is for when great deeds are not a part of our story. It is faith to stay faithful. It is courage to keep on, keepin’ on.
We stay faithful not by looking at the great deeds of others or our own great deeds. We stay faithful by “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
Where is God asking you to be faithful? Where in your life do you need to stay committed?
Our world is a scary place, no doubt. But may we live with the confidence of the psalmist who said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4).
Jesus was (and is) always inviting people who live lives in fearful stories to write new and better ones. Love exist on the other side of fear when Jesus is the leader of our life. Baptism is our introduction into God’s story that is being written with love at the center. Through our baptism vows as United Methodist we promise: to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin, to accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, and to confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.
Other words, will you live your life centered on the love of God through faith in Jesus and not from a place of fear? We need to stop with the fear. And we need to let our life story be told from the perspective of love.
In Luke 13 we have a story of the Pharisees making the assumption that if they can get Jesus afraid of Herod he will run away. The scripture says, “At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work’” (Luke 13:31 – 32). Jesus refused to let his life be determined by fear. He stayed faithful to his mission. As Stanley Hauerwas says, “Jesus does not fear Herod, but the Herods of this world fear Jesus.” Those in power fear Jesus and his followers because his followers presume that the world can be controlled by something more powerful than fear. Love. Perfect love cast out fear.
What has you afraid today? Refugees? Loss of job? Poor health? Criticism? Being found to be less than perfect? Fear of failure? Are you fearful for someone you love?
Out of fear, they had Jesus crucified. But even fear could not keep him down. The power of love raised Jesus from the grave. And it will be the power of love, not fear that will make our world beautiful again. If you want to see what peace looks like, let go of fear. If you want to know what hope is, let go of bitterness. If you want to experience joy, let go of hate. If you want love, let go of anger. Seek after God. The psalmist says, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4).
As followers of Jesus, we believe there is an alternative narrative to the prevalent narrative of fear. We believe God is in control. Like the author of Hebrews, “We can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me'”(Hebrews 13:6)? Through Jesus, God is rewriting a narrative where fear is defeated and love wins. Having confidence that we are not forgotten by God gives us the courage to live lives determined by our love and not by misplaced fears.
Twenty-two percent of the population says they have no faith. The increase rise of people who do not affiliate with the church and its message is in due part to their rejection of its entanglement with politics. Misplaced fear has caused many Christians to let the gospel get comfortable with politics instead of letting the gospel speak prophetically into society.
Fear is a huge motivator. It sells expensive security systems. It makes room for a lot more drugs to be on the market. It keeps relationships from moving forward. It makes trade restrictive and keeps prices high. It gets people elected. Fear has become the currency of our time.
For followers of Jesus, fear is not our primary response. Hebrews 10:39 says, “We do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” Christians don’t cower behind fear. We don’t make decisions based on fear. For the follower of Jesus, our life story is told from the perspective of love and not fear. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear,” I John 4:18.
The decisions we make as a church, as followers of Jesus, over the next few years will determine what will be said about us in the future. The first thing we said is that if we are going to be agents of change in God’s world, we must take the posture of listening. We need to start listening.
In order to listen, we need to stop fearing. We are surrounded by a culture of fear that keeps us from hearing the stories of others. The narrative that goes along with a culture of fear starts with us being afraid. Our primary response to anything that is unfamiliar has become fear. Our default position in politics has become fear. We have let our fears determine our living. We start listening when we stop fearing.
Irrational fear is a false idol that erodes our confidence in all that is good and beautiful. It dehumanizes those around us. It forces us to believe that their story is not worth hearing. And if it is not worth hearing, they have no value in our lives. Fear is giving away the keys to your soul to something or someone that is not God.
Romans 8:15 says, “You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” This is why fear has to go. As followers of Jesus, our life narrative does not begin with fear. It starts with love. Love for one another. Love for the neighbor. Love for the enemy. We need to stop fearing.
A lot of healing can happen in our world if we all take the time to listen. Listen not for the sake of responding, but for the purpose of understanding. Most of us listen in order to “fix or solve” a perceived problem. Other times, we listen with a critical spirit, ready to judge. Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.”
Sometimes we avoid listening for fear of what we may hear about ourselves in the story of others. We don’t want to hear about our own racism, sexism, or how our actions have suppressed the life-story of others. Generous listening opens up the possibility for healing; our own healing and the healing of others.
The more we learn about other people’s stories, the less possible it is to dismiss them. We need to move beyond the sound bites of society and sit and listen to the stories of others. We need to look past the “fake news” and out of context quotes and misplaced facts to hear the truthfulness of our neighbor’s story. When you engage in conversation with someone of different political or social beliefs, ask yourself, “Am I here to win an argument, or am I here to create a relationship?” Paul’s expressed concern to Timothy about the church applies today, “Warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening” (2 Timothy 2:14).
People outside of the church are asking, “Are you listening?” Are we? Will we? I want to challenge you to take your faith serious this week. Connect with one person you disagree with: political, socially, religiously. Ask them to share their story. Don’t argue. Don’t set out to refute. Just listen. Go at it with the purpose to understand. Remember: Listening is a form of hospitality. Hebrews encourages us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).