When Faced With Fear…Posted: November 24, 2015
Thomas, our four-year-old grandson, is learning the Lord’s Prayer. Every night at bedtime his daddy prays the Lord’s Prayer with him. He “gets” daily bread. Recently he saw the Lord’s Table set for Holy Communion, and he said, “Hey Dad, look! There’s the daily bread!” It’s more challenging, though, to explain evil to him. He’s heard of places like Louisville, Mooreville, and Starkville. “Evil” sounds like one of those. How do you tell a four year old about evil? I’m not sure I want Thomas to know about evil. He will learn soon enough.
Globally, we are now in touch with evil in a way that this generation has not fully comprehended, unless one has served our country in the armed forces. We are seeing evil now not on a grand battlefield but in small skirmishes against innocent victims. We see up close the images of the terrorist attacks. We watch the unfolding of the Syrian Refugee diaspora. Fear grips us. Our politicians tell us that our risk is elevated if we welcome refugees. Social media is exacerbating fear through multiple Facebook posts about the terrorist events in Paris. Many insinuate that every Muslim in the world is now a suspected terrorist.
This is not the first time this country has allowed fear to overcome the way we see the world. Fear gripped this nation in the late 1930’s when Jewish refugees fleeing the wrath of Hitler were turned away and not allowed to enter the United States. Fear gripped this country when in the throes of World War II Pearl Harbor was attacked, and many Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps. Fear raised its head again after the Korean War when communism was on the rise and again in the early 1960’s when President John F. Kennedy had to stare evil in the face the Cuban Missile Crisis. Fear came knocking on our door as Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Civil Rights Movement seeking equality for our black brothers and sisters. For many in this country fear continues to walk with them every day because of the color of their skin. Fear gripped this country again when the World Trade Center was attacked and thousands of innocent people were killed. Terror visits us almost weekly as some mass shooting occurs on a college or high school campus, or in a movie theater, or in a church. Fear is real. It is palpable.
Let me be clear. I am proud to be an American with the most powerful military force in the world. I’m grateful to be able to go to sleep at night and rest without fear. I have known the fear of being alone in a foreign country where I could not speak the language. I’ve been asked for my passport by imposters posing as police. There is plenty of fear to go around. Name your fears.
What I am concerned about is that the Church, in the face of this fear, is often silent, and what’s more, we do not proclaim that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Indeed, the appointed text for last Sunday celebrated Christ the King Sunday. The word the Church proclaims to the world is that we serve the One who conquered death. We do so every year, right before Thanksgiving, the secular holiday in which we offer thanks for the bounty that has been ours to enjoy in this great land in which we live. Next Sunday we begin the four-week journey to Bethlehem where we will proclaim Emmanuel, God with us.
This is not the word you will hear proclaimed in the media outlets. But it is, in the face of terror, the Word that the Church is called to shout from the rooftops!
Proclaiming Christ as King and celebrating Christ as a vulnerable baby born in a borrowed barn, Emmanuel, God with us, is a word that the world desperately needs to hear.
In a few Sundays we will sing,
Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free,
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth’s thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
What we often fail to realize is that in the narrative of the Gospel that grips us, often more than the story of the Cross and Resurrection, is the story of the birth of Jesus. The story we often fail to remember in the Advent and Christmas season is that Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus had to flee terror—the terror of Herod. In fleeing to Egypt they became refugees.
These last few days I have pondered the question, “What is the Church to do?” I’ll confess that I’m saddened that we politicize everything in this country. I’m saddened that the plight of innocent children, women, and men are politicized because they are seeking shelter in a place where they can live free from the fear of a war-torn country. When I see on the news the image of the child whose parents strapped a 99 cent swim ring around her waist and floaties on her arms and expected her with them to survive the raging waters of the ocean, my heart cries out, Lord, have mercy. When I see an image of a little boy lying face down in water, his body washed up on the shores of Turkey from trying to cross the ocean to safety, I cry out, Lord, have mercy. As a parent and grandparent, I wonder what I would do if this were my plight in life. What grief did they bare? What fear drove families to flee their homes to seek safety?
My wise son, Chris, who is the Associate Pastor at Oxford University United Methodist Church in Oxford, MS, raised this thought in last Sunday’s Sermon:
“I’m not interested in siding with a Republican governor or a Democratic president on this issue. I’m not interested in the question of what the United States should do about the Syrian refugee crisis.
I am interested in what Christians should do. What would it look like for us to follow Christ as king even and especially in the face of our fears of alienation and loneliness, our fear of strangers, and our desire for safety and fear of death? When Christ is our King, we can have courage to see Christ in the face of the stranger and to welcome the stranger into the body of Christ. We do this knowing full well that we ourselves were once strangers and refugees wandering far from home.”
Jeremy Courtney is chief executive of Preemptive Love Coalition, a Christian organization working in Iraq at the headwaters of the Syrian refugee crises. His organization is seeking to protect the persecuted and displaced from becoming refugees through aid and small-business empowerment.
The truth, in the words of Jeremy Courtney, is that the world is scary. Love anyway.
In a Washington Post editorial this week he wrote, “We absolutely need to be wise, to protect our own and to screen all refugee applicants. And we absolutely must care for those who are on the run for their lives. It is not right or reasonable to tell anyone, “Do not be afraid.” Terrorism is terrifying. But we should aim to not be ruled by fear. In the face of ISIS, Iran and countless other nemesis neighbors, we commit to love anyway.”
In closing, I simply lift up a few ways in which we might be called to respond in love:
- Prayer—Be in prayer for persons and families who have been devastated by terrorist attacks, for refugees, for the leaders of our nation and the world, for deliverance from evil, for our enemies, and for God to show us how to respond.
- Support the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) as they respond to this crisis by delivering winterization kits—food parcels, blankets, and rugs—to refugees. Your gift to Global Refugee/Migration, Advance #3022144 supports UMCOR’s work.
- “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15. It is dialogue in relationship that moves us toward “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Thus, our hope is in Christ Jesus.
- Become knowledgeable about the process of refugee resettlement, which is an intensive 18-24 month process.
- Many Churches across the United Methodist Church have made pledges to offer hospitality and support to refugees who make their way into their communities. It is my prayer that our churches are a place of welcome for displaced refugees and for all of God’s children no matter the circumstance.
It is not always certain what we should do; but it is clear who we are called to be.
We are called to be a people who place our faith and our hope in the One who has trampled down death by death and conquered the power of sin, conquered the power of terror, conquered the power of evil.
The world is scary. May God give us courage to love anyway.
Serving Christ With You,
Bishop Bill McAlilly