The Reverend E. F. Michael Morgan, Ph.D.
Second Sunday of Lent
March 17, 2019
Trinity Episcopal Church
Morgantown, West Virginia
The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God … God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)
We are now well into the season of Lent, and the church calendar would have us reflect on where our lives are going, and what kind of spiritual resources we need to see us through. We are also searching for the good news that inspires us, and which we can draw upon to give us aid as we progress on our respective journeys in faith. So with that framework as a backdrop, I would like to speak this morning about the way the Gospel comes alive for us; and how its derivative Spirit has a life, direction, and purpose of its own, much like the wind outdoors on an early spring day. Our job is to get our lives connected to that Holy Spirit, and enjoy the breeze.
This unique task has spiritual relevance for us as we consider the psychological and emotional components of our Lenten disciplines, and how we should order our lives to make the most sense out of this season in the church calendar. Let’s be honest. Keeping a sustained Lenten discipline in our modern culture is a wrenchingly difficult, if not impossible, task.
So first, let me be clear. Even though we are in a penitential mode and asked to reflect on our shortcomings and indiscretions, I would urge everyone not to lose heart. That is easier said than done, I realize, but it is crucial to our faith that we at least put up a fight and try to hang in there.
Unfortunately, and maybe even inevitably, we do lose heart on occasion when our fears overcome us, when our enemies, or at least the individuals we think are our enemies, preoccupy our thoughts, and when our opponents get the best of us and overtake even our most well-intentioned thoughts, prayers, and judgements.
This seems to happen most often when our worries and fears wear us down and take control of our ability to pursue meaningful initiatives. We lose heart when we fear our past will catch up with us and everyone will be able to see our shortcomings. We lose heart when we play the game of “what if” or the game of “if only” and we see how these irrelevant, off-message considerations waste our time, and intrude on present opportunities to do some good.
So what’s really going on here? It has been said that perfect love casts out fear, but the opposite may also be true. Perfect fear has the capacity to cast out love, and when that happens we need to be careful of the danger that is always lurking just around the next corner. I have been concerned, for example, that the phrase “The Perfect Storm,” based on a scary movie nearly two decades ago, has crept into our daily vocabulary. Recent horrifying events around the world have intensified our fears regarding wind-storms, earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, typhoons, hurricanes, as well as other natural disasters, thereby accentuating needless anxiety. In the face of such overwhelming physical forces and meteorological uncertainties, our human response is quite predictably that of fear; reminding us once again that President Franklin Roosevelt was famous for the quote from his fireside chat which said tellingly: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and that is just as timely in 2019 as it was in 1933 – 86 years ago.
In light of all that, consider this. Scared living never makes us more of a person. Frightened living never strives for something beyond our reach. And intimidated living never allows us to envision a better or more hopeful future. The fact is that a frightened life never dreams BIG dreams; and when that happens, we lose heart.
But hold on - here is the Good News. The answer to fear is courage and information; the response to fear is strength of character and knowledge.
Let me repeat that.
The simple answer to fear is courage and information; and the response to fear is strength of character and knowledge.
That sounds a bit packaged, perhaps academic, and maybe even unrealistic, I know, but it’s true. When we think of courage, we usually think of heroes who talk and act boldly, without any trace of fear. Fearless leaders it seems are people who supposedly don’t even know the meaning of the word fear, and don’t seem to understand what it means to be scared. Frequently though, these so-called ‘fearless leaders’ are actually ‘mindless’ in their actions, and their behaviors are not very convincing or real at all. I have a list of names, by the way, and a roster of scoundrels, but I’ll spare you the agony of having to listen to who they are. I’m pretty sure you’ve got your own list of deadbeats as well, and we can compare notes later on.
Turning instead 180 degrees, let me suggest the following: taking heart, showing courage, and having faith based on knowledge and accurate information - these are positive approaches. Courage isn’t simply the absence of fear, rather, it is staring fear right in the face, right between the eyes, and not being crippled by it. Courage means going ahead even when you are scared to death. It is a willingness to trust God and risk something of ourselves. We see that courage means to do the very thing that needs to be done because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of the consequences of its “optics” or how-it-looks. Courage means quite frankly that you risk looking foolish. You risk failing badly. You risk looking stupid. Who in their right mind wants that? But that is what it takes. Remember, St. Paul said in his Epistles: foolishness, especially God’s foolishness, is wiser than human wisdom.
One minister even defined Christian courage with some particular examples. He said for instance:
…Courage is someone walking into an AA meeting for the very first time.
…Courage is knowing the pain of chemotherapy and knowing the slim chance of surviving, and going anyway.
…Courage is facing suffering, and enduring it.
…Courage is the willingness to say, “I love you” instead of fearing that the love won’t be returned.
…Courage is getting up in the morning and facing the day, when yesterday offered only sorrow, despair, and maybe the memory of death.
…Courage is the willingness of everyday people to stand up, even when they may have to stand alone.
All these courageous acts are the marks of true heroes, not celebrities; they are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. These are “Acts of Devotion” that help to define our sense of Christian character.
And where does this courage come from, you might well ask? Well it’s like the wind. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (John 3:8) Courage is like the Holy Spirit, and may reflect the mind of God. God’s spirit tells us that no matter what happens to us, we are never alone. God’s love, God’s presence, and God’s mercy, altogether, gives us the courage to be present to ourselves, and to be able to face each day, and to endure the next one as well. Our character as courageous Christians means that we follow Jesus, and that we just keep going…
The same God who is with us when we stare into the black hole of the unknown, and who holds out his hand from the other side of the darkness, still manages to be present and say to each of us words of comfort: Do not lose heart. There is hope. Fear not, for I am with you always, even to the end of time. (Matthew 28:20)
That is the way the Spirit moves during Lent, and we need to follow that spirit … follow it, by following Jesus … follow it, by trusting in the Jesus Movement … and follow it, by loving God.
We ask all this…
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN
CREDITS, NOTES, & REFERENCES: available on request.