Tag: Fear

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday in Holy Week

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm 70

Hebrews 12:1-3

John 13:21-32

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me. O Lord, make haste to help me!

Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life. Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire to hurt me.

[Psalm 70:1-2 New Revised Standard Version]

One day removed from the terrorist attacks in Belgium we hear the psalmist’s urgent plea for help. At the same time, Christians are this week recalling those high and holy, disturbing and decisive events in the story of Jesus and his last week on earth.

The aftermath of the Brussels airport attack (Daily Star U.K.)

The aftermath of the Brussels airport attack (Daily Star U.K.)

When we witness disastrous events like those of yesterday, our initial human reactions are predictable. Our hearts are filled with anger, bitterness, even rage.  The fear, grief and disappointment that follow change the way people look and think about the world and about the people associated with the act.  

Even worse, we are tempted to view others with heightened concern. We put entire groups under the glare of suspicion and link them with the attackers merely because they may share the same ethnicity, nationality, or religious beliefs. Guilt by association is the common term. We ignore the fact that these people of whom we are wary are also created and loved by God and often themselves the targets and victims of those heinous crimes.

Tragedies like these also change the way we look and think about our lives and how we live them. Events like these cloud our judgment.  They cause us to curse others and take our focus away from things of more value—that of a life with Jesus.

People gather around a memorial in Brussels following bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo : Charles Platiau/Reuters)

People gather around a memorial in Brussels following bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo : Charles Platiau/Reuters)

The challenge of the life and teachings of Jesus is to not let current catastrophes, or the events of history and our lives define who we are as people.  Certainly we grieve the victims of the Belgium attacks. We grieve anytime we experience loss. We are frightened when terror strikes, and we are sad when misfortune occurs. 

We experience what we experience and live through what we live through, yet the calling of Christ in our lives provides for us a lens through which to view those events, a filter through which to strain them that will not let us settle for being the sum of our life experiences.  Instead, Jesus insists that our lives, and our selves, are best defined by our relationship and our experience with him.

His words call us beyond our trials to transformation.  From anger, fear, and hatred, Jesus proposes a kingdom of peace, hope and love.  The calamities in our world and our lives could justifiably leave us bitter and cynical.  Christ calls us to something more even as he lives with us through our trials and tragedies, never leaving us to face our perils alone. 

What has happened, whether to others or to us, shapes who we are, but it is NOT who we are.  We are children of God saved by God’s grace, transformed by God’s mercy and empowered by God’s spirit to join with God in letting peace, hope and love reign in our lives and in our world.

As Christians, the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ are central in our lives.  Our actions need to be seen as a response to what God in Jesus Christ has done.  That is the witness of the Gospel that we bear to others and to the world.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Psalm 39

Numbers 13:17-27

Luke 13:18-21

I was silent and still;

    I held my peace to no avail;

my distress grew worse,

     my heart became hot within me.

While I mused, the fire burned;

    then I spoke with my tongue:

[Psalm 39:2-3 New Revised Standard Version]

Pastor David Kamphuis

Pastor David Kamphuis

I must defer today to another voice – that of the Reverence David Kamphuis, pastor of Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Youngstown. I have tried to avoid injecting the current Presidential campaign into these Lenten reflections, but after last night’s Super Tuesday election results, Pastor Kamphuis, has written “An Open Letter to All the Candidates,” a passionate outcry that begs to be heard. It echoes the words of the psalmist in Psalm 39, specifically verses 2-3 (see above):

 I urge you to read this outstanding piece, by clicking HERE.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Psalm 27

Genesis 14:17-24

Philippians 3:17-20

But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

[Philippians 3:20 New Revised Standard Version]

In January I spent a week in Tucson, Arizona, with the Bishops of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) at our annual Bishops’ Academy. As part of our week of continuing education, we made a side trip to Nogales, Arizona, a border city nearly 70 miles south of Tucson.

A wall separates Nogales, Arizona from an identically named city, Nogales, in the state of Sonora in Mexico. Erected in the mid-1990s, the wall was built from sheets of interlocking steel that were left over from what the military used to build temporary runways for aircraft.

DSC_2453The area is a gateway for commerce between Mexico and the United States. Many years before, people walked freely from one country to the other, considering themselves to be in the same city. So it is understandable why there is anger about a fence that discourages Mexican shoppers from coming to the Arizona side and hurts businesses that already have seen sales drop because of tighter border security. In addition, the wall has divided families, some that lived in one city but worked in the other.

On the other hand, there are those who are afraid. Afraid of terrorism, of escalating violence, a perceived lack of security. They desire increased protection which, they feel, comes from a sealed border. These are just a few aspects of the complicated issue that is immigration.

Pope Francis stands a platform near the U.S.-Mexico border fence along the Rio Grande, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Pope Francis stands a platform near the U.S.-Mexico border fence along the Rio Grande, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Just yesterday, Pope Francis became embroiled in the immigration controversy – nothing new – by making a stop at Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, within sight of the U. S. border, and praying for migrants who have died during their journeys to America.

Later, on board the plane returning him home after the six-day visit to Mexico, he was asked about Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign promise to fortify the wall between the two countries. Pope Francis replied, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

Immigration is not about numbers and statistics, it is about people.  Men, women, and children—human beings created in God’s image—who, for whatever reasons, have found it necessary to leave their countries of birth, their families and their familiar surroundings, and go elsewhere. As already stated, many die in pursuit of the dream of a new life.

The Bible abounds with stories of immigration.  We could call it the ultimate immigration handbook.  From the very beginning we hear accounts of people moving from one place to the other, some with no known destination. Abram, the central character in the Old Testament reading from Genesis, wandered from country to country.

It is possible that questions raised about immigrant issues have a deeper source than we are willing to admit—not our needs, but our wants and desires, which lead us to be centered on self. These desires make us “enemies of the cross of Christ,” as Paul writes in the Philippians reading. This may have been what the Pope was alluding to in his remarks to reporters. “Their minds are set on earthly things,” Paul concludes.

Nations and borders do not, and should not, claim our ultimate allegiance. Our citizenship is in heaven. Thus the question that this reading from Philippians – in particular the final verse (see above) – forces us to ask ourselves is: Why are we here? Is there a divine purpose for us to be in America other than the economic and social opportunities?

I close with a portion of a well-known poem by Robert Frost titled Mending Wall,

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…

“Mending Wall”

Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963

And I include the video of a prayer that our ELCA Presiding Bishop, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, prayed at the conclusion of our visit to Nogales. Click HERE for the video.

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