Overcoming Fear

By Rev Margaret Middleton

Over the years as a preacher I have usually followed the lectionary readings. I have been amazed at how the readings often seem to speak into the current situation. So it was no surprise to find that today’s have again provided much food for reflection beginning with the reading from the Psalms – Psalm 27 a song of confidence in God.

Can you hear the writer’s fear and anxiety?
The context for the writer seems every bit as bad as the situation in which so many Australians now find themselves as they face the enemies of drought, the drying up of water supplies or bushfire. People are frightened, anxious, wondering what will happen next. Hail, flood, another world wide pandemic?
Fear is everywhere: sometimes warranted, but sometimes not. Sometimes generated by dangerous situations and sometimes masterfully created by politicians and commentators. Sometimes it is hard to separate the two.
The psalmist is afraid, his enemies are all around him. What does the psalmist do? He intelligently listens to his heart.

He turns to God but not without a struggle.

At times God seems far away and disinterested but the psalm writer stands firm and will not fear. His trust in God is unshakeable even in the face of doubt. Worship sustains him and helps him seek God’s will. As Revd Clive Pearson comments in “With Love to the World”. In the face of such trust, the shock jock has no power.

The reading from Corinthians relates to a dispute in the church Paul had established in the city of Corinth. Don’t ever think the early church didn’t have the same kind of leadership struggles and theological disputes that are still all too common in the family of God!

This one seems to be about the legitimacy of various leaders according to who baptised them. Each had their own supporters and factions had developed. Paul reminds them that regardless of who had baptized them, they had been baptized into Christ and it was to Christ they all gave their allegiance.

Paul’s reminder to the Corinthians is for us too. The call is to follow the leadership of our Lord as we do our best to discern what the gospel imperative means in our time and place.

Jesus himself was a leader and called others to join him making the known the kingdom of God as we heard in the reading from Matthew. He cast a vision of what God’s justice looks like, how love and compassion bring healing and hope. He lived the dream of God through his living and dying, the dream of God for the whole Creation: the dream of loving one’s neighbour as oneself, of loving God, doing justice and being bringers of hope in a fractured world- and he chose ordinary men and women to help him.

None of us will forget the bush fires that started just as the new year began and which continue to burn, bringing unbelievable destruction to homes, wildlife, bushland and the toll on human life. Much will be said over the months and years ahead as we and our leaders try to grapple with the enormity of the damage and how we are to face the future in a rapidly changing climate.

I thought a recent facebook post spoke powerfully into the situation (I scrolled back as far as I could through Facebook but couldn’t find it so I could show it to you).

Have you heard of the Marvel Superheroes – Batman, Superman, The Hulk, Captain America, Superwoman, Cat Woman and others? The post shows them all standing strong and tall, clean and shiny, muscled arms folded, looking down with bewilderment on a comparatively tiny, weary, soot covered volunteer Aussie fire fighter. It was a tribute to the true heroes of a catastrophe – ordinary people, looking out for each other.

Jackie French, writer of Australian stories and long time resident of Araluen, a tiny village a few kilometres south of Braidwood, wrote to the SMH of the fires:
“I have never been prouder of my nation. Leaderless, leaders emerged … [And] this is the comfort we must give our children: in the past weeks, Australia has been a truly great nation. We must remain one. We must not forget.”

She went on to say that we must not forget that in the face of the crisis, many of our leaders seemed to be speechless and when they did speak, what they said, often wasn’t helpful. When all is going well, leaders seem to have much power but in the face of danger, the nature of their power is truly revealed. We have seen how many of our leaders have become corrupted by powerful interests that care only for their own wealth and position.

Jesus understood that power corrupts. In his time, the religious leaders at the highest level had become collaborators with the Roman Empire. They undoubtedly could justify their actions, wanting to preserve the status quo and their own positions but they did so at the cost of the very people they had been called to serve and lead.

So I wonder if that was why, when Jesus began his mission to proclaim the love of God, he called ordinary people to join him? The fishermen of Galilee and their wives and families and all the others, initially had no concept of what they were being asked to do, but they heard the love and compassion in Jesus words. They recognised the justice of his message. They saw him living his message, bringing healing and hope to those who needed it most.

They began to understand that the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught was what the prophets had spoken of long ago. It was of God’s people enacting the dream of God, not for their own welfare but for all people. Jesus called them to be prophets- to speak out the Good News of God’s justice – not just for Jesus’s own people, but for all people, for all nations.

Love God and your neighbour as yourself, Jesus said.

Today with our understanding that human beings are an integral part of the great web of life, the Good News of God’s justice must also include the whole of Creation for the created world is as much our neighbour as the person who sits next to us in church.

On this Australia Day, the first of a new decade, many see a future ahead of us that looks very bleak in the absence of strong, ethical leadership. As bleak as a drought or bushfire ravaged landscape.

In this context, are we now in danger of looking for a superhero figure to lead us? A super hero leader who rescues with simple slogans, who makes captivating promises, who deafens reason with fear mongering and whose lies are hard to distinguish from truth?

We must not forget that true leaders cast a vision of what can be but they do not bandage the truth. They encourage people to work together for the common good. They are be prepared to walk the hard yards themselves rather than hide in ivory offices or be paid by big corporations. They are listeners. They care about the big picture and are respectful of all people, particularly the ones Jesus called ‘the least of these.”

The Australia Day awards recognise ordinary Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous who show extraordinary leadership in many fields. All working for the common good. There have been political leaders over the years who have provided good leadership but I, like many feel that courageous leadership in the political sphere is sadly lacking at the moment.

Ordinary people helping ordinary people. Ordinary people working for the common good as envisaged by Jesus. I see many around me doing just that. Our planet needs every contribution we can make no matter how small. Every time we lessen our carbon imprint, small new shoots of hope emerge.

We can be reconcilers with our indigenous sisters and brothers. We can protest against injustice. Summarising the words of another great leader, Mahatma Ghandi, we need to be the change we want to see. We can lead the way.

It took great courage for those Galileans to leave all that was safe and familiar to follow a man they hardly knew but whose vision inspired them. In doing so, they brought about change. Filled with Jesus’ Spirit, they took his message into the known world of their time.

Do we have that courage? In the face of enemies and danger can we be like the psalm writer and not let fear overcome our hope?

Will we keep our trust in God believing God makes known what is needed through passionate people with knowledge and understanding?

Like Paul, are we still motivated to be ambassadors of Christ in spite of the disunity we see around us?

Are we willing to allow the Spirit of Jesus – the spirit of justice and compassion, of love and reconciliation, to inspire us to be agents of new life?

A Franciscan blessing:

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

Photo of Rev Margaret Middleton

Written by Rev Margaret Middleton

The Rev Margaret Middleton is a retired Uniting Church minister. She occasionally provides supply ministry in the wider church but leads worship in TUC regularly. 

Margaret also supports our work by leading several groups of people seeking to grow and deepen their faith. She is a member of the Karralika outreach team and is a member of the Presbytery Pastoral Relations Committee.

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