Our last service in this church was 22nd March – 3 months ago. It was the 2nd last Sunday of Lent just before Palm Sunday which celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus. I like to think that today is our Triumphal Entry even though not all our members have returned because of continued restrictions. But we are on our way and as from next week we can increase our numbers again. It’s been a difficult 3 months especially for some of our more isolated members and it continues for many of our members whose health is compromised and are not feeling comfortable about returning to worship or other public gatherings.
As a Pastor I also worried at the start of our isolation about our churches wondering whether we could survive a period of no services as our finances were struggling even before we went into lockdown. But I underestimated the faithfulness of all our members and for that I am deeply sorry. I succumbed to the basic human flaw of fear. Something that we all do at some time or another in our faith journey – we fear. Something Jesus’ own disciples did even while in his presence.
Fear is an natural human response to the unknown. Fear can be either physical or spiritual fears about our future. And our physical fears can at times affect our spiritual fears. In our gospel reading Jesus acknowledges that there are 2 fears – the physical and the spiritual. He says: Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Human nature is often, daily even, confronted by human fear. And it is usually a fear for our human future. Do I have enough money? How will my health impact on my life? Is my job safe? And so often the church is affected by earthly fear even while it maintains its spiritual confidence. Will we meet our budget? Where are all our young people? Who is going to take over the leadership roles? Physical fears can at times impact our spiritual security. Peter, walking on the water, faced his physical fears – the wind and the waves – but then began to sink as his faith in Jesus began to be affected. But our physical fears are comforted not by physical assurances but also by our spiritual assurances. Working harder to earn more money won’t remove our physical fear – it will just delay it as new fears arise. Running programs in our churches to get more people into church or telling people to give more won’t remove our physical fears – new ones will always arise.
Our fears, whether they are physical or spiritual are comforted only by God. And Jesus reassures us that every fear, no matter how small or how big, our physical and spiritual fears are all known by God and are all managed by God. Jesus says: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
As we have journeyed these 3 months in lockdown – and as we look to the future with still some uncertainty of how things are moving forward – God has journeyed with us and will continue to journey with us. God has not and never will abandon us but makes his presence known to us. Physical fears are all around us and we find that once we’ve overcome our latest fear there are new ones just around the corner. Jesus says they can come from anywhere – even from unexpected sources –even our own family. Jesus wants us to be aware that only from God can we attain an assurance of care an protection.
He even says that some of our opposition may come from those we might have thought we could expect to find peace and comfort. He says: For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Don’t misunderstand Jesus’ thinking – that he is against family – not at all. In fact the 4th commandment upholds family and commands us to love and respect our parents. What he is saying is that only God can provide guaranteed assurance that removes all our fears. Because God can provide not just physical protection but spiritual protection. And for Christians that is so important as Paul says in Ephesians: our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
So when it comes to our Christian faith we’re going to find that the physical comforts that usually provide hope to people is not where we are going to find our help. The battles that we face as Christians are spiritual battles because the devil is always working to undermine our faith and will use those who are closest to us at times to attack our faith. That’s what we’re up against but we are assured that one greater than all the powers of darkness is fighting for us. Physical fears will always affect us. It’s who we are as human beings. Even Adam and Eve with all the physical wants and desires met in the Garden of Eden felt they wanted more and were tricked by Satan. Their physical fears became spiritual fears. And notice that Satan used their fear to set husband against wife – the woman you gave me!
And that’s where God’s grace always comes in to help us. Our spiritual fears have been defeated. They have been buried with Christ in our Baptism, as St Paul reminded us today: All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. There’s our spiritual fears dealt with. Dead and buried. And we know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.
And neither does it have a hold over us because we have been buried with Christ and will rise with him.
Physical fears will remain with us until we are through this life. And those physical fears will at times be the source of our spiritual fears and may often be from those closest to us. Satan spares nothing when it comes to attacking our faith.
But Jesus comes to comfort and protect us. God knows your fears – he knows the very hairs on your head. So the one who knows when a sparrow falls from the sky certainly knows when you have fallen for you are worth more than many sparrows.