Overcoming Fear of the Unknown Future – A Sermon for Trinity 2 – Bob Mathews
In our first reading We find Abraham making a mess of his family life. Hagar and Ishmael are the unfortunates who are suffering from Abraham’s mistakes. Like now some of us suffer because others have messed up during this pandemic. When Hagar is diing of thirst in the desert she prays & God’s answer is Do not be afraid. Many of Jesus’s post resurrection appearances start with Do not be afraid
At present I listen to the news and I hear and see many people driven by fear, of the unknown whether it is coronavirus or the consequences of coronavirus. There is much to be frightened of. But I hear God saying the same thing to us as he did to Hagar. What troubles you and Do not be afraid. So how do we tap into God’s instruction of Do not be afraid.
Over my short life I have been in some scary places. I used to cave climb mountains and sail along our coasts. I also worked in the nuclear industry and at one stage was a company specialist in the safety of tall buildings, so I have worked on cradles 400 feet up in the air with steeplejacks. I have been afraid. I think there are two parts to being afraid. Rational fear of hazardous places and panic leading to the inability to cope. God has made us all frightened of dangerous things and places. But how do we prevent a sensible fear degenerating into being unable to cope.
A few days ago I was having a chat to a local man who said his daughter was frightened of going out of the house now because of fear of Covid 19. On the other hand I have heard of a serious accident of a young man near Settle driving a motorbike at over 100mph. Some people have too much fear and others just not enough.
I could preach at you about the power of God filling you so that you are not afraid, but I thought that I would start by being totally pragmatic. I worked in the nuclear industry and spent much of my time analysing both hazard and risk. What I found was that peoples’ perception of hazard and risk is rarely based on analysis of either hazard or risk but how they feel. All the analysis I did kept showing us that the most dangerous part of our work was driving from one place of work to another, not what we did at work. This was not how most people felt. Why? I found two things. The first was that people minimised their perception of risk when they were in control such as driving a car and completely overemphasised risk if they had no control such as Covid19.
The second is that when people became accustomed to a risk it seemed less risky than something which they had never done before. At this time, We need to remember our poor judgement of risk.
But what has all of this to do with a sermon on God saying Do not be afraid. It is this – At the start of Romans 12 where Paul says this 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,
Paul tells us that we have to use our minds as well as the grace of God to become transformed. It is very clearly “both and”. Christ tells us NOT to be afraid. We have to use our minds and then God pours his grace into us. I am showing you how to use your mind and thinking as part of the process to overcome the fear of Covid 19 which seems to affect so many at present. If we start by understanding whether we should be fearful, God will help us remove the debilitating fear, but leave enough fear to keep us safe.
Should we be frightened of Covid19. Yes to an extent. It is a dangerous disease and it is also very easily transmitted. If we catch it we could die. But we need to think a bit more. FIRST there is the risk of catching Covid19, but we can reduce the risk of catching the disease or passing it on by sensible precautions which I will come back to. SECOND, if we catch it what is the risk of being very ill or dieing.
Some people focus on the 40,000 people who have died in the UK. But we must ask whether this is a big number.
In the population of Leyburn it is a huge number, but in the UK as a whole it is a small number which equates to no more than 1 or 2 people in the population of Leyburn. That is a small number. Look at it another way The number of people who die every year in the UK is about 500,000. So it is less than 1 in 10 of those who we expect to die. Another comparison is that just under 2,000 people die in road traffic accidents. So by thinking like this Covid19 is more worry-some than getting in your car but not so bad that we should never set foot outside our houses.
So by thinking about the numbers we can see that the probability of our catching Covid19 is small. I did not say insignificant but small.
I want to look at another thought.
As I have listened to people on the news or even on Leyburn facebook page, I notice that people are afraid that they will catch Covid19 from somebody. A friend of mine who is an expert on the control of contamination pointed out to me that this is the wrong perspective. In the Sermon on the Mount (specifically Matthew 7:12) Jesus turns peoples’ thinking around He says:- “12 ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets”.
I suggest that as Christians we must think about the good of other people and not our own skins. We should stop worrying about catching Covid19 from somebody else. Instead we must worry about not giving Covid19 to somebody else.
Most people never worry about giving it because we all think that we know that “I have not got it”. What we now see about Covid19 I that the people who spread the disease are those who are asymptomatic, that means they do not know they have the disease and so behave as if they could not spread it.
Having listened to my friend talk about me not spreading Covid 19, I realise that I must behave as if I may have the disease and not know it and so I wear a mask and gloves in public to protect others just in case I do have the disease. Please think and behave as if you have the disease.
I want to finish by going back to theology.
The passage we read from Romans 6 is about our being joined with Christ. Especially joined with Christ in his death and resurrection. I think that for many years as a nation we have tried not to speak about death and to ignore it. But Covid19 has focused our minds on premature death , 40,000 of them. But we know that if we are in Christ death is not the end. Whilst one thing is certain that at some stage, we will all die, but we no longer need to be afraid of death because Christ has gone before us. He has died and been resurrected to a new perfect life. So, please do not be afraid of death and what it may bring. I am not saying do not grieve or feel the pain of parting when somebody dies. I am saying ……do not be afraid of death and ……. do not allow the fear of death to have dominion over us. But rejoice in Christ our risen and glorified Lord who has gone before us and shown us the way. I finish with the prayer. Transform our minds by correct use of our thinking and allow grace to remove our fear. AMEN