Tag Archives: fear

Risky Business

Risky Business

Sermon based on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Matthew 25.14-30

How much of a risk are you willing to take on behalf of your faith? Have you ever considered that it’s necessary to take risks? Surely God doesn’t expect us to take risks! Or does he?

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I wonder, what’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? I could throw in a few example to make you think, ooh yes that’s a risky thing to have done; you might say I took a real risk when I did that; or maybe you don’t take risks because you always weigh up the chances of failure and success and stick with the greater odds of success.

After all taking risks is a risky business – it can involve an exposure to danger, the possibility of something unpleasant or unwelcome happening; the probability of financial loss or the chance of incurring unfortunate consequences by engaging in that particular action. The fact is behaviour psychologists have proved that as human beings we are generally adverse to anything that involves a risk – people will prefer not to take a risk even at the cost of letting valuable opportunities pass by.

In today’s gospel we have the example of three slaves or servants and their attitudes to risk. The first two felt able to take a risk, but then it wasn’t their money they were taking a risk with but the third one started to analyse what the risks were and decided to do nothing, not even the soft option of putting it into no-risk low interest bank account. He calculated the possibility, the probability and chance and decided they were too great for him, and it seemed he made the wrong choice.

Our lives are full of opportunities to take risks, especially where our faith is concerned. I cannot speak for all of you whether you have taken risks on your journeys of faith. Maybe you’re like I was just beginning to dare to put your foot through the door because you want to find out what it is that’s calling you to be here. Or maybe you’ve accepted the invitation and want to know what God might be asking you to do next.

For me one of the risks was stepping into the unknown, with no church background or experience, a painful sense of not wanting to step into an arena in which I could be scrutinised and found to be wanting and yet a deep desire to put myself forward despite all of this. You may have heard me say before, but it was reading John Ortberg’s book, ‘If You Want To Walk On Water You Have To Get Out Of The Boat’, which was the catalyst that made me take a risk to get where I am today; and I would suggest that every Christian’s life is marked by windows of opportunity that demand a radical step of faith in order to follow Christ and fulfil his agenda for their lives.

What makes that step radical is that it always involves significant risk.  We know there are times where God will offer an opportunity and it may be in our relationships; in our career; in regard to our finances, when he says, ‘In order to obey me, in order to follow me, in order to do exactly what I want you to do, this is what you need to do in this situation’. And everything within us is fearful, ‘Really God, you want me to do that?’

The reason it’s radical is because you say to yourself, ‘If this doesn’t work out, this relationship could fall apart.  If I do that, I could be changing my family dynamics, it may ruin my career possibilities in the future, or what if I can’t pay my bills?’ When we are facing a challenge and the possibility of failing, our mind rationalises our fears by coming up with hundreds of logical reasons not to do it. But, where there is no risk, there is no faith. Just like the third servant had no faith in the master.

Without faith there is no power and where there is no faith, there is no joy, no reward, no pleasing of God.  In fact, where there is no faith, what you do get is hollow religious activity, moralistic rules, and dead orthodoxy.  We all know of churches where despite the God talk and the many programmes and course that are run, over time it becomes religious activity and the focus is on, ‘Do this but don’t do that’ Lots of rules and the wrong sort of power. Where though is the presence of God?

We know that when we have great faith we are able to do great things. We only have to think about all the people throughout the history of the bible such Moses, Esther, David, Peter or Paul, God brought windows of opportunity and each one of them took a radical step of faith.  And that radical step of faith meant that if God didn’t show up then Peter was going to fall through the waves or Paul, when he returned after persecuting the Church, was going to die.

Every person’s life that is greatly used by God, that experiences God in powerful ways, takes great risks. When we have great faith we are able to do great things. We can think great thoughts; we can pray great prayers and dream great dreams. We’re not just talking about calculated risks, because let’s face it we all like opportunities that come with the word ‘guarantee’ attached to them. That way we feel safe and satisfied with our decisions. I can think back to the time when I told people I was going to go skydiving and people were worried about the risks, but it was a calculated risk, the equipment was checked, the experts had done it thousands of times before, the step I took to allow myself the liberating and exciting feeling of flying into the vast chasm of the sky had been carefully weighed.

Sky Diving View

Not a bad view from up here!

However, one thing that risk takers have in common is fear; fear of what might happen.  Those emotions that you feel and think, risk takers all have as well, they fear what might happen.  I can tell you, at least my own personal experience, the greatest steps of faith I’ve ever taken I was scared to death, and it’s okay to be afraid.  It’s not okay to allow your fear to paralyze you from taking the step of faith. But you have to have faith to step out in spite of your fear.

God tells us time and time again, ‘Do not fear, do not be afraid, I am with you’, and he equips us as we heard today; ‘put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us’.

The other day I came back from our study group quite buzzing. There had been a sense of excitement, a desire to engage with new ideas, of wanting to do something. We’ve been studying John Pritchard’s book, ‘Ten Reasons why Christianity makes Sense’ and we’ve talked about reasons why we should believe in God, the problems people have with faith, how to enliven our faith and the values we need for the church of today and tomorrow.  Above all the need to be communities where a holy fire and passion burns fiercely at its centre because this is what attracts people. We have to take risks, but as we’ve said risk looks very different in different people’s lives.  Often when we think of risk or faith, we always think it’s stepping out. Yes, sometimes we need to leave things behind and sometimes we need to remain and get stuck in to confront and change things, it’s still stepping out – of the security of our comfort zones.

Change is always a risk –  the risk of alienating people, driving them away, the risk of failure, not being able to deliver on the vision.  But not doing anything is like planting that talent into the ground. As Pritchard says, ‘Change is the way of institutions […], and we have to know when to let time-expired practices go. .. the human institutional life of this community has to be kept under constant review if it’s to be a travelling company of spiritual seekers rather than a secret society of defensive administrators.’

The good thing is sometimes even if you take a risk and fail, you end up winning anyway, because you learn valuable lessons in the process and stretch your abilities. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that you dared and went for your dream against all odds, whether you succeeded or not. Regret of never trying is usually much harder to live with than failure.

Paul reminds us that we belong to the day – to things of light – We shouldn’t be afraid of sharing our faith, of talking about Jesus. After all ‘he was a man who inspired countless millions to change their lives and the lives of nations. His values were flawless; authority secure yet humble; judgement spot on. His teaching radical and enthralling; decisive, amusing, demanding and encouraging, filled with humanity yet left people aware they had spent time with God. Why wouldn’t we want to point people to this astonishing figure?’

And we need to continue to make links between Sunday and Monday. I could honestly say that 99.9% of the people who are part of this church, regularly make that link. But we’re going to need a robust, whole-life discipleship if we are to stand up to the secularizing pressures of the day. A Christian living his or her faith in an informed, open, clear-eyed way with wisdom and integrity is a hugely attractive witness to the King …  So let’s all take those risks and ‘encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing’

Amen

Peter takes a Risk

If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat – Peter takes a risk

Judas – Servant or Scapegoat

Judas HangingThe turning point for Jesus and Judas? My dissertation for my MA focused on the question of whether Judas Iscariot might be God’s scapegoat. This sermon preached on Maundy Thursday 2017 is based on John 13:1-11, 31b-35 and suggests that there may be more to his actions than the traditional view of Judas the unrepentant, egotistical betrayer of Christ

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit

This evening we hear one of the pivotal stories of what it means to be a Christian. John, declines to provide us with an account of the breaking of bread and sharing of wine, the origin of our Holy Communion, but instead gives us an account of Jesus washing his disciples feet as mark of servanthood which models for them a life of mutual acceptance and forgiveness which must be the mark of his followers for all time.

Apart from Peter, who, with his usual bluster and enthusiasm, misinterprets Jesus’ actions, our attention is focused on Judas; Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Christ. Of all the gospel writers, John focuses on the persistent presence of the devil; for all those who come to believe in Jesus, particularly the Jewish converts, are changed into Children of God rather than children of the devil.

We are also not given an account of the temptation of Jesus in the desert by John, but it is useful to remember Luke’s account, where at the end of his failure to persuade Jesus to have anything to do with his enticements, the devil leaves him ‘until an opportune time’. This then is that opportune time and Judas is to enter centre stage for his brief but eternal moment of fame.

Here then might be his story:

‘The past few weeks and days have been very unsettling. For the last three years we’ve been travelling with Jesus, seeing him doing such miraculous things and managing to outsmart those who wish to do him harm. I’ve never been more certain of anything, that he truly is the one who has come to liberate not only our own people, but many others from the tyranny of brutal regimes… and yet so many are saying he’s gone too far, what he asks us to do is too hard a life to follow, that he must be demon possessed and so they are turning away. His talk of oneness with the Father, calling people to salvation and eternal life for some is an outrageous blasphemy and yet I’ve seen for myself the wonderful deeds he has and is doing.

Restoring sight to the blind, curing the sick and the lame, freeing people from injustices and teaching ways of love and peace above hatred and violence – why don’t the people get it. I’ve learned so much from him and he’s trusting me, as one of the twelve, to be part of his mission, to show others the power of God; and what better demonstration of that power than his bring Lazarus back from the dead – there can surely be nothing more amazing or mind-blowing. Yet, even that has had the effect of dividing people and has added weight to the authorities case against him, that they are losing control of the crowds and fear an uprising. Certainly our latest arrival in Jerusalem shows that he has an incredibly popular appeal, but still for someone who claims that we should do all we can to support and uphold the poor, the way he allowed Mary to be so extravagant with that precious nard is at least questionable.

There have been moments lately when my mind seems foggy, my judgement clouded and I can’t think straight – what really is his purpose for me? Am I to abandon the faith of my father and forefathers; isn’t there a way that we can explore a way to move forward? What might it take to bring both sides together? Might it be best to talk to the authorities and hand the problem over to them? … Is that what he wants me to do?

Now though, as we sit here sharing a meal, he’s once again demonstrating his upside down thinking; the master who acts as a servant, by offering to wash our dusty feet. Look at Peter, who earlier protested so vehemently that he would allow him to do no such thing, suddenly eager that Jesus should bath his whole body… and yet when he came and knelt before me, his gentle hands wiping away the dirt and grime, I couldn’t look him in the eye. Does he know what I’m thinking?

He must do, but it didn’t stop the feeling of cold panic that swept over me when he clearly stated that he knew at least one of us was not as innocent as they seem. Is that his way of telling me he knows what I’ve determined to do? Even so, we have broken bread together and his offering to me of the choicest morsel surely shows that he still loves me. Perhaps it is the right thing to do.

Judas leaves the circle of the disciples.

I seize a lull in our conversations to slip out, and the darkness of the night compared to the bright glow of the room I have left renders me temporarily blind. As I move quickly away, the sound of laughter and fellowship follows me through the still, cool air, however, my heart is heavy and mind whirling – do I sense the enormity of what I am about to do? May God forgive me if I’ve chosen the wrong path’

Judas made a choice, whether under the influence of the devil or not, but John makes it very clear that whilst Jesus was about to be betrayed, he would not be taken by surprise. He has not been deceived and his arrest, trial and crucifixion will not be a dreadful miscarriage of his plans, but their fulfilment. Instead the event will glorify Jesus and through him glorify God, not by being recognised, proclaimed and crowned as king, but by going obediently to disgraceful death on a cross.

Judas leaves the circle of the disciples before he can hear Jesus’ commandment that a mutual reciprocity of love is the best way to show others that they are one of his disciples. Love that is to be shown even to those who find themselves far away from God; those who cannot see or understand what purpose God might have for them; even those who seem unforgivable. God knows his plans for us, plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future.

Amen

Fear Of Failure

Compline - A quiet end to the day

Compline – A quiet end to the day

This week I had to do something really frightening. The sort of thing that makes your heart race and your knees tremble. It wasn’t quite the fear I feel when I am at a great height and not in control of my balance; nor was it the fear generated by an unseen but threatening presence – the sort that made me hide behind the sofa whilst watching Dr Who as a child. No, this was the fear of failure.

The cause of this fear? Well, you could say it was self-inflicted; but for various reasons I had offered to be one of the ordinands that ‘sang’ Compline in the college chapel!

Compline is the final service or ‘office’ at the end of the day. This quiet and peaceful worship, stills the mind and allows you to hand over to God all of those things that have happened during the day before retiring for the night. At Cuddesdon, the practice is then to maintain silence until the next morning

The service is taken from the Book of Common Prayer, and can be said, but is more often than not sung. However, this ‘singing’ is done in Plainsong – a sort of medieval chanting style. The notes are written on a stave [a set of five parallel lines on any one or between any adjacent two of which a note is written to indicate its pitch] in the form of dots (see picture below)

Compline is sung in plainsong

Compline is sung in plainsong

And there’s the rub – the fact that I had to google what the name of those lines were called tells you that my musical knowledge is limited. I understand that each note has a different sound depending on where it sits on those lines, I even know the names of some of the notes in those positions; but my problem is that I can not link in my head the name of the note with the sound that is supposed to come out of my mouth! Still, I wanted to give it a go.

I’ve written previously about having the courage to do something in Getting Out Of The Boat but inherent in all of these types of challenges is the fear of failure; that you’ll make a mess of it; that people will laugh; that you’ll feel a fool. So probably best not to do it…

As the time got nearer, the natural introvert in me kept questioning why I had ever thought it was a good idea and what had possessed me to volunteer. However, I knew that I’d been pushing myself lately to do things that stretched me; that exhausted me, but which were beginning to give me more confidence

I have to admit that even after a brief lunch-time rehearsal, right up to the moment that I sat in the chapel itself, that I wanted so much to say ‘I’m sorry, I really can’t do this’, hoping that like Zechariah I’d be struck dumb and have a legitimate excuse to save face; but a quick arrow prayer to say ‘Here goes God’ and the barely audible note hummed by my wonderful fellow ordinand, Jane*, sitting right next to me, found me launching into the first versicle

Did I sing like Katherine Jenkins? – No!

Did I hit a few ‘bum’ notes? – Yes!

Did I worship the Lord in word and song – Yes!

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control
2 Timothy 1:7

Having done it I can’t say that I won’t feel that nervousness again, but if we attempt to do things in good faith the Holy Spirit  will invariably pitch in there with us [musical pun intended]

So don’t fear failure, and don’t let fear stop you from giving things a go. As it says in one of my favourite prayers:

Lord help me to remember
that nothing is going

to happen today that
you and I together
can’t Handle
Amen

*Huge thanks must go to Jane Winter, whose infinite patience and kind encouragement played a large part in enabling me to not give in to my fears and for the support of all my fellow Ordinands who sang the responses impeccably and who didn’t laugh but gave me silent hugs afterwards!