Pastor's E-letter 10/04/19
“Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever; and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Revelation 1:17-18
Every time I lead a funeral or a memorial service, I read these words from Revelation 1, found in our Book of Worship, at the beginning of the service. There are other words I could use. Sometimes I'm tempted to do so. But I always come back to them. I use them because they are so filled with hope and the assurance of the power of Christ to enable us to conquer and ultimately live, even in the face of death. The phrase, "Do not be afraid" which is found all through the bible, is perhaps, one of my favorite phrases. Over and over again God says to us, through prophets, priests, angelic messengers, and Christ, "Do not be afraid." I'm not sure how often this phrase occurs in scripture, but it is a lot. I would guess it occurs so often because part of being human in this very crazy, chaotic world, is to experience fear.
The churches to which John addresses his message from Christ had many reasons to be afraid. They lived in a time and place where being a follower of Jesus was risky and dangerous. They lived in a time where there was tremendous pressure to conform to the culture and the demands of the state by renouncing their faith in Christ and worshipping the emperor. They lived in a time when martyrdom was real, as was the case for a follower named Antipas who was part of the church of Pergamum about which we will read this week in worship.
Fortunately, as we have said previously, we live in a place where we need not fear martyrdom nor demands from the state to worship one way or the other. But sadly, we know that is not the case in every country. Real persecution of Christians still exists around the world, just as people of other faith traditions face persecution. It is a sad testimony to the brokenness of our world.
But even though we don't face martyrdom as a result of our faith, there are real, legitimate reasons that we might experience fear and anxiety in our daily lives. We fear for the future of our country or our loved ones. We fear the prospect of illness overtaking us or those we love. We may feel insecure about our job or our retirement. Do we have what we need to make ends meet? We may experience disruption and pain in relationships and fear they will fall apart, and we will be left alone. In the first week in September, we all sat on pins and needles as we waited to see the path that hurricane Dorian would take. There are many situations that we face in life where it is hard NOT to be afraid. Clearly, God knows and understands our fear.
Which is why I so appreciate the book of Revelation. I realize that many folks have used it and read it in such a way that it can instill fear. But that is not the point of this marvelous, curious and, at times, hard to understand text. The larger purpose is to remind the faithful that because of the work of Christ in us and the world, we need not fear! Jesus is the beginning and the end, the first and the last, and in him is the power to stand firm, to hold fast, and to overcome everything that threatens us, even death. That is the message to the churches of Revelation and us. Yes, there is suffering in life. Sometimes there is persecution. And sometimes, as is the case with the churches we will look at this week, (read Revelation 2:12-29 – we are covering a lot this week!) we are tempted to wander, to turn away from Christ and to worship all the wrong things. But Christ is alive! And he lives in us and is available to us in our fear and anxiety and our temptations to wander. To empower us to conquer our fear and to be faithful to the end. We aren't alone in conquering that fear. Jesus has already done that work for us and because he is victorious, we can be as well.
This week, I've also been praying over the words of Paul from 2 Timothy 1:7, "For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline." In Christ, the one who was, and is, and is to come, we need not be afraid. We can find hope, courage, love, and power to overcome our fears and anxiety. Even when we face the worst, even when we face the shadow of death. That is the ultimate message of Revelation. And that is a message we all need to hear.
I look forward to seeing you in worship this Sunday as we continue to dig into these scriptures. We will also gather around the table of grace and celebrate our bond with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world as we celebrate World Communion Sunday. In the meantime, pray for the witness of God's worldwide church amid our own, chaotic and turbulent times.
Grace and Peace,