“Faith, Fear, and Security”
by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
October 2, 2016
Psalm 37:1-9, Luke 17:5-6
I’ve been thinking lately about how to think and feel and act in a world where there are over 65 million refugees on earth. That’s about one out of every 113 people. I’ve been wondering how to vote and how to spend my money and how to move beyond small talk in a world fraught with conflict and full of innocent children caught in the crossfire of war.
What does one say at parties and in polite situations? How does one negotiate family gatherings in a political climate like ours?
I do have to be pretty careful up here in the pulpit. We are a congregation of Democrats and Republicans and if I choose to take on a topic with political overtones, I risk offending someone — or a lot of someones. So I’m going to try to avoid that… mostly. The gospel message does have political ramifications.
The Supreme Court has said that I, as an individual, can actually say who I’m voting for and advocate for that person, even from up here. I’m not going to do that. We, however, we as a community are bound by the rules of our not-for-profit status and cannot advocate for a particular candidate.
But I hope that doesn’t stop any of us from expressing our views with one another, privately. We Congregationalists helped shape this country with our respect for individual conscience and freedom of expression. Each of you can — and always has had the right to — believe what you want to believe here, and share those beliefs openly. It’s one the reasons I love our tradition.
Having faith doesn’t mean having a corner on the truth. As a community of faithful people, we share a devotion to Jesus Christ and the way of the gospel, but we of course have different views on a lot of topics.
When I was a teenager, I loved listening in to the conversations at coffee hour at my church. I respected and admired the adults there. They were my extended family and they were my spiritual mentors. But that doesn’t mean they always agreed with each other or that I always agreed with them.
One conversation that sticks with me was about the nuclear arms race. Ronald Reagan had just been elected president and he wanted to produce more nuclear arms in order to dominate Russia and, from his perspective, make us all safer.
One man in that coffee hour conversation thought this was a good idea and another thought it was appalling. They each wanted peace, but had different ideas of how to get there. They went back and forth and neither gave in. Thankfully, they left church that day politely and without any harsh words.
What about today? Could we have a conversation – or a disagreement — about gun control or Donald Trump and leave here feeling like everyone still loved each other? I hope so!
The hardest conversations we have are often about how we are going to protect ourselves in this life. Safety and security are human instincts. The desire to survive and thrive is part of our biological makeup.
So, when we talk about guns, many of us are completely convinced that fewer guns would be better. Others are very sure that the freedom to carry a weapon will make us safer.
Personally, I don’t own a gun and never will, so that tells you where I stand. That doesn’t mean that I hate or mistrust or have contempt for all gun owners. My father and one of my sons own guns. They are responsible people and I think that they should have the right to own their weapons.
However, I personally can’t make spiritual sense of the idea that if more people were armed, we’d be safer.
So, my question is (and this is really the heart of today’s sermon): Even if it would make us physically safer, do we really want to live in a society and a world where we’re all armed and ready to kill?
The psalm for today says, in part:
Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security… Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday… wait patiently for him… Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret — it leads only to evil.
Even if we have trouble believing that this is true, that God will protect us and give justice to the faithful in this violent world, there is something about this way of living – with hope and with trust – that seems better to me than living in fear and suspicion.
When we trust God and one another, it enables us to speak and act with love and with hope for the future, not with anxiety and resentment.
The psalmist is calling us to faith and so is the author of Luke.
He quotes Jesus as saying that if we had faith the size of a mustard seed, the tiniest amount, we could do what seems impossible.
How could a tree uproot itself from your yard and walk, with its roots dangling behind it, down to the sea and pant itself in Hingham Harbor just because we believed it would? Impossible!
Maybe, but Jesus is making us think here. How might faith help us to do what seems impossible? Become the person we want to be. Get healthy. Be content. Live with risky generosity. Find love again. Learn to sing or play an instrument or travel somewhere we’ve always wanted to go – either physically or metaphorically.
But to do those things, we have to feel that we are safe. To take wing requires a solid perch.
And I think the psalmist and Luke are saying that faith is that safe, solid place. Having true faith in God and in each other in this community could mean that we can live as we have always wanted to live.
Yesterday, I performed a wedding at First Baptist Church. A couple asked me to officiate and we needed a place and First Baptist agreed. (Another example of how great this community is.) Anyway, when I perform weddings, I always ask for a blessing from the parents of the people getting married and then from the whole congregation.
When I asked the congregation if they would support this couple, they said “We will!” with such gusto, I thought the roof would come off! You could feel the family and congregation embracing this couple and supporting them in such a solid way.
So, what gives you a sense of safety and security? I remember my dad telling me that locks on doors are only a deterrent. If someone really wants to get into your house, they’ll get in. Do locks make you feel safe? Some say that military might or a weapon or a bodyguard or money gives them a feeling of safety. And, frankly, I can see their point. All of those things have made me feel safer, in some ways, in some situations.
And yet… and yet, I call you today, as your pastor, to look with me to a still more excellent way. The way of faith in almighty God. The way of commitment to a community that can be so supportive and all embracing. The way of trust and of peace.