Preaching Faith in a Fearful World

francis_assisi_sermon_birdsAn article for the May 3, 2020 edition of News from 316, the weekly notice from Holy Trinity.

“Fear not,” we read in scripture. Though it varies with the translation of the Bible, God or a messenger of God says to someone “fear not,” between 300 and 400 times! That’s a lot of encouragement coming from God, and yet, it would not have been necessary, had people not been afraid.  Throughout history, faithful people have been afraid of what was going on around them and what might happen next.  Even though popular religious culture often says confidently, “the opposite of fear is faith,” most of us know the reality that sometimes we can be full of both: lots of faith and lots of fear.

As the days go by, I’m slightly less afraid for my health and for the health of others, but my list of fears is long and real. I’m afraid of what will happen to our neighborhood and city in the coming months. I’m afraid for all the parishioners whose jobs or livelihoods are gone or threatened.  I’m afraid some of our parishioners who have moved away or developed new habits may not return. I’m afraid the loss of income through community groups and filming and the other odd things that help keep this old, expensive building running will dry up. On and on, I can go with my fears.

At the same time, I’ve never felt closer to the Risen Christ. I’m full of faith. We are followers of Jesus, who breathed life into the people he encountered while he was on the earth, and then rose from the dead in a way that breathes new life into us here and hereafter.  We have stories and prayers and songs that affirm our faith, and I’m glad that we can tell them through social media.  Yes, it’s devastating to face an empty church every Sunday, but whether there are people physically in our building or not does not change the life-giving story of our faith—which can be preached to a crowd, to a couple of people, or like St. Francis did—to creation itself!

Though he probably did not say it quite in this way, St. Francis is often credited with having said, “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” Especially in these days of staying at home, social distancing, and uncertainty, it’s important to remember that we are ALL entrusted with preaching the “Gospel” (meaning, the Good News about Jesus). The way and life of Jesus Christ leads us through fear, with faith, no matter what.

Each of us lives out a sermon. Whatever we do—whether praying for others, reaching out through letters, emails, or calls, or (for those who are able to do so safely) running errands and checking on others, our sermons are shared.  May Christ continue to fill us with faith, even when we’re afraid, so that all our sermons might be heard in a frightened world.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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