We in the ministry are a unique group with a unique set of stressors, pressures, problems and expectations that are a natural part of our calling. From the days of Moses to our modern times, we are plagued with a sense of isolation, loneliness, and unclear expectations. Combine that with the fact that most clergy have a natural bent towards being people pleasers and wanting to be liked and we have a prescription for a lot of stress in our lives. We are good at helping others identify these things and trying to help them cope with them. But are we good at doing this for ourselves?
The good news is that just as we have a stress response, we also have a relaxation response where our breathing and blood pressure slows down.
We confess that the prime motivation for our presence is an African Dream every bit as compelling as the dream Martin Luther King, Jr. had for America in 1963. To help his people survive colonization, captivity and thrive in the 21st century, Chief Tendai Mutasa sold tribal land to Cecil Rhodes and the British, by treaty. In exchange, Mutasa's people received "munitions plus limited access to cash, in-kind gifts, health care and education." These things gave his people hope. More than these material gifts, Chief Mutasa's faith in an amazing grace-filled Messianic God led the way forward to "a future with hope" and a "dream fulfilled" as written in the book of Jeremiah (29:11) and the book of Proverbs (13:12).
How much attention we need to give to the various parts of our lives depends on us. We are all different. I have owned several different cars in my life and each one would have different levels of care to run properly. Some of us may need to spend more time focusing on physical health issues than others, some more on mental health issues than others and some more on spiritual health issues than others. At any given time, the balance of our focus can change. Knowing ourselves if vital in our well-being. Be willing to seek help if it is a difficult task. Our clergy assistance program has people who can help us do that. Yet we need to take responsibility for caring for ourselves and seeing that the aspects of our lives are in proper balance.
The disciples that Jesus had assembled started drifting away at the Passover. By the time we get to the crucifixion of Jesus only a few women and John, the beloved disciple, remain clearly visible. Each of the original disciples abandoned Jesus in one way or another. They all deserted Jesus and fled away in fear. Jesus’ last words on the cross were, “It is finished!” After uttering those last words, he died. His death, while predicted and announced by Jesus himself, left his disciples in a state of disarray and panic. The followers of Jesus were broken, defeated, and most of them, as echoed by the two pilgrims on the Emmaus road, experienced a state of unparalleled hopelessness. How did this ragtag group of frightened followers experience both personal and corporate renewal and transformation? Their transformation was so powerful and effective that they were eventually noted for “turning the world upside down.” What happened?
The forty days of Lenten observance are designed to end with the joyful celebration of the triumphant Christ. Jesus has been victorious and has promised that his successful conquest will yield a harvest of righteousness within those committed to following him. Lent is often observed with extended periods for fasting and repentance because sometimes we fall short of the standard Christ requires.
There is no perfect security in this world. We could each construct for ourselves a Howard Hughes bubble against every conceivable threat. We would still be vulnerable, and we ourselves would become the ultimate victims of our isolation. The world is a complicated place, and answers to its problems are typically complicated. The desire for easy answers usually produces bad answers. Acting out of undifferentiated fear is one of the worst. We can do better. Indeed, as believers we are commanded to do so.
Scouting Sunday intersects with a tragic event in the life of a friend, prompting reflection on the importance of small groups in the life of the Christian community.
We Christians sometimes seem to imply to each other that we will experience no fear whatsoever if we have enough faith, perhaps implying that our fears are evidence of a lack of faith. Fear and faith are not polar opposites. To have faith means to choose to act in spite of one’s feelings of fear. Faith means acting in spite of!
At the root of Christian faith is the confidence that in God’s world, we need not live in fear. And this does not come as smooth words of comfort in easy times. These words are delivered when people are up against it, when times are hard, and reasons to fear are, well, reasonable. But we believe that regardless of the circumstances, love overcomes. It is the claim of this faith throughout the ages. “Fear not.” We are given a spirit that is “powerful, loving, and self-controlled.”