2017 has brought to us an ever-escalating fear. Fear of terrorism, nuclear threats, white supremacy, loss of health care, poverty, and more. There has even been an increase in the fear that traditional mainline Christianity is in an unstoppable spiral, as more and more churches see fewer and fewer members.
Fear is nothing new, it is as ancient as days and is evils favorite weapon in its arsenal to wage war against good. Why? Because it works so well.
But it only works if we buy into the fear. This may be why the most often repeated phrase in the Bible is “fear not” (or other similar phrases like “do not be afraid”, “do not fear”, “be not afraid”). As we begin a new year I challenge you to fear not. Truth always triumphs and love always wins. We may not feel this to be true, but that is only because we are looking at the present moment and not how far we have come nor what hope we have for the future.
Unitarian minister Theodore Parker said in an 1853 sermon titled Of Justice and the Conscience, “Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.” The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King later paraphrased Parker in a speech saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Regardless of how you phrase it, the truth is things are better, but there is still a long way to go.
A little over 150 years ago people from Africa living in the United States were property. Just over 50 years ago those same people, now free, had few rights as American citizens. Just 10 years ago the country elected its first black President. I remember the great fear growing up that someone, somewhere, would discover that I was gay. In small town middle America, it was a danger LGBT people lived with every day. In 2015, just three years ago, gay and lesbian couples were allowed to legally marry. Yes, racism and homophobia still exist. But we can see the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice.
Last year a Washington Post article declared that mainline Protestantism would be dead by the year 2040. But our message of working to build a more just and peaceful world is the message of Jesus who started his ministry with twelve followers that turned the world upside down with a message of outrageous love and extravagant welcome. Thus, proving you don’t need a sanctuary of 5,000 people to change your community.
So, beloved Pilgrims as we head into 2018 I say to you, fear not. Together, with the help of God, we will continue to struggle against evil. We will protect the environment. We will care for the poor. We will forgive often, reject racism, and fight for the powerless. We will continue to share our resources as we embrace diversity. We will love the God who loves us so dearly and in doing so we will enjoy this life. In essence we will be the church in 2018 and well beyond. Fear not.
1853, Ten Sermons of Religion by Theodore Parker, Of Justice and the Conscience, Start Page 66, Quote Page 84-85, Crosby, Nichols and Company, Boston