Each morning we get out of bed and we turn to face the world and as we do so we spin the wheel of fear. There are so many things that we fear some of which are major and tangible fears; some of which are less tangible but still ever so real. We fear simple things and we fear complex things. We fear things that should be within our control and we fear the unknown and out of control. We fear for others and we fear for ourselves. And we all know that we share in this problem of fear: advertises use it, politicians use it, journalists use it, our friends use it and yes even our family uses it.
In preparation for today we constructed this “wheel of fear” with the range things which may impact us on any and even all of our days, you might want to take a closer look after the service but let me share a few of the topics which might have played on our fears this week. “Failure” “The Budget Crisis” “Our Personal Health” “The Challenge of Moving House” “Girls held hostage in Nigeria” “The Melting of the Antarctic” “Naplan” “The Future of our Children” and “Embarrassment”.
It is in the midst of all of these fears that we face that we find ourselves here this morning listening to strange and ancient stories to imbue in us a sense of courage and hope in response to this fear laden world.
In Psalm 31 we hear the cry of the Psalmist - “save me”. When the Psalmist called out to God with these words he was not asking to go to heaven when he died, the salvation he sought was there in that moment in his life. In the face of the challenges that confronted him the Psalmist felt trapped by an invisible net and sought refuge in God “save me” he cried, not later, not after I die, “save me” “save me now”.
When we consider the fears and troubles we face these same words are not far from our lips either “same me” “save us”, and “save us now”. We too can feel trapped in our existence tied to the everyday drudgery and confusion and challenges of our earthly existence. We feel ensnared by the invisible net of the forces of the world around us and, the limitations and frailties of our own bodies. Like the Psalmist of old we long for the refuge and hope of an interventionist God and so we too cry out “Save me”.
As Christians, many of us would hear Jesus words from John 14:14 as words both of hope and confusion. “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Jesus encourages us to cry out to be saved from the things we fear and the things which ensnare us but in our crying out things seem to so rarely go as we would like.
As I reflect on my years as a Christian and especially in ministry again and again the problem of how God answers or doe s not answer our prayers comes up. We cry out “save me”: change my life, give me hope, show me the way, heal me. We cry out “save the one I love”: help them through this dark time, stop the pain, defeat the death. We cry out “save us”: end the drought, stop the rain, bring peace to world and food to the hungry. And we cry out and we cry out and we cry out... be our refuge, O God.
Just as when the Psalmist cried out ‘save me” there is ‘immediacy’ to our prayers too, we don’t want to wait for the coming kingdom, we don’t want to wait until tomorrow, we are not just worried about what is going to happen when we die – we need refuge and we need it now. We need it for ourselves and we long for it for others!
There are no easy answers to the ambiguity of unanswered prayer. Sometimes it is explained by saying things like: maybe our timing is out and we have to be patient or maybe we are praying for the wrong things and sometimes maybe our prayers lack enough faith. Yet all of our answers seem a little inadequate when Jesus promises to answer anything we ask in his name.
In response to Thomas’ confusion about where Jesus was going and how to follow him there Jesus makes this claim “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Thomas had pinned his hopes on Jesus and Jesus reassurance is that through his actions Jesus will remake Thomas in his relationship with God and lead him home. Jesus’ words are a complex answer to Thomas question, to his prayer as it were.
In these weeks after Easter we have heard the story of Thomas doubts about Jesus resurrection and then his encounter with Jesus seeing his hands and his side and proclaiming the memorable words “My Lord and my God!”
Within the midst of the confusion and doubts of all of the disciples, not just Thomas, Jesus was God at work in their midst recreating God’s relationship not just with the disciples but all peoples in all times and for the whole world.
This is why in the first letter of Peter we hear the good news that we have received mercy, we have received mercy already in what God has done in Jesus. The experience and immediacy of salvation is present to us even in the midst of the fears that we face but this is not something we neither comprehend nor apprehend naturally but comes to us as a gift and through our growth in faith.
In that same letter Peter says, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation!”
Growing into salvation is not about saving ourselves but having received the gift of mercy learning to live in the context of that gift. For me, it reminds me of my years as a teenager growing into my body.
At the end of Year 9 when I had just turned 15 I was the second shortest person in my grade at school, there was only one girl shorter. By the middle of grade 11 less than 2 years later there was one boy taller than me. I grew very quickly through these years and there were many changes going on for me – my body was all limbs that didn’t seem to coordinate themselves that well - I had to grow into my body. At times it was awkward and somewhat uncomfortable.
When I hear the phrase “grow into salvation” there is a connection with this idea of growing into my body. I needed to get used to it and wrap my head around it and how it operated. Growing into salvation is about living out something we have already been given – a new body, a renewed relationship with God and each other through Jesus. It can feel awkward, we can feel like we do not understand it, and our experience of it can feel disconnected, especially when we feel God is not answering the pressing concerns about which we pray.
Yet, as we consider the history of the faith and its people and we look at the example of Stephen facing his death, we also see that in the face of a very real and fearful event, Stephen did not discount God’s presence and even more surprisingly God’s love and mercy which was to be extend to his persecutors. Stephen’s fears about his death were realised but he faced them not thinking that God did not answer his prayers but that God was just as present with his persecutors as God was with him. This is a truly humbling and even perplexing witness to the unconditionally nature of God’s love.
This growth into salvation occurs as we as living stones support one another in our faith and relationship with God and the world around us, as was described earlier in the service. We support each other through our fears and into the knowledge of God’s mercy which we have received.
Each day we get up: we spin the wheel of fear; we struggle to pray prayers we may have been praying for years; we long for spiritual milk; we long for courage and hope to live lives of faith; we long to know God’s refuge.
The good news is Jesus promise “I am the way the truth and the life” has been realised, we have been saved by God’s presence in the world. What this means for each of us as we cry out “save me” from our personal fears and troubles may remain somewhat obscure to us but the knowledge of Jesus own journey through the valley of the shadow death can give us hope and courage that whatever we face “God is with us”.
Take a moment to consider God’s presence with you this day.