fawzia-bryony_2147082bSecond Sunday of Lent          Psalm 27, Luke 13:31-35

Here is a troubling paradox of faith.  Living right in the path of Christian faith will not always make you happy or successful or wealthy.  This is why the religion section is still separate from the self-help section in the bookstore.  Faith is skeptical about “the self” because ego can turn self into selfish.  We are not as skeptical as Buddhists who see the self as illusion, but rather we see a true self as being rooted in the Holy Other, the God we know through Jesus the Christ.  While this God is a loving, just and forgiving divinity, faith will not necessarily make you thin, rich or blissful.  Just listen to our scripture readings today.  Jesus preached the good news and the religious status quo was ready to kill him.  Jesus said we should love our enemies, but he never said we would not have enemies.  In Psalm 27, King David is praising the light and salvation of God, and pleading for help as he is surrounded by the armies of his enemies and the lies of his detractors.  Taking the path of faith can get you in a lot of hot water.

 

This truth was clear to our Sunday morning Bible Study group while discussing the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.  The Beatitudes say we are blessed when we are merciful for we shall have mercy, blessed are the humble for they shall inherit the earth, blessed or those who mourn, for they shall be comforted, blessed are the peacemakers and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  And at the end of all these virtues for which we should strive, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for righteousness sake.”   Really Jesus, if I am humble, merciful, pure in heart, and hunger and thirst for righteousness, I can end up being persecuted?  I don’t remember this being said anywhere in Dale Carnegie’s course on “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  I’ll have to re-read the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and see if Steven Covey included a chapter on persecution.   Nobody ever calls for a Fatwa on a self-help writer.  Assassins only murder those who are trying to change the world, you know-Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.; not those who are trying to fulfill the self.

 

This isn’t just a Christian problem, it is an interfaith problem. Fwazi Koori is a woman running for President of Afghanistan in 2014.  She recounted scenes from her autobiography, “Favored Daughter,” in an interview last week with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show.  This favored daughter was actually the19th of her father’s 23 children, from his second wife, shortly after taking on his 7th wife, who was 14 years-old.  Her mother had a tough delivery and had hoped for a son to gain favor again with her husband, but was disappointed when Fwazi was born a girl.  While her mother’s life was in danger, she was left to die outside in the sun and the family figured that nature would take its course.  After nearly a day, someone had pity on her and brought her indoors; and fortunately maternal instincts kicked in as her mother recovered and she saved Fwazi, and raised her to be an educated woman.

 

“Favored Daughter” recounts the Taliban coming to Kabul, not allowing Fwazi to go to school anymore and forcing woman to wear the stifling, hot burka.  Her brother was killed in the rising violence and her mother moved the family out of Taliban territory so Fwazi could go to school again.  She completed her studies, married and had two daughters, but then her husband was imprisoned by the Taliban and died from tuberculosis.  Fwazi’s anger energized her to get involved in trying to help women in her country and she worked for the UN Children’s Fund to get schools open for girls.  She dared to take off her burka and in 2005 she had enough prominence to win an election in the Afghan Parliament; and later she became the first woman Speaker, and now she is considered a realistic candidate for President and is making the talk show rounds on her book tour.  She has already survived two major assassination attempts, one by an attack on her motorcade and later a bomb was planted under her car.  When she left for her tour she left a letter for her daughters telling them that if she does not come back she died for a good cause, so use the money in the bank wisely to get an education.  Life and death pressure is daily part of her job.  “I get overwhelmed. I get overwhelmed 10 times a day.”  But she keeps going.

 

Fwazi Koori’s courage illustrates what all faith is about, whatever path to God we are following.  Faith is about meaning and purpose.  It is not a journey to security, comfort and self-fulfillment.  In reality, the journey of faith sometimes leads to risking these things in order to live out true meaning and purpose.  From one perspective you might think Fwazi’s life is full of worry and fear.  When will someone try to kill her again?  What will happen to her teenage daughters if she dies?  Does she lay awake at night and spend her days looking over her shoulder?  Is that a life worth living?  But compared to what alternative life?  A life lived under a hot burka? Days spent indoors cooking and cleaning with no opportunity in the world?  Letting the Taliban run Afghanistan?  If women like Fwazi listened to those who told her to be careful and play it safe, then what would be the point of life?  I’m sure she would feel like she was dead already.  Why do the Taliban’s dirty work for them?  The great paradox is that there is more freedom in risking your life for your ideals, than in saving your life and living without our deeper purpose.  I think I heard that somewhere before, when Jesus said, pick up your cross and follow me.

What does this have to teach us for our own situation?  Here are a few things I think am thinking.

First, fear is an ever present reality, not just if the Taliban are threatening you.  We experience fear all the time, whether looking for a new job, starting a business, writing a book, balancing the check book or looking at an investment, thinking about marriage or being a parent, having to face surgery.  While the ultimate fear is death, fear is manifest nearly daily in some way.  Fearing failure, loss of control, lack of resources, loss of love – these are the little deaths we experience.  I’ve preached nearly 1000 sermons and there is always a little fear that I will flop or lead someone unwisely.  Fear never leaves us.  It is a biological reality hardwired into us that has helped us to survive for millions of years.  Fear has kept us from being eaten or killed.  Playing it safe is an adaptive response.  Except it doesn’t always work.  Playing it safe means missed opportunities to change and grow, it means diminishing our potential with a part of life unlived, sometimes it means letting evil win.  Avoiding fear is a limited adaptive response to the dangers and risks of life.

 

 

 

But living a life of meaning and purpose is also an adaptive response to fear.  Having ideals and hopes to live buy, things you are willing to die for if necessary, is what makes civilization, and makes a truly good life.  This is what David is proclaiming in Psalm 27.  It is living in the light of God, seeking God’s face that gives him hope in the face of his trials.  Jesus said, seek first the realm of God, and all other things will be added unto you.

 

The same is true for the church.  Security will not be in our endowment, sticking to the ways things have always been, or staying conventional, but in the risk of living Gospel values, journeying inward to know God, journeying outward in compassion and justice.  A friend of mine once said, dying churches are happy churches.  Oh sure, they mourn the good old days, but dying churches have no change and no conflict, and exist as chapels to comfort and bury the aging membership.  Growing churches make a tough choice, a choice not to serve themselves, but live into a mission and purpose.

 

I’ll share with you an exercise that these scriptures inspired me to do this week.  I wrote down what my fears are to think about what I might do in response.  Most of my fears were economic and family in nature, fears about taking on a mortgage, or that the church would stagnate and not be able to afford my salary, or some outside cataclysm that I can’t control would take place; or fears that something bad would happen to my family.  First I thought, I am a lucky man because none of my fears are going to happen today.  Unlike much of the world I will have enough to eat and no one is threatening to shoot me today.  Second, I realized that my fears would not necessarily be diminished by a bigger bank account, or by playing it safe with my goals and aspirations.  The only thing that reduces my fears is to take the risk to live out my truest aspirations, the risk to love, the risk to offer my best, the risk of living by the Sermon on the Mount virtues.  This is what drives out fear.  Seek first what God places in your heart as your true purpose in life, and all other things will diminish and fall into place.