New Year’s Eve
31 December 2021
How to not be afraid of the future
I titled my Christmas Eve sermon, “How not to be afraid”, but this sermon, sitting at it is on the evening when we celebrate the passing of the old year in to the new, the night that straddles the past and future in our linear way of seeing, I would like us to think about our fears that creep in when we think about the time yet to come. There may of course be additional fears swirling around this year for us in Queensland as we encounter a new stage of this pandemic.
If there really only two emotions- love and fear – then we need to give some careful attention to what makes us afraid, and what that looks like in us.
Who are you….when you are afraid?
I think it is a question worth pondering as I believe your frightened or anxious or worrying self will be about as far removed from the loving self you were created to be as is possible. If you are to be more truly you in 2022….then you need to pay attention to where fear may be in the driver’s seat.
Conversely, I don’t believe love can be mustered up in an act of will power. Rather, love can be invited in when our fears are calmed and our anxieties disappear in the light of truth. Love is a presence that reminds us that we are not alone, and the story that tells us we belong.
This last week we lost one of the great saints, I believe, in the death of ++Desmond Tutu. He was a man who had experienced many reasons to be afraid and many situations where terror was the only normal human response. Tutu has said, “All of us experience fear, but when we confront and acknowledge it, we are able to turn it into courage.”
The ‘confronting and acknowledging’ require two moves.
The first is that we allow ourselves to be still. I have told people before that the first time I tried meditating I was horrified by the rush of thoughts that swept in, including all the fears and anxieties and self-doubts…just because I had stopped for long enough and was still and allowing them to surface from the corners of my mind. Just because fears are not in the forefront of our mind does not mean they are not dictating our feelings, choices and actions.
The second move is connection. This is what the reading from Revelation points to as the experience of heaven- when we realise the home of God is amongst us. More than that, God is not a fixed unmoving deity above us but is the one who is working to comfort and heal and to make all things new…the active giver of life and sustainer of love.
The truth of life is relationship. Our flourishing is not possible without it. To realise that mutuality and interdependence, however, we need to be prepared to be vulnerable. We may need to make the new year one where we take the chance of sharing with one another our most heart-breaking moments as well as our joys. It may mean we need to find the courage to abandon our self-sufficiency and actually ask another person for help. As Gareth Higgins says, “Asking for help is the first step toward disentangling yourself from the oppression of your own fear, the first step toward unlocking your potential to love yourself, and finally the first step toward liberating your gift to the human race.” (Higgins, Gareth. How Not to Be Afraid (p. iii). Broadleaf Books. Kindle Edition)
Could 2022 become the year where we would be still long enough for truth to speak and humble ourselves enough to be open to the gift of one another and ask for help? This of course speaks to the idea of “ubuntu” which ++ Tutu was so good at communicating to the world, saying, “ A person is a person through other persons; you can’t be human in isolation; you are human only in relationships.”
But we all know that there have been times when we have been vulnerable and have been hurt. There have been times when our trust has been betrayed or our inherent dignity defaced. In this we need to hear the voice of the God who comes to wipe every tear from our eyes and restore the fullness of our humanity. This can only happen with the kind of covenanting love that puts forgiveness at the centre. A forgiveness that we don’t need to beg for or work at, but which is there for us before we even ask. Indeed, as we prepare to step into this new year, we cannot leave behind our burdens without forgiveness; whether that be forgiveness of ourselves or forgiveness of others. This is the third move: stillness …connection …forgiveness. I believe this is the way to any new beginning and any movement towards life.
Desmond Tutu was a man who could speak with authority about forgiveness, having been the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa as the country sought to find its way into a new day after the atrocities of apartheid. But he makes a clear distinction about what forgiveness is and isn’t;
Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering—remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning.
So how might you see the work of stillness…connection…and forgiveness shaping your new year?
Could this be a year when we stop and listen deeply, recognise our need of one another and forgive (but not forget) the mistakes and hurts of the past.
Can you glimpse at the dawn of this new year, ‘a second chance for a new beginning’, where love, not fear, is in the driver’s seat?