Monday, January 30, 2017

Walking on Water -- Jonathan Campbell

I wanted to share what I spoke about on Sunday (1/29/17) in worship. I was preaching about Peter walking on water and the problem of fear. Below is a portion of my sermon:

A couple of weeks ago, my wife came up to me and said, “I have something to tell you, but I don’t know how exactly.” I braced for impact. She went on to tell me that she recently noticed a lot more people making fun of me in public. I would like to say I was surprised, but as a person with a lifelong disability, I was not. 

I have, over time, come to realize that the individuals who mock others with disabilities do so out of fear. 

They’re afraid because people with disabilities are a reminder of their own mortality. They’re afraid of their own perceived weakness. They’re afraid about how their job, their relationship, and their lives are going wrong. They project that fear on others, often people with disabilities, because it makes them feel better about themselves. However, fear never makes us stronger or better. 

 I know a lot about fear. During elementary school I was severely bullied. I wish I could tell you I always dealt well with the fear and frustration, but I didn’t. For most of my youth I built a wall around myself to keep from being hurt. During the summer before I began middle school I had a growth spurt. When I went to middle school that year I was twenty pounds heavier and over six feet tall. When the first person tried to bully me I turned to violence in retaliation. But, neither of those “solutions” solved the problem. These “solutions” didn’t bridge the wide chasm of misunderstanding between me and my bullies.

We can easily lose ourselves in fear. Countries can also lose themselves in fear. Terrorism is scary, and as a country we must deal with that real problem. But, judging people solely by their religion, race, or national origin won’t make us safe. Like Peter, our actions based in fear, will only exacerbate the problem. 

I doubt I will ever get to have a conversation with those who made fun of me behind my back. If I could, this is what I would like to say to them. I’m more then my disabilities and when you look at me, or any person who is different than you, through the lens of fear you don’t see our humanity. I’m just the guy with the spastic arm and weird limp. You don’t see me as a husband to a beautiful and loving wife or the father of three wonderful boys. You don’t see me as a pastor with two master’s degrees. You don’t see a long suffering Eagles’ fan. You don’t see me! I would like to let them know that the disabilities they made fun of where the things that made me a stronger and a better person. I would tell them about a man named Jacob and how he met God and walked away with a limp. I would talk to them personally, and tell them that their weaknesses are the very things that can make them stronger. 

So, what do we do about our fears? We learn from Jesus. Jesus reached out and rescued Peter when he was gripped by fear. He then reminded Peter that he need not doubt himself or live in fear. We can help each other find the strength not to be controlled by our fear. Unfortunately, sometimes it feels like my default position in life when trouble hits is fear. What can we do to help one another? When you see that I’m facing a situation that is making me fearful you can remind me that fear won’t solve the problem, and I’ll do the same for you.

Jesus calls us to reach out and offer our hand to rescue those living in fear. I hope you will join me in contacting your local and national leaders to remind them we shouldn’t make decisions out of fear and judging people by their race, religion, or national origin won’t keep us safe. We must remember the powerful and true words of 1 John, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” Through the grace of God may we help each other, our neighbors, and our leaders step out in love and not fear.
Jonathan Campbell is pastor of Old First UMC in West Long Branch, NJ. This is not an official statement; only the General Conference can speak for the UMC.

No comments:

Post a Comment