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Ecclesia and Faith: How do we grow in faith as the church?

Date: 18/07/2021/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

A few weeks ago, I came across a quote from the late Maya Angelou, an African American poet and civil rights activist. “Every storm will run out of rain.”  

I included it in the prayer during service that week, and it kept me afloat through many things that has been going on both in my personal life and happening in the world. 

<m>How many of you are facing storms in your lives right now? 

The Bible is full of stories of storms – from the great flood in Genesis where it rained 40 days and 40 nights, to the storm that Jesus calmed while the disciples freaked out while they were on the boat together in the sea of Galilee, and the storm that shipwrecked the ship the apostle Paul was on when he was being brought to Rome as a prisoner. 

It is hard to think “every storm will run out of rain” when it is pouring non-stop.  

It is not easy to have faith that the storm will run out of rain when we are right in the middle of the storm. We are quite blessed in Singapore – how storms look like. How storms look like in other parts of the world. Hurricanes, Typhoons. 

Just when we thought we are out of the woods for this pandemic, we have a few clusters popping up. And we have more restrictions again. Fortunately, because of vaccination rates, we are not back to where we were last year. 

It is not easy to have faith when we have been struggling for a while – months and even years – and nothing seems to change – whether it is our mental health – constantly battling depression, self-doubt, self-hatred; our physical health – where our illnesses continue to wear us down and we feel like we are fraction of who we were; or our search for employment, acceptance, community and even love; or the work of justice and restoration that we pour our hearts and resources into – only to encounter disappointment after disappointment as change that we so long for doesn’t come, and we just see more injustice, violence, and oppression. 

We may, like the disciples react in fear – “Lord, save us! We are going to drown!” 

Jesus tells them, after calming the storm – “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 

Even though Jesus said that to his disciples, it is not something I would say to someone who is facing storms in their life. I would also advise against saying that to someone who is sharing their struggles with you. The disciples were eyewitnesses of Jesus healing people and performing miracles and have reasons to have faith. We don’t have the same benefit. And we are not Jesus. 

Instead of asking you “why are you so afraid,” I want to offer another perspective.  

We will always be afraid. Faith isn’t the absence of fear. Faith is trusting that things will be ok, even when we fear. 

Last week I talked about grace, and I came across this video on The Work of The People where Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, The Gifts of Imperfection, and The Power of Vulnerability, shared about her perspective of grace. 

She quoted a line from the hymn amazing grace – “and grace has taught my heart to fear.” 

We often sing without realising what we are singing – and what Brene Brown said made me sit up. Yeah, what does that mean? Grace teaching our hearts to fear? Isn’t fear something that we need to overcome? How on earth does grace teach us to fear? 

Brene Brown explains “grace taught me how to be afraid.” 

I really appreciated her insight. Fear is a primal emotion. It is part and parcel of who we are. It is a self-preservation mechanism.  

This mechanism behaves like this – we perceive a threat – and this could be a physical or a mental trigger – and this trigger activates our amygdala. The amygdala is like an alarm bell – it then triggers  adrenaline to be released,  our heart rate goes up, we breathe faster, and the extra oxygen makes our senses more alert, and ready to react to the perceived threat. This response is faster than our conscious thought – like when you see something flying at you out of the blue, you dodge before even identifying what is flying at you. 

This is the flight-or-fight response.  

In the natural world, fear helps animals, including us, survive dangers, escape from predators, deal with threats. But when it comes to living in human society, fear, instead of helping us can often become an obstacle. 

We don’t know how to be afraid. We are uncomfortable with fear. When we experience fear, we react like how our primal instincts are trained to react – flight or fight. We become either avoidant (the “flight” response) or we become angry and antagonistic (the “fight” response) 

(READ THE SLIDE) 

Brene Brown says –  

Are you still afraid of the dark? Yeah, I am still afraid of the dark, but grace has taught my heart to fear. 

I used to not know how to be afraid. I used to in fear get prefect, get controlling, get blaming, get mean, run. I would do anything I could do.  

We don’t know how to be afraid. I don’t know any teacher as capable as grace when it comes to learning how to be in fear. 

Grace isn’t what makes you unafraid – it is the thing is what whispers you know how to be afraid, it’s ok, you can be afraid. 

The most meaningful things I have ever done in my life personally and professionally, have all be born of fear and vulnerability. Every talk I have given that was important, every book I have written, deciding to have kids, birthing those kids, raising those kids. It’s all scary. But grace has taught my heart to fear. 

The point is – faith is trusting God, and knowing how to be afraid – not allowing fear to control us, or to behave in unhelpful ways in response to fear. What Bene Brown describes as “get perfect, get controlling, get blaming, get mean, run.” 

One of the ways people respond to fear is to try and be perfect, try to control people, situations and things because being perfect, and having control gives us a sense of security and certainty. We don’t know how to be afraid.  

And when we fear, we look for something, anything, to hold on to. Something, anything to make us feel secure, certain, in control – even if that security, that certainty, that being in control is only an illusion.  

Fear, doubt, uncertainty are difficult feelings. Many of us would rather avoid dealing with them. And one of the ways to deal with them is to do something that distract us from them, or do something to make them go away. 

And sometimes we want to control the outcome. But that is, if we think about it, wanting our will be done, not God’s. 
prayer – calmness, stillness. 

Meditating on the stained glass. 

Driving test – focused on outcome – passing. But I prayed for God to be with me, I prayed for calmness and ability to accept the outcome. I do my best, but not control the outcome. At peace. 

Also, I want to make one connection – and it has to do with faith and beliefs. 

So sometimes, people make faith to be about dogma, doctrines, or beliefs, and to have faith you need to agree or accent to these dogma, doctrines or beliefs. But that’s not what having faith in Jesus means. People become obsessed with orthodoxy – having the right dogma, doctrines and beliefs. But when we tease away the layers, this obsession about being right, about orthodoxy, has less to do with faith and more to do with discomfort with fear and uncertainty. Obsessing about being right can be distracting us and avoiding fear, or it can be an attempt to feel in control, to have certainty so that the fear goes away.   

Jesus invites us to have faith in him, and not a set of doctrines or beliefs. 

Having faith in Jesus about trust. Having faith in God is trusting in God, and trusting in God’s character – that God is loving, God is good, and God is just, and trusting that God is with us. 

How many of you have done a trust fall before? Correct me if I am wrong, but I think I recall a retreat many, many years ago, way before I became pastor, that we did trust fall. You fold your arms and you lean backwards and let yourself fall into the arms of those who are going to catch you. It is about surrender and letting go, and trusting. I never did it correctly. I always fell in with my butt first. I didn’t know how to trust. 

I think the same can be said about trusting God – it requires us to learn to let go, and surrender. To let go of being in control. Let go of wanting to control the outcome – because when we want to control the outcome we are actually wanting to be God. 

I really appreciate what Brene Brown says – “The most meaningful things I have ever done in my life personally and professionally, have all be born of fear and vulnerability. Every talk I have given that was important, every book I have written, deciding to have kids, birthing those kids, raising those kids. It’s all scary. But grace has taught my heart to fear.” 

Everything important that we do, we do with fear – because it is important, it is meaningful, it is significant. We cannot, in singlish, anyhow anyhow.  

 
It resonates with what Paul writes in Philippians 2:12 “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” 

Even though we have faith, there will be times we may feel like giving up. Like those on the ship with Paul, Acts 27:20 “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” 

Looking at the heat wave causing raging wildfires in North America, and killed more than 1 billion sea creatures along the Vancouver coast – that may lead to the collapse of the region’s maritime ecosystem, the floods in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands with 80 dead and hundreds missing, the landslides and floods in Northern India due to heavy monsoon rainfall makes me wonder how we will get through this “storm” of climate change. Are we too late?vPandemic in Myanmar and Indonesia. 

Having faith here, is trusting that our work is not in vain and that God is with us. Having faith means that even though we don’t see the end, we still trust that one day the work will bear fruit. That is what we bring as Ecclesia – even as we work for social justice, social transformation, equality, restoration – we have faith that one day there will be shalom –  

We may not be the ones who enjoy the fruits of our labour – remember the fruits we enjoy now are fruits of the labours of those who have come before us. 

<m> So as a church, do you think we also react in similar ways to fight and flight?  

I think we do. Sometimes we are so afraid of getting in trouble that we stop being the church. So we avoid or delay engaging in the work that might be unpopular, or speak out because we are afraid of repercussions. But that isn’t trusting God, or following Jesus.  

 And sometimes it is not the flight reaction, but the fight reaction – and that is not helpful either. There are occasions we get triggered – and instead of reacting, we allow the initial feelings subside – just like waiting for the fight or flight response to pass. Then we can engage – not fight – from a state of grace.  

We should not wait till we no longer fear to do the risky, edgy work.  
 
Who were we FCC? White paper – Douglas, Joshua and George worked on a position paper to submit to REACH about the proposed penal code amendments in 2006 – pushing for the decriminalisation of 377A. 

Be it in our personal lives, or as the church, We cannot wait till we are not afraid till we act. We will always be afraid. 

So in the storms you are facing, or in the things we are called to do for love, for justice, for compassion, 

I am not telling you not to be afraid, but to have faith. To allow grace to teach your heart to fear.  

To trust. That “Every storm will run out of rain.” And to be the church so that there will be sunshine after the rain.