Trinity 4 - Do not fear, only believe

A sermon preached by the Revd Ivo Morshead at St George's, 1 July 2012

Do not fear only believe  (Mk 5 v 36)

These are the words we have just heard from the gospel for this morning.

A few days ago my wife and I had to squeeze into our car in the underground car park at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. It was parked too close to the next car. In  the semi-darkness and panting heavily from the exertion, I jammed what I thought was the ignition key into its slot. To our horror it was the front door key to the house and it was stuck fast neither moving in or out. We were faced with at least an hour if we summoned the RAC, that is if they could find us in that dungeon, and by that time the ticket for parking would have run out. Our fear of disaster was paramount but our belief in the need to take action ourselves prevailed and after five agonising minutes out came the wrong key and in went the proper one that amazingly worked.

Our predicament was trivial indeed in the repertoire of causes for fear. Less trivial too in the repertoire perhaps are the real fears of many for the future of our church now that we are without a vicar and likely to remain so for well into next year. We need to believe and have faith that the months ahead will be fruitful in every sense for us as individuals and as a church and also to take action ourselves. We need to pray during these months for those upon whom most of the burden will fall namely  the church wardens, Christopher and Susanna. It is they who will be the line managers for Margaret our pastoral assistant and Martin our administrator. We must pray for Robert, absent this morning in his role as the Lord Mayor’s new chaplain and called away on duty in that capacity. Robert is the Associate vicar of our united benefice and has responsibility for the worship and teaching factors in our life here. We have to remember that his day to day work is Lead Chaplain at the Royal Brompton Hospital. The wardens of both churches together with Robert, Margaret, Martin and myself will meet here in church every Monday morning  to say together morning prayer after which we go over events of the previous week, assess the worship of the previous Sunday, check that the week ahead is planned with regard to worship and to look ahead to future events. Please remember us in your prayers especially from 8 to 9.30 on Monday mornings. Remember also as we ponder on the story  of  Jairus coming  to Jesus , the words of Jesus to the unbelieving onlookers Do not fear only believe and take them to our hearts.

Our Gospel today from which those words come, the readings from the Old and New Testament and Psalm 30m are not the arbitrary choice of the preacher. They are set out in what is known as the Lectionary which runs from each Advent Sunday to the one in the following year. They are designed  to hold together coherently. A moment of reflection will show how  well they have been chosen in the lectionary today to inter-relate and emphasise the words and actions of Jesus.

We heard first the Old Testament reading from  Lamentations . Here we have the lament of an individual afflicted by an illness. We have only to put at the heading of this first lesson something like the ‘Prayer of the Woman with the issue of blood’ from the Gospel story who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and it could be her voice weeping over her affliction and the manner in which she is treated by those around her. Then we have Psalm 30. A peon of praise and thanksgiving for a cure v 2 O Lord my God I cried unto thee ; and thou hast healed me. Again the whole psalm could be put in the mouth of the woman in the Gospel healed by Jesus. Finally  the  rather lengthy Epistle. Rather a grumpy letter but reminding us, as St Paul reminded the church in Corinth that those who have received many blessings must remember those less fortunate and minister to their needs. The should act as well as pray, they  show in a practical manner proof of their love for Jesus, Therefore, the writer concludes in his letter introducing Titus to the Christians at Corinth who carried  his message about the need of the rich to help those in need.,   (you must) openly before the churches, show them proof of our love and our reason for boasting about you.

The lectionary is not only for Sundays, it covers every day of the year with set lessons for the daily Communion service and morning and evening prayer. Our lectionary is the same as that used by Roman Catholics so millions throughout the world are thinking, learning and praying about the same part of the bible. Millions will hear in their churches the words  Do not fear only believe 

Fear has to be overcome. Last Thursday  the Queen unveiled the new memorial in Green Park to the 55,573 airmen of Bomber Command who lost their lives in the last war. I have been reading Max Hastings book ‘All Hell let Loose’. In it he reminds us that from 1939 to 1945, 29,000 people were killed every day as a result of war somewhere in the world. For each one there would have been terrible fear not least among those aircraft crews now named on the new memorial. Hastings quotes a letter from  a bomber pilot to his mother to tell her that his chances of survival were slim but that he felt what he was doing was worth while. He told her that every day he found great comfort, an enhancement of his belief  and a great help in overcoming fear from  reading morning and evening prayer from his pocket prayer book. Sadly his name is now on the new memorial as he did not survive.

We are all subject to fears of what may or has happened to us or those whom we love in our journey through life. We can  be inspired by the example of the faith of the woman who touched Christ’s garment and the faith  of Jairus who called on Jesus for help with his daughter. Our fears are far worse than the triviality of a stuck ignition key or even the fear of what lies ahead without a vicar; we hardly need to list the causes of fear ;, illness, anxiety,  bereavement, loss of job, loneliness, old age to mention the obvious. All of us though can take comfort from the words of Jesus   Do not fear only believe .

When we look again at the Gospel we can reflect on the faith of both the woman and Jairus. Their faith needed an extra dimension; for the woman it was approaching as close as she could to Jesus and touching his garment. For Jairus that extra dimension was also to come close to Jesus. He  went to Jesus himself and spoke directly to him. In this Eucharistic and every Communion  service we come close to Jesus as we receive the body of Christ and respond with our amen, and so too as we receive the wine. May we resolve not only to rejoice in the world cycle of prayer and listening or reading scripture but like the woman and Jairus seek to come close to Jesus. Here  in this sacrament of Holy Communion we can and do come close to the living risen Christ.. 

Do not fear only believe