Rev Sue preached this sermon on Wednesday 5 January 2022. Here it is for you again:
Fear and anxiety are two related but different emotions. When we are anxious we dwell on what might happen in the future, or quite possibly we cannot even name the cause – we just have a foreboding that something dreadful will happen. Fear, however, is more concrete. We know exactly what the threat is. It may be irrational – a spider or flying in a plane, or it may be a genuine threat to our health or our happiness. John tells us that the antidote to fear is not trust, as we might have expected, but love. An emotion that is as visceral as fear, which sends our hearts palpitating and our minds panicking needs an equally strong response. Nothing less than love will do.
In Charles Dicken’s novel a Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton is an alcoholic who wastes his life, never really achieving much. When Charles Darnay, an old friend, introduces him to his fiancée Lucie he falls immediately in love with her. It is hopeless. Not only is she engaged already, but he knows that she would never consider such a good-for-nothing man as himself. He worships her expecting nothing back, remaining friends with the couple, and becoming the godfather of their daughter.
The year is 1789, the French Revolution is in full swing, and Darnay and Lucie are in Paris. Darnay is from an aristocratic family and he is unjustly accused of having fled the revolution to England. He is sentenced to death. Carton cannot bear to think of Lucie and her daughter bereaved and themselves in danger of arrest and arranges for them to leave for England. Meanwhile, he blackmails a gaoler, threatening to reveal his past to the authorities, and is admitted to Darnay’s cell. He chloroforms him, and taking advantage of their uncannily similar looks, exchanges clothes, and has Darnay removed and himself left in prison. He goes to the guillotine, knowing that although his life was largely wasted until now, his death will preserve Lucie’s happy family life. He goes peacefully to the scaffold. The novel ends with the famous lines “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known”.
Carton, because of his love for Lucie had no fear of dying. This may be only fiction, but many have in reality died or risked their lives for love. The mother whose child is screaming in a burning building will not consider the danger if she rushes in to save him. All fear is forgotten and she will rescue him or die in the attempt.
In both our examples the love is the human love of man for woman or mother for child. Maximillian Kolbe was a Roman Catholic priest who in 1939 was living in a monastery in Poland. He refused to compromise with the Nazis, hiding Jews in the monastery and publishing anti-Nazi pamphlets. Inevitably, in 1941 he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. While he was there, a prisoner escaped, and the camp commander, in order to deter further escape attempts, retaliated by choosing 10 men to be sentenced to death by starvation in an underground bunker. One man cried out “My wife! My children!” and Kolbe voluntarily took his place. The men were deprived of all food and drink. We have the eyewitness account of an assistant janitor that testifies that Kolbe led the other prisoners in prayer and remained calm throughout. One by one they died, and Kolbe comforted them in their last moments. After two weeks he was the only prisoner to remain alive. The guards became impatient, and prepared a lethal injection. He calmly offered them his arm.
Carton was an alcoholic, the mother an average person, and Kolbe a saint. Yet for each of them love cast out fear. It is unlikely that any of us will be called to such a dramatic sacrifice. But we all at some time have fear in our lives. We see the spectres of misfortune, unhappiness, illness or death for ourselves or for those we love and the wind and the waves threaten to engulf us. That is the moment to admit how afraid we are, how powerless to avert the events we foresee, and to look those spectres in the eye. And we see, at the centre of all things, not chaos and destruction but the face of Jesus himself. His voice cuts through the murmurings and forebodings that are assaulting our minds “Take heart, it is I be not afraid”. Our love for him is far from perfect but his love for us never fails. As we let this love which is strong as death, fill our hearts there is no room left for our fears.
Let us pray
Lord, you see all that takes place around us and within us
And nothing is hidden from your sight.
You see waves that batter us and the storm that seems unceasing.
Come to us in response to the depth of our need, fill us with the power of your love and banish our fear.