Sermons

Sun, Mar 18, 2018

A fundamental fact of life

Series:Sermons

A fascinating phenomenon of the era in which we're living...

is the level of support for President Trump from white, Evangelical Christians.

More than eighty percent of them voted for Trump--

a higher percentage than even Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush.

And that, despite the character of the man.

As you may recall...

during the campaign there were recordings of him bragging about sexually assaulting women;

he made disturbing sexual comments about his daughter;

he boasted about his physical attributes during a televised debate;

and, apparently, he arranged a sizeable payoff to hush a porn star with whom he had an affair--

shortly after his current wife had their baby--

then followed up with physical threats if she broke her silence.

And yet, Evangelical Christians overwhelmingly voted for him;

and, even now, prominent conservative Christian leaders keep popping their heads up to make excuses...

dismissing Trump's moral lapses as his "style"...

or trying to convince everyone that he has changed.

 

Some commentators, of course, have simply dismissed this support as hypocrisy...

or simply evidence of wanton moral compromise.

I'm not so sure.

In part, their support was driven by fear--

fear of what another so-called "liberal" president might do...

specifically in terms of judicial appointments...

and social legislation.

And, in part, it was driven by Trump's support for what have become foundational...

boundary-forming...

and identity-defining issues for them...

namely...

opposition to gay, lesbian, and transgender rights...

and opposition to abortion.

Robert Wuthnow--

Professor of Sociology at Princeton University--

suggests that  American religious conservatives want to live in a community with inviolable boundaries;

they want to be protected from a world that they perceive as filled with threatening evils.

So they will grasp at any issue that comes along...

if it offers an opportunity to draw firm boundaries...

to construct walls that keep out the frightening, evil world...

walls that, at the same time, offer them a perception of safety.

Perhaps backing up that argument is some recent research in neurobiology.

A major study a few years back--

published by researchers from the University of London--

identified significant differences in the brains of liberals and conservatives.

Apparently, the researchers found:

that liberals had a larger region of the brain associated with decision-making;

while conservatives had a larger region of the brain associated with "emotional learning"...

and, specifically, with the processing of fear.

Their study suggests that conservatives are more attuned at recognising threats...

and are more prone to respond to, and with, fear.

In other words, then, religious conservatives are people driven by fear--

the fear of ambiguity and the fear of intellectual relativity--

and desperately in search of certainty.

 

And yet, in a sense, isn't that also a common human tendency?

Amid the alienation and ambiguity...

the change and confusion...

the upheaval and unrest of our ever-evolving world...

to varying degrees...

and in varying ways...

we all long for some clear boundaries;

we all yearn for some sense of certainty...

some anchoring absolutes in a surging sea of ambiguity and relativity.

In our own way, we all do it, don't we--

especially as we get older?

In our ever-changing, seemingly frightening world...

we crave certainty and security...

so often driven by fear.

To varying degrees and in varying ways...

we cling to the familiar, the comfortable, and the safe-

even if it's out-dated...

even if it's illogical or impractical...

even if there's a better way.

It might be holding on to some old, treasured gadget--

like a non-smart phone or an older computer...

because you're afraid to upgrade...

because you won't know where anything is or even how it will work.

It might be staying in your own home...

even though your children have long gone...

and it's far too big for your current needs...

and it takes far too long and too much effort to clean...

and, honestly, it probably isn't safe and causes your family all sorts of worries...

but it's comfortable and familiar...

and it's filled with treasured memories even it's not practical.

Or it might be the fundamentally safe and comfortable way that we approach and express our religiosity--

clinging to practices and ways of being...

which might have worked in the past...

but which have become somewhat impractical...

or unsuitable...

for the changed circumstances that we now face.

And we know that, if we keep going the way that we are...

if we don't start doing things differently and turning it around...

then the future looks a little bleak.

And yet, we like things the way that they are...

because they're safe...

and familiar...

and comfortable...

and known.

Or, we may say that we're willing to change...

in order to bring more people in...

but only if it's safe...

only if we can keep it under control...

only if it doesn't affect what is most precious to us.

Which means, deep down, that we're not really willing to change.

So, subtly, sub-consciously, we take steps to ensure the status quo.

 

It's a fundamental fact of life:

most of us will stick with the known rather than choose the unknown.

Driven by fear and uncertainty, we opt for what is safe-- 

even if it's boring and unfulfilling--

rather than take a risk.

We cling to the old, the tired, and the worn out-- 

rather than try something new.

We keep on repeating past mistakes--

rather than learn a new way.

We frequently choose what's comfortable--

rather than what is right.

We might stay in an unhealthy relationship, 

rather than risk being alone.

We might remain in a bad situation--

rather than risk one that could be worse.

We will often choose a form of social or personal death- 

rather than embrace the risks of living.

 

But, it's also a fundamental fact of life...

and one that, in our heart of hearts, we all know--

that growth only comes through change.

We only learn by taking a risk.

We only discover freedom by letting go--

by letting go of the fear...

and the almost instinctive need for security.

We only truly live by dying.

Indeed, we so often see or hear of people who--

having been told that they have a terminal illness--

suddenly let go...

and do all of the things that they had always secretly wanted to...

but time...

money...

and the pressures of family, work, and life had prevented them from doing.

Because... 

in a very real sense...

its only when you're ready to die...

that you're truly ready to live.

It's a fundamental fact of life--

something that the author of John's gospel recognises...

and something, symbolically, that stands at the very heart...

at the very core...

of the story of Jesus--

that it's only through death... 

that the possibility of new and abundant life can come to fruition.

And it's only when we let go of our fears and our need for certainty...

it's only when we embrace ambiguity...

doubt...

change...

and, seemingly, death...

that we can be fully and authentically human...

and that we can experience the life that God intends for us:

"Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit".

 

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