Panic, but Don't Worry

Acts 17: 1-9 and Ezekiel 13: 9-16, 23b

Sometimes the instructions that we get from the Bible, whether they are attributed to Jesus or from other prophetic voices, just don’t seem to make sense. At least not together. Over coffee, I’d be happy to tell you a few more…. Today we focus on the contradiction of Jesus telling the disciples to Beware! Watch Out! And warning them of trouble to come --- and then the instruction not to worry. What should we do with these strange instructions?

“Watch out! Beware!” There are dangers around us! We are at risk! We need warnings when the dangers are real, near, ever-present. We need LIFE warning signs as much as we need the traffic warning signs of railroad tracks ahead, merging lanes and school crossings. Jesus warned the disciples about false teachers, the leaven of the Pharisees, and various powers in the world and religious community. Oddly enough, those things are still around today. When it is time to beware? Even to panic.

NOW! BEWARE! IT’S TIME TO PANIC! Police stopped a dad shooting baskets with his kids in his front and wanted to arrest him. When he protested asking what they wanted him for, they said there was a warrant out for him in Louisiana – but they didn’t even know his name and hadn’t checked his ID. It was racial profiling combined with mistaken identity – and could so easily have led to another tragedy and another family grieving after unwarranted police violence. It’s time to panic!

IT’S TIME TO PANIC! The video has now been released from Sandra Bland’s phone after her traffic stop – and it shows that she did nothing at that stop that should have landed her in jail, much less taken her life. The lives of people of color are at risk in our country, even our community, as they do normal things that should in no way threaten their futures. In our own communities hate speech and racist incidents have increased. Many of our children don’t feel safe in our schools, which do not always address them all as the precious children that they are. And clergy are being asked to ride along on police stops where race is an issue. It is time to panic!

On April 27, a gunman entered a synagogue in Los Angeles and began firing, leaving Lori Gilbert Kaye dead when she moved to protect the rabbi. Just six months earlier, a gunman entered a synagogue in Pittsburg and killed 11 people. There is a kind of anti-Semitism on the rise in our country that incites people to violence as they are told that Jews are masterminding a plot to undermine white supremacy in our country by bringing in boatloads of non-white immigrants. With no basis in fact, this lie is spread to increase division and create hatred against Jews. It is time to panic!

The United States, once known as the bedrock of the ideas of freedom of speech and of the press, is now on the list of countries where journalists are in danger. And at the White House, press briefings have gone from the decades-long tradition of daily, to monthly, to now having revoked the press credentials of almost all the White House press correspondents, including all 7 from the Washington Post. “White House officials then chose which journalists would be granted “exceptions.” It did this over objections from news organizations and the White House Correspondents’ Association.” IT’S TIME TO PANIC!

2018 has been deadlier for children than for US Service members. The Washington Post reports that “Twice as many students have been killed in school shootings as have members of the military who were on deployment.” That statistic doesn’t include training accidents for military personnel. But it is shocking. We take off our shoes at airports because of one shoe bomb but Congress won’t pass legislation on assault weapons that are the largest cause of school deaths. IT’S TIME TO PANIC!

IT’S TIME TO PANIC! An impressive young climate activist from Sweden, (Gree-et’ ta Toon-berg’) Greta Thunberg, has addressed world leaders on climate change saying, “Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people, to give them hope,” Thunberg said, “But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” According to climate change experts we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes.

Racism, antisemitism, homophobia, materialism which leads to climate change – these are real dangers. Behind them lies a false narrative that says, “What I want is more important than what others need.” It says, “The problems of other people are not mine. As long as I’m ok – and my family is OK – the suffering of others is not my problem.” I can almost hear Jesus saying, “Beware! Watch Out” and “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day and then I want you to act.” It’s time to panic! IT’S TIME TO PANIC! The rights of our brothers and sisters are being disregarded, acts of violence are being encouraged and perpetrated by white supremacists against people of color, religious minorities, and LGBTQplus folks. IT IS INDEED THE TIME TO PANIC! PANIC is the appropriate response to what is happening!

Given what we know about what is happening, given that it IS time to panic– how can we not worry? It’s seems very odd indeed to know that things are so seriously wrong, and that we SHOULD panic – but NOT worry.

The word RUMINATION has a new meaning in psychology – it means constantly thinking about upsetting situations or problems, going over them again and again in your mind. If this leads to problem solving, that’s fine…but often it doesn’t. We can waste hours without any resolution, prolonging a bad mood and remaining upset. People can ruminate, prolonging a sense of the immediacy of problems, for days and even weeks. Psychology today reports that “People who ruminate are much more likely to develop problems with depression and anxiety, and those problems are hard to overcome for someone who fails to change ruminative thought patterns. Rumination is also connected to many different forms of self-sabotage. For example, if you ruminate on something upsetting a friend did, it's going to take longer to forgive that friend and get back to enjoying time spent with him or her. If you hold a grudge and constantly ruminate on what that friend did, you might even destroy a good friendship. Or, in the boss scenario I mentioned above, if you ruminate you are more likely to have problems with that boss and harbor negative feelings. But, if you do what you can to make improvements, and resist getting caught up in how upsetting getting reprimanded was, then you're likely to improve your situation.”

In The Lion King, Rafiki is trying to help Simba think through his return to Pride Rock. “Going back means I’ll have to face my past. I’ve been running from it for so long.” Rafiki hits Simba on the head, and Simba says, “Ow! Jeez, What was that for?” Rafiki answers him, “It doesn’t matter, it’s in the past.” “Yeah – but it still hurts.” “The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.” Swings the stick again and Simba ducks. “Ah! You see! So what are you going to do?”

There are other ways to get out of the rumination trap – even less violent ways than a whack on the head from a baboon with a stick. Perhaps we should try a few.

Now let us consider worry – if worrying is like rumination about things that we are AFRAID will happen. We fall into this trap as well. Statistics indicate that 85%of the things that we worry about never happen. And like rumination, worry takes mental time and space and puts us in a bad mood. It also interrupts stable sleep patterns. And, as well as most of our worries never happening, “with the 15 percent that did happen, 79 percent of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning. This means that 97 percent of what you worry over is not much more than a fearful mind punishing you with exaggerations and misperceptions.”

Worrying also dumps stress hormones into our brains, which is “linked to shrinking brain mass, lowering your IQ, being prone to heart disease, cancer and premature aging, predicting martial problems, family dysfunction and clinical depression, and making seniors more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer's.” Let all that sink in and we may conclude that Jesus was on to something important when he told us not to worry! If we were to recast his instruction into modern speech, backed by science, we might say: Do not worry – for most of the things you worry about never happen, and those that do happen will not be as bad as you think they will be. Don’t stress about the details of your life. Don’t spent time and focus on the things of the past, for they are past. Stress and worry do not help you or anyone else. Can I get an “Amen”?

This is a battle. WE are in the battle. We’d rather avoid it – but we cannot. Nor can we relegate it someone else. “This is the fight of our lives.”

Without worrying, we need to act. Our house is on fire, not just with climate change, and we need to act. There comes a time – and this is it.

Avengers: Endgame is now the second-highest grossing film ever internationally and it is rising. It captures some of the sense of what we are facing in life, and the lines speak to us. “Even there is a small chance, we owe this to everyone who is not in this room to try.” “Whatever it takes…” Captain America, Steve Rogers gives a speech before a big battle. “Yu know your teams, you know your missions. No mistakes. No do-overs. Look out for each other. This is the fight of our lives.”

We don’t need high tech weapons or portals from one place to another in order to engage in our fight. “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing.” Edmund Burke. If we convince ourselves that we are powerless, we are. If we convince ourselves that this should be left to others, the mission will be left in the dust.

We are the followers of a Crucified God – condemned to die for a vision of the world in which the poor received kindness and healing and women and children, immigrants and those with disabilities were valued and included. And not just a Crucified God – but one whose life continued after death to remind us that God has the final word, even on life and death. This post-Easter Jesus gave his followers some pretty clear instructions on living in our own moment. We are to be a part of community bringing life that the powers of the world have said is impossible. “The empire cannot entertain an existence outside of the pursuit, management and maintenance of power; but the church is called to vulnerability.” The powers of the world consider it impossible that we would defiantly persist in practicing faith, hope and love in the midst of the selfishness of the world. The powers of the world cannot in fact believe in even the possibility of preferring death to accommodation with severe compromise of values. In the first century they could not imagine that Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians would share their wealth so all had enough, and sit at a common table. But they did and the world say the impossible become a common life.

Now we the church are the generation who will dream and talk as Jesus did, with radical inclusivity and concern for the vulnerable – and we the church who will walk in community where we dare to confront the powers that seek to harm others and protect those in positions of power, or accumulated wealth. This is a hard way to living. But it is living. Walter Brueggeman would warn us as well as encourage us -- “It is all uphill, since we who practice such authority are ourselves much too enthralled by the empire. Even given that, however, the newness happens in church as nowhere else. It happens because the Spirit comes (among us/there) like the wind.” (More of that for Pentecost on June 9.)

Jesus has left us instructions. PANIC. Don’t waste time on worries we can’t control. Act. Do Something. If our house is on fire, and it is, grab a bucket of water. Don’t watch it burn wishing you had a hose. When hate speech or racial profiling is in your hearing – address it. When you see something that shouldn’t be happening, video it and intervene – you may save a life. We have more than an invitation – it’s a rallying cry.

“This is the fight of our lives….No fear. No regrets.” Let’s show the world who we are.

The most commonly dealt with one for female clergy in the south (1 Corinthians 14: 33- 35 vs chapter 11).

Warning – language.

They include meditation, dissolving paper, sitting on the ground or in nature and doing some deep breathing, writing down our thoughts and crumpling them up to throw away….

[1] Borg’s term.

Walter Brueggeman, Disruptive Grace, 289.

Brueggeman, DG, 294.

Steve Rogers, Captain America in Avengers: Endgame.

Photo by DDP on Unsplash