There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.
-1 John 4:18, RSV
The Forty-seventh Annual Business Sessions of the Eastern Conference were held on Friday and Saturday, May 6-7, at the Mt. Olive Evangelical Church, Connellsville, PA. There was a spirit of unity and desire to move beyond the difficulties of the past year in order to do the work of God’s Kingdom. The Conference elected me to serve as Conference Superintendent for the next four years.
As I wrote in my annual report,
Fear is a powerful force in our lives. It is one of the greatest ways to enslave people. The devil loves the language of fear. He whispers it in our ears every chance he gets. According to the writer of 1 John, the more fear we have, the less love we have. The more love we have, the less fear we retain. The opposite of love is not hatred, or even dislike, but rather fear.
Last year I went to Annual Conference with fear and trembling. It was a time of crisis for us. The Enemy was whispering many fearful thoughts in our minds or, at least in my mine. I was elected to be Superintendent for this one year as we navigated the troubled waters our Conference, and in particular our brothers and sisters at Sawyer Evangelical Church, were going through. I was battling my fair share of fears.
But as Peter W. Marty brilliantly wrote in his essay, Fear (Living Lutheran, April 2016, Vol. 1, No. 1): “Jesus devoted nearly every waking moment to helping us rid our lives of fear. The gift of faith turns out to be nothing less than the courage to live and act in spite of our fears.”
We were given the gift of faith through the prayers and support of our sisters and brothers in The Evangelical Church, the leadership of our General Superintendent as we navigated the troubled waters and by the spirit of love manifested among the pastors and laypersons in our Conference.
Now we must consider the unique challenges and opportunities that face our Conference. I know many of them vary little from what the entire Church of Jesus Christ faces in 21st century America. I pray we can do this without losing sight of the radical nature of the simple Gospel message and life. Perhaps above all else we will need to find in a fresh way that God is not far away but present at a deeper place under all our fears, anxieties and challenges.
Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and author who fought for peace, human rights and simple human decency, died on July 2nd. When I was in seminary his profound book, Night was required reading in our Theology I class.
Born in Romania, Wiesel was 15 when he was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland with his parents and family in 1944. The future writer was later moved and ultimately freed from the Buchenwald camp in 1945. Of his relatives, only two of his sisters survived. Wiesel survived because an older Jew told him to tell the Nazis he was 18, old enough to work.
He said that Auschwitz was "to this day, a source of shock and astonishment."
He told The New York Times he had thought about why he lived and others didn't.
"If I survived, it must be for some reason," Wiesel said in 1981. "I must do something with my life. It is too serious to play games with anymore, because in my place, someone else could have been saved. And so I speak for that person. On the other hand, I know I cannot."
In a speech at the Days of Remembrances, 2001 he said:
“What was courage then? You hear me say occasionally that there must be light at the end of the tunnel. I believe that in those times there was light IN the tunnel. In a strange way there was courage IN the ghetto. And there was hope, human hope, IN the death camp. Simply an anonymous prisoner giving a piece of his bread to someone who was hungrier than he or she, a father shielding his child, a mother trying to hold back her tears so her children would not see her pain. That was courage.”
I in no way want to compare our situation as the Church in modern America with that of the millions who went through the horrendous Holocaust (though there are Christians in other places in this world today who are suffering comparable evils), but I do think we too need courage for these days. I am especially haunted by this Jewish man’s statement, "I must do something with my life. It is too serious to play games with anymore, because in my place, someone else could have been saved. And so I speak for that person.”
Can we say less?
I believe our prayer these days must be for courage; courage to see and be the light IN the tunnel and boldly do the dangerous work of the Kingdom.