Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Get up, Stand Up!

Published as "Stand up ....and Go!"  in the Fiji Times' "Off the Wall with Padre James," 23rd May, 2012

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to preach in the weekly English-language service at the Methodist Theological University that is hosted by the International Graduate School of Theology. The service is attended by both foreign and local students.

The students seem to have gotten used to my sulu vakataga (very comfortable in the Korean Summer) and my habit of preaching barefoot (I consider the pulpit sacred ground).

My message came from a passage of scripture that most Christians have encountered, as early as Sunday School. Its a story found in Mark2:1-12 and in other gospels: The story of Jesus healing the paralytic.

For our non-Christian brothers and sisters and whoever does not have access to a Bible, the story briefly is this:
Jesus arrives in Capernaum and so many people want to see him that the house he is in becomes overcrowded. As he is speaking to the crowd, four men break through the roof and lower their friend lying on a mat. The man on the mat is a paraplegic. Jesus, in response to the men's act of faith, tells the paraplegic that his, "sins are forgiven." The Jewish religious leaders fuss over Jesus' authority to forgive sins. Jesus demonstrates his divine authority by telling the paraplegic to, "Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home." The man does so, having being miraculously healed.

In my message, rather than focus on the faith of the four friends who carried their friend to Jesus, or on Jesus demonstration of authority, I invited the congregation to join me and encounter the life of the man on the mat; the one whose life was lived at ground level, whose place was at the feet of everyone.

Try to imagine being stuck on a mat on the floor. Imagine having everyone look down on you, even the animals. Imagine breathing the dust and dirt from the floor. Imagine having to be carried around wherever you need to go.

This man was physically paralysed. But many of us find ourselves mentally and emotionally paralysed.
What paralyses us? What keeps us down on the mat?

It is fear. Fear paralyses us.

What is it we are afraid of?

Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of disappointing parents or elders. Fear of rejection. Fear of being alone. Fear of being betrayed. Fear of being wrong and laughed at. Fear of standing out. Fear of victimisation. Fear of discrimination. Fear of violence.

Our fear is our mat. We lie there, paralysed by our fear. We are afraid to act when our help is needed; are afraid to have compassion; and afraid to stand up to the powers and principalities and speak the truth.

Our comfort zones are our mat. Our failure to do what God, or the universe, desires of us; what our country, our families cry out for us do, is our mat.  Our doubt is our mat. Our laziness keeps us on the mat.

According to Altruists International, “fear is a natural response to danger that quickens the mind's efforts to anticipate and avoid potential peril or problems. However, stemming from the irrational part of the mind, it knows no logic and sometimes gets unhinged from its target.

People whose lives have been filled with fear often continue to be afraid long after the potential danger has been removed, making up their own, irrational, reasons. Chronic fear is a debilitating state of mind that weakens body and soul, associated with heart conditions, nervous disorders, stress, and paranoia.

This is especially dangerous when it affects the powerful, since it impacts the decision-making capabilities and distances people from the real consequences of their actions. 

Even worse, the natural result of fear is to act selfishly without regard for the wellbeing of others. This destroys the fabric of society by communicating to people that they are unloved and uncared for, inspires more fear in turn.”

Fear is something we in Fiji have gotten used to. In the last 25 years fear has become the mat on which we lie. It has become deeply rooted in our society, our culture.

Last week I heard the word fear used for two issues.

The first was in regard to the cancellation of the permit for the Ocean Pride march because of fear of the safety of the men and women who would be marching. Fear by some that by allowing this march to take place or to embrace with an open compassionate heart, they may be seen to be promoting a lifestyle that very few understand and that is not compatible with many of our beliefs and moral codes.

The second was in regards to the fear caused by the Public Order Amendment Decree.

There are concerns that the constitutional consultation process may not be as widespread and inclusive as long as there is fear about being able to meet, to speak the truth and from one’s heart without being victimized. 

19th century author, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky said, “Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” 

It has been said that the two strongest emotions are fear and love. Love is the opposite of fear.

Jesus words to the paraplegic are more than a message of healing and salvation. They are a message of love and encouragement.

No matter what you believe in, Jesus' words to, “Stand up, pick up your mat and go,” is an affirmation for us all.

They are a challenge to feel the fear and still go forward, move upward in love. To face our fears and still find the courage, from knowing what is the right thing; what is the true thing to be doing, and acting out of love to carry on.

Fear paralyses. Love never fails. So what are you waiting for? Stand up, pick up your mat and go!

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

1 comment:

  1. Word Padre James Word! Very inspiring piece - thank you so much