A note from
Rev. Rob Warren
Will Smith, actor (5 Golden Globe nominations and 2 Academy Award nominations) and rapper (4 Grammy awards), has spent 35 years being moderately to incredibly famous for his work, tabloid headlines, and his ability to avoid scandal (his family on the other hand...). In the American pop-culture landscape, he's one of the "good guys" who has managed to play silly characters on TV and historical characters in movies and bring living legends to movies people call "films." How good is he? When he was preparing for his role as Mohammad Ali, the boxer quipped that the actor was "almost as pretty" as the real Ali. So how does he find his way into a church newsletter? Because of a story he told during an interview that was posted to YouTube. It wasn't just a story; it was a motivational challenge, just a scripture away from a sermon - so I'm going to shorten the story, and reference the scripture. I'm also going to change the language a bit - because his spoken voice is very different than the one in which I typically write.
Apparently, Mr. Smith and some of his friends were spending some time out one evening and may or may not have consumed too many alcoholic beverages (stay with me). At some point, one of the people in his company suggested that they all get together the next day. That night, Mr. Smith had difficulty sleeping because, in the midst of his condition, he kept having memory flashes of agreeing to do such a thing. His fear was jolting him awake. When he woke up, he convinced himself that in the light of day, they wouldn't go through with it. And when he was travelling to the appointed place and time, his body was still reacting to the fear that was welling up inside him. He looked around, and none of his friends were saying that this was a bad idea, they were committed to going through with it, so they paid their fee, went through the training, and his heart rate continued to rise, he continued to sweat, and his brain was racing.
Because, why would anyone choose to do this? Why wasn't someone going to speak up and put a stop to it? Surely he wasn't the only one who thought jumping out of a plane voluntarily was a risk not worth taking.
But they kept moving forward. He'd never done it before, so they put the 6-foot-2 actor into a dual harness and put him on the plane strapped to another man. At this point, Will's description is hilarious. Not because he is sitting in another man's lap, but because at a certain point, he realizes he's in a plane with an open door, which is apparently a thing that the human brain isn't quite ready for. "Terror, terror, terror, terror." Then they line up next to the open door, count to two (because people put their hands out and block the door on three) and the guy strapped to his back pushes him out of the plane. "And you fall out of the airplane, and in one second you realize, it is the most blissful feeling in your whole life... you're flying. It doesn't feel like falling... it feels like the air is holding you in place, it's pushing against you." He continues to say, "The point of maximum danger, is the point of minimum fear - it's bliss." Then over time, the brain makes sense of it.
The lesson? "Why are you scared in your bed the night before? Just don't go. Why are you scared in the car? Why could you not enjoy breakfast? What did you need that fear for? Fear of what?"... his point was, everything up to the moment of stepping out of the plane, the only thing fear did was ruin his day. You don't have to jump. So why jump? "Because God placed the best things in life on the other side of terror; on the other side of your maximum fear are all of the best things of life."
Sitting in my office, I couldn't help but think, "How did the kid that wrote 'Parents Just Don't Understand' end up such an effective street preacher?"
Because he isn't wrong. The disciples were locked away because of fear when Jesus came to visit them, and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20); Peter was afraid to visit Cornelius (Acts 10); the woman with a Hemorrhage (Matthew 9, Mark 5, Luke 8) was afraid of the crowds, but still sought to be healed... the bliss they felt, the sudden wisdom, the empowerment of God's call, all relate to the wisdom shared in the peer pressure sky-diving tale of the former star of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And it is effective in the telling NOT because of the incredible way he can tell his well-crafted version, but because it speaks to the truth that can't be hidden by a change of author, or format, or venue.
Last night, I asked the Wednesday night sermon-writing group (which is what the Wednesday night bible study has become) to talk about their fears, and several not only had the courage to name theirs publicly, but seek for an understanding of them so they can be confronted. The question that was asked was - what are we afraid of when it comes to inviting people to church?
The most common answer is our fear of rejection. Another common answer is the fear that they won't find what they need within the church and that the church they love will be rejected... but in a class with other clergy that I didn't think of until I woke up at 5am this morning afraid I wouldn't get this article written, one of my peers suggested that the unnamed fear was, "If new people start coming to church, I'm afraid the church will change." Her point was, she liked the hymns the church already sang, liked sermons with similar illustrations week to week. She didn't want to have to Google some reference or admit that she didn't get it. New people mean a new perspective, like a friend of mine asked after church when I was twenty: "Can you stop introducing events that I lived through with the phrase, ‘I was watching a program on the History Channel?’” New people mean new activities, new missions, new programs - people seldom come into a new church to do the same old thing. But we don't add a moment to our lives by being afraid - because people seldom join a church to destroy the foundation - they come to build on the foundation that is already there.
Which is one of the reasons that I came here. In talking with your committee, I heard a phrase of anticipation, "God is going to do something in our midst, and we're ready to work." I've mentioned it before, but on the week where we are opening up our doors to inviting people in to worship, it bears repeating. God has already done so much here. Generations of sharing leadership, of allowing the church to grow, of welcoming in new families, of adapting - not to the needs of the culture around it, but in the way it expressed the mission of Christ in a changing community. All we're doing is continuing what God has been doing here for a long time; it is just our chance to do it.
So please, don't be fearful as you lay in bed, don't be fearful in the car, don't let it ruin your breakfast. Remember that, as it has in the past, bliss, victory, and belonging wait on the other side of our terror - and that God's Holy Spirit is with us to see us arrive at God's destination safely. The breath of God will hold you up. The light of God will show you the way. Just as it did for those terrified disciples locked away out of fear. As the women proclaimed, and as Jesus charged at the end of John.
He is Risen! Now it's time for us to get to work,