Sermon for the 1st Sunday after Trinity, June 18, 2017
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”
WHAT ARE YOU afraid of? Have you ever consider your deepest fears, those things that you avoid like the plague? Do you fear plague? Some people have a deep fear of germs: it’s called Mysophobia. There are a great many fears common to people in our world; and on our side of the world, in our culture, fears that tend to be different from those in the third world. We may fear governmental corruption, rampant crime, natural disasters, sickness and aging – fears we share with the rest of the world. We in America also may fear technology, loss of freedom, invasion of privacy, public speaking, flying, terrorists and heights.
Are you afraid of the dark? We can fear intimacy, failure, rejection, and commitment. There are specialized fears: arachnophobia—a fear of spiders, along with snakes, wolves, sharks and other predators. Who hasn’t at one time feared the dentist or the doctor? Especially when holding his longest needle? I had a shot up my nose once as a kid. You want pain?HAT ARE YOU afraid of? Have you ever consider your deepest fears, those things that you avoid like the plague? Do you fear plague? Some people have a deep fear of germs: it’s called Mysophobia. There are a great many fears common to people in our world; and on our side of the world, in our culture, fears that tend to be different from those in the third world. We may fear governmental corruption, rampant crime, natural disasters, sickness and aging – fears we share with the rest of the world. We in America also may fear technology, loss of freedom, invasion of privacy, public speaking, flying, terrorists and heights.
Some fear water, others being alone, and some people are just afraid of clowns. Clowns. There is a fear of long words. And what’s that called? It’s a long word, naturally. Folks fear falling, fear changes, fear crowds or open spaces, fear being touched, fear religion and religious types – like me.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address, faced not a world war, but worldwide depression. In his opening lines he is famous for his words: “first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is… fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Fear is an enemy more powerful than guns, more debilitating than the Ebola virus. The terrorists we hear of hold a devilish power over our minds and hearts if their acts of outrage and cowardice shake our confidence in our own people, our purpose, our right to the lives we lead, our faith in God Himself. If someone is so willing to die for what he believes, are we as certain of our religion as he is? It’s the wrong question. Theirs is a fantasy, planted into weak minds, manipulated and nurtured on hate and fear, and promising lies. Don’t believe them. Don’t let them win by turning your hearts to stone. Don’t let them make you hate. Hate is only the evil offspring of fear.
If we are afraid, what can we do about it? Many fears are based on skewed perspectives, false notions of reality. The injection won’t hurt that bad, and you’re going to benefit by it. That spider is tiny compared to you, and more afraid of you than you are of it. Smack that thing.
To fear something strange is natural. We all fear a number of things, and many of our fears are unnecessary, but we can’t help it. We fear rejection, though most of our friends and family love us dearly. We fear failure, though just about everything we do succeeds in ways that get us by. None of us are dead, right? Something’s working.
The Good Book says that the Fear of God begins us on the path to wisdom. Is that right? Should we fear God? It’s important to grasp this concept. If you were, right at this moment, confronted by a vision of God on His throne, lifted up, bright and powerful, surrounded by angelic worship and displaying all of His majesty, I am certain that you would experience the natural fear we creatures feel about spirit beings and especially the Supreme One and Only. Just His being so much higher than you would cause you an uncanny dread. Isaiah shrank from his vision, confessing that he had unclean lips. St. John just fainted.
David sang that “The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold.” Ps 19:9-10 This is holy fear, a reasoning respect for One deserving ultimate honor and obedience. He can judge your soul and choose your eternity. You fear Him. In other words, next to God, you have nothing else to fear. The spider or the Almighty? Okay. God is really scarier, but He is also far more loving and good. And He doesn’t bite. Right. Refocus. Fear is a misunderstanding when placed in any other object but God. And our fear of God is going to be transformed. The fear of God, when truly taken up and truly has led to wisdom, ultimately turns to love.
God repeatedly shows us we have no reason to fear. Isaiah writes: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 St. Paul writes: “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 Jesus Himself said, “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” John 14:27
Our Epistle today is St. John’s appeal to the church never to forget the prime directive that Jesus left us, which is to love. “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Change of subject? Not at all. Love can’t coexist with fear. The two are each other’s antithesis. Fear makes love seem foolish. Love overcomes fear and makes a way to the healing of relationship. God’s love for us sent His Son to heal the rift between man and God. We can now transform our terror of Him into a loving respect and awe.
John continues, “as we live in God, our love grows perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love drives out all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”
Love is always the answer, isn’t it? Whatever we fear, when we face it, shows us to be courageous. Courage is not the lack of fear, but feeling fear, it’s courageous to face that fear and show it who’s boss.
Who hasn’t been bullied in school or on the street, some punk trying to put you in a hole? He puffs himself up, talks big, shows his muscles, bears his teeth. Okay. I can feel my heart rate climb, my pulse racing, adrenalin coursing through my veins to give me strength to run away. But I don’t run away. I walk up to him, face him, show no fear. No fear. More times that not, the bully will back down. He’s a poker player and he’s bluffing. He’s the real coward. You might even make a friend of him, if he gets off this nonsense.
But just smack the spider.
The Lord is my shepherd, and yours. I may walk through a valley of shadows, threats of death hanging heavy over my head. Yet, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4 God’s rod and staff guide me, and are weapons against the enemy of my soul.
Does death scare you? I know many Christians who have neglected to make their wills and living trusts. I am currently the trustee of two estates, and they were pretty well laid out, and it’s still a lot of work to liquidate and distribute. If you leave that to the courts to decide through the probate process, you aren’t doing anybody any favors. I think people neglect the simple making of a will to be a sign that they fear death. If I make my will, I’m going to die! Of course you are! Someday. Get it done and leave it in a safe place, known to your heirs. Then forget about it.
Are Christians right to fear dying? Well, the dying process is arduous. Medical science being what it is today, we live longer, but must experience at length the excruciating diseases and disorders of the very old. Pneumonia used to be the old man’s friend, because it was an easy death and relatively painless. Now antibiotics defeat just about any germ, so we have to get really sick, or broken, or worn out to die. It’s no picnic.
But dying? What do we really fear? Get that spider out again and look at it. You leave this world behind. You are still alive and conscious. The old body of pain is gone. If you are in Christ, as I trust you all are, you join Him in paradise, a peaceful land of light. You rest from your labors in life, and you pray and praise God unceasingly for the mercy and love He shows you. And you await your new body. It couldn’t be more pleasant.
Christ’s parable of Lazarus illustrates a righteous man in Abraham’s bosom, a Jewish icon of comfort after death.
Everyone who ever came nearly to heaven and was sent back has said they’d have preferred to stay.
Then there are those who were nearly sent to hell.
Now, if you need to fear something, fear hell. Loath that. Detest it. But don’t get fixated on it, for you’re not going there, right? Going to hell is not by accident. Hell is rejecting the kindest and most generous offer ever made, that the Blood of Jesus shed on earth might cleanse you of your sins, and His resurrection be your new path, toward heaven in a new and holy life.
So, what are you afraid of? Flying? It’s safer than cars. Snakes? Give rattlesnakes a wide berth, but that’s just wisdom. Other snakes: pick them up and feel how cool they are. Intimacy? Start by letting the Holy Spirit fully take residence in every part of you, and the Body and Blood of the Living Christ enter your souls, in this worship, right today.
Joshua was facing his moment of invasion, leading the millions of Israel’s escapees from Egypt into Palestine, a well defended land, fully armed, fighting for its own territory. But Joshua had the living God, a God who told him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 God says the same to you today.
Love drives out fear. “Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Romans 8:38-39
Okay? No longer afraid? Ok. My work is done here.