Tag Archives: fear

No fear, God is near

Ghosts, ghouls, goblins. . .

No Fear, God Is Near

given on Sunday, October 19, 2014

 

For some reason I keep thinking that Halloween is this week, but the 19th is closer to the middle of the month and Halloween is still almost two weeks away. I suppose I am being easily influenced by all the advertising and store displays that seem to jump out and try to scare me.

Two different concerns evolve from this issue. Marketing in our world today seems to sway people’s thinking so easily that we cannot seem to keep our own standards. We follow the latest fads without a care. Even the Halloween hype has created a subculture based on people’s fears and fantasies which brings a few questions to mind:

  • Where is God in all the ghosts, ghouls and goblins?
  • Does Halloween grant the freedom to be werewolves, vampires, and Zombies?
  • Is it really just pretend or do the costumes show the true selves?

 

This week’s lectionary begins with the story of Moses and the Israelites struggling to survive in the desert. They are afraid, frustrated, and tired. Moses has left the encampment to talk with God up on Mount Sinai. The people are filled with questions and fears, so Aaron steps in with a plan:

32 When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”

 

In a way, Aaron throws a party, but that party centers around an idol created to shift the focus away from the fears and the frustrations. The Baal culture that surrounded them worshipped gods fashioned after bulls and the people observed them having all the fun. So Aaron channels all that energy into creating the Golden Calf, made from their donated gold, and throws a party:

Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!” The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.

Fear has a way of clouding our judgment and leading us away from God. It is easy to feel lost and alone when things are tough, but God is with us. He knows when we are tired, lonely, or afraid. He does not wish bad things to happen to any one of his children, but things do happen. The manner in which we continue to follow God is the key to managing the worst of times.

As adults it is easy to fall into a pattern of life that follows the marketing techniques or the pressure from work or the whims of our own mind. When we do this, we wander away from God and suddenly trouble shows up. Maybe it is buying too much stuff—like that old drive to keep up with the Joneses—or maybe we start spending too much time and money on recreation and suddenly there is no way to pay the bills. We may be following our own whims disregarding the safety and security of our families, and suddenly the possible loss of a spouse and kids sounds the alarms.

Fear comes with the realization that life has turned away from God and panic sets in. But even when we make our worst mistakes, God is near. We must take an assessment of what we have done wrong and what we need to do, and then ask forgiveness and for guidance. God will hear. We should remember there is no fear when God is near.

Think of how it is when one of your children—whether still in school or whether an adult with children of their own—run into a problem. Maybe it is something like the loss of a friend through moving away or even death. You watch that child experience the pain of loss, the sense of loneliness, and then search for a way to fill that void. There is nothing you can do to fix the problem; but God is near, so teach them to pray and to trust in God.

Living a Christian lifestyle gives us the structure, the guidelines, and the confidence to know that whatever loss or fear we experience, we are never alone. Living with God is living a life that knows the ghosts, ghouls and goblins we meet in our lives do not scare us away from God. The human experience is temporary, but the Christian life continues into eternity.

During the next two weeks, kids are excited to prepare and to go out trick or treating. Parents guide the youngest kids in the choice of the costumes, the houses that they visit, and even the goodies they eat. As kids grow up, the parents’ role shifts. Tweens and teens begin listening to friends about what costumes to pick, where to visit, and what trick or treat means. Parents watch with apprehension, uncertain of their kids’ safety. Becoming angry is evidence of how afraid they are for their wellbeing.

The Old Testament tells story after story of how God gets angry with his children. He uses so many different techniques to manage his chosen children and yet Moses had to plead with him not to turn his anger onto the tribes of Israel:

11 But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? 12 Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people!

 

The Old Testament story is referenced even in Psalm 106, when the psalmist repents from sin. God is reminded how Moses interceded for the people. God listened then and he continues to listen. When we are afraid, God is near. When we cry out for him, he hears us.

Ghosts, ghouls and goblins are surrounding us this time of year. The costumes are cute and sweet for the youngest kiddos but as the kids grow up, the costumes seem to transform them into alter egos filled with evil. The villains, the zombies, the werewolves, and the vampires become more and more evident. Even girls pick costumes that are more alluring and seductive as they test the limits of parental authority.

Parents are fearful as the tweens and teens leave for the Halloween trick or treating, concerned that they are not safe or may not act appropriately. The Christian lifestyle is tested. Will the kids remember what the rules are? Are the kids forgetting to follow the Golden Rule even while they are pretending to be all these alter egos? Will they be frightened and make mistakes?

The kids, no matter the age, need direction. The words Paul shared with the Philippians need to echo in our ears:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Do not fear; God is near! The way to be free from fear is to stay focused on God. See this world, even this Halloween, through the eyes of God. Ask yourself are you following Paul’s advice:

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Fear can lead us to follow the godless, the evil ones, the Devil himself, but with God near we do not have to fear. We can handle the illnesses that hit us, we can find ways to manage our budgets, and we can look ahead in drought-filled years to plentiful years. We can say thank you to God for being near in any and all trials or tribulations we face—even the ghosts, ghouls and goblins of Halloween.

Closing prayer:

Dear Protective Father,

Thank you for being near us at all times.

Thank you for hearing our prayers filled with fears.

Thank you for keeping us safe from harm.

Teach us through the stories of the Old Testament,

Through the sage words of the earliest disciples,

And through the Christian models beside us.

Let us share your grace and love

With our children and our neighbors

So they know there is no fear with you so near.

Amen.

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What was I scared of? Faith is the answer.

given on Sunday, March 16, 2014–the second in a series based on Rev. Kemp’s book, The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss.

            List all the things that scare you.  (pause)

            Now remember of all your childhood fears.  (pause)

            How did you learn not to be afraid?  (pause)

            What is different about fears today versus fears as a child?  (pause)

            Today’s scripture, Matthew 26:36-39, creates a familiar picture to those of us who are familiar with the story of Jesus.  Years of reading the Passion Story and sitting through Lenten sermons is tradition to those regularly attending worship service. 

            Stop, clear your mind, and walk the walk of the unchurched.  (pause)

            An open door for the unchurched is a fearful thing.  Not knowing the people on the other side is one thing; but what if you do not know what fills the space on the other side:

                        Well . . .

                        I was walking in the night

                        And I saw nothing scary.

                        For I have never been afraid

                        Of anything.  Not very.

 

Even the list of things that scare us today may be rather short, but the very root of the fear is the unknown

            Over and over the list of fears changes as the unknown becomes known.  The image of Jesus in the garden, praying to God, is familiar to those of us who are churched.  But reading the scripture after reading about fear in a different context can shift the image.

            Jesus goes to the garden to pray.  He knows what is about to happen; yet the human element within him is afraid.  The disciples who accompanied him to the garden had no idea what was going to happen over the next few days.  They were like children simply following their friend and modeling his behavior.  At least they prayed until they tired and started falling asleep.

            Jesus knew.  The disciples did not.  Nor did the Sneetch know there was anything unknown or scary:

            Then I was deep within the woods

            When, suddenly, I spied them.

            I saw a pair of pale green pants

            With nobody inside!

           

            I wasn’t scared.  But, yet, I stopped.

            What could those pants be there for?

            What could a pair of pants at night

            Be standing in the air?

 

            The unknown caused fear for the Sneetch.  Jesus knew what was ahead; and he still was afraid.  Even though he was not physically alone, he was scared.  Even though he was the Son of God, fear gripped him as he cried out to God.  He even stepped away from the disciples, moved deeper into the garden, and continued to pray:

“My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. But let what you want be done, not what I want.”

 

            Dr. Kemp, in his book The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss, makes the argument that faith is the answer to fear:

Theologically speaking, the opposite of fear is faith.  The presence of faith does not automatically remove fears.  Rather, faith provides us with the discipline, confidence, and courage to move forward in spite of our fears.  (p.17)

 

Simply reading Dr. Seuss’s story about the Sneetch who was scared of a pair of empty green pants, triggered a theological thought for Rev. Kemp.  He connected the concept of fear with faith.  If one can turn over a fear to God, then there is no longer anything to be scared of.

            Fear comes in all forms.  Ask a group of people gathered in a huddle and you will find a long list of thing people are scared of.  Maybe it is snakes, mice, rats, or birds.  Sometimes the list includes the word phobia such as hydrophobia, arachnophobia, claustrophobia, and the list grows.  Women talk about being afraid of giving birth.  The fear ranges from the mere pain of delivery to fear of being a parent. 

            Fear freezes one from actions.  Fear can keep us from experiencing life to the fullest.  As Rev. Kemp states, “Our fears are preventing us from accomplishing our full potential.” 

            Think about your own fears for a moment.  (pause) 

            How many times did fear keep you from making a change?  (pause)

            Do you regret fear prevented you from reaching a goal?  (pause) 

Certainly there were the times when we wanted to try riding a bike or driving a car or going on a date or take a class whether in high school, in college, or just for your personal satisfaction.  We all are scared at times, but there is that one key to overcoming fear—faith.

            Even Jesus was afraid and asked God for protection; and if he can do that, so can we.  Consider what a difference letting go of a fear would make in your life.  No fear to keep you frozen into inaction.  No fear that keeps you from enriching your life through a challenge.  No fear to prevent you from doing whatever God asks you to do.

            The Sneetch ran away from the empty green pants.  He did not turn and face them to learn more, he ran:

            So I got out.  I got out fast

            As fast as I could go, sir.

            I wasn’t scared. But pants like that

            I did not care for.  No, sir.

That demonstration of fear is not the same picture as in today’s scripture.    Jesus prayed to God to “let this cup pass from me.”  Rev. Kemp continues to explain how Jesus dealt with his fear:

. . . He did not allow this unspeakable fear to keep him from pressing on to accomplish his earthly mission.  He did not run away from his fears.

            Dr. Seuss also helps us to understand the secret to overcoming our fears.  The secret is not to run faster or farther in the opposite direction.  . . .  The only way to overcome our fears is to face them. . . to make them our friends.”  (pp. 17-18)

            Jesus had to confront Herod’s interrogation, Pharisees accusations and the crowds torment and ridicule, the cruelty of beatings, carrying his cross, and dying by crucifixion.  God did not protect Jesus, his own son; but Jesus had to complete his ministry.  He had to die for the salvation of those who believed in him and accepted the New Covenant.  Even Jesus had to name his fear and then turn it over to God and have faith that God would take care of even him.

            Rev. Kemp read the Sneetch’s story of meeting the empty green pants and could see how important faith is in managing fear. 

He asks, “What might happen in our Christians lives if we, too, faced our fears instead of running from them?  Might it free us to do things that we’ve always wanted to do, but were afraid to try?  Or perhaps something that we once enjoyed doing but are afraid to try again?  (p. 18)

Fear has a way of keeping us from action.  Fear limits our potential.  Whatever our fears, whether personal or as part of a group—even of a church, follow the pattern of Jesus.  Step out in faith.  Come face to face with the fear.  Name the fear.  Then use the disciplines John Wesley taught such as prayer, worship, Bible study and service.  Listen carefully for God’s direction.  And give that fear up to God and have the faith that he will take the lead.

            Rev. Kemp ends his sermon with this final statement:  Faith will win out over fear every time.  If Jesus can demonstrate it at the end of his ministry, then we can too.  Go to God, cry out, share your fear, and then turn it over to him.  Faith defeats fear.

Closing prayer: 

            Dear Faithful Father,

            Fear fills our hearts and minds,

                        both small and large.

            We look at scary experiences or things

                        and freeze from uncertainty.

            At times we hear you share an idea

                        or ask us to do something,

            But we let fear keep us from doing

                        so help us to practice faith.

            Help us build confidence in life

                        as we practice the disciplines of faith.

            Let us continue on through Lent

                        with the faith shown by Jesus.  –Amen

           

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