Monthly Archives: August 2014

Fearfulness and Faithfulness

 

Text:  Matthew 10:24-39

Theme:   Faith in God cancels our fears.

There is a story about a young man who went off to college with great expectations of success.   After he had been there a month, he sent a note to his father, “Feather in my cap, elected class president”.   Two months later, he sent another note to his father, “Another feather in my cap; accepted into the best fraternity”.   One month later, a third note:   Still another feather in my cap, leading role in class play”.

One semester later, he sent a note to his brother:  “Flunked out, prepare father.   Tell him to send money for me to get home!”

The brother sent a note back:   “Father prepared.  Prepare yourself.   Father says put those feathers on your shoulders and fly home!”

Obviously the young man was afraid and insecure and was trying to convince  both himself and his father that he was successful by these “feather in the cap” notes—-while, in reality, he was struggling and gripped by feelings of fear of failure.   I often wonder how the story might have been different if he had faced the fear, talked about it with his father, and askd for help and advice.  He might have discovered his father had struggled with the same issues and could have given him help and support.   BUT HE WAS AFRAID TO DO SO!!

 

ONE OF  THE GREATEST  CAUSES OF HUMAN STUPIDITY IN ACTION THAT LEADS TO WARS, AND KILLING AND CHAOS AND SUFFERING  TODAY IS FEAR.   We are afraid of others.   We are afraid of ourselvesBeing fearful seems to be a national characteristic in our current times in the U.S.    We are afraid of the horrific things happening in the middle east spreading to our country.  Fear was at the heart of the terrible thing that happened in Ferguson, MO recently—-fear the white policeman had of black people—-fear the black teenager had of the police.   And because of that a needless death and resulting chaos,  fed by fear on both sides.

We do live in a frightening world—frightening in many ways.   Pick up your morning paper and read about terrorists who attack randomly and try to kill as many as possible; mass shootings at schools and public places regularly; murders, drunken drivers that kill innocent and unsuspecting people; lying, cheating; storms such as tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes.

We are afraid of losing jobs and afraid  of cancer, We fear for our children’s safety as well as our own, and this fearfulness causes us to teach our kids not to trust anyone they don’t know.   Fear causes us to encase ourselves in a protective shell that triest to shut out the rest of society and the world.

 

 

Just what is this FEAR  that we are talking about?   I like Barbara Taylor Brown’s description of it:  “Fear is a small cell with no air in it and no light.  It is suffocating inside and dark.   There is no room to turn around inside it.   You can only face in one direction, but it hardly matters since you cannot see anyhow.   There is no future in the dark.  Everything is over.  Everything is past.   When you are locked up like that, tomorrow is as far away as the moon.”

IN OTHER WORDS, YOU CAN’T OPEN THE DOOR OUT OF THIS PRISON BECAUSE YOUR FEAR PARALYZES YOU.   If you do anything it might make it worse.  You feel safer to stay where you are even if you cannot breathe and cannot move—-that is how fear feels!

Only faith in God can cancel this kind of fear.  And Brown describes FAITH as:   “More like a rope bridge over a scenic gorge, sturdy but swinging back and forth, with plenty of light and plenty of air but precious little to hold on to except the stories that you have heard that this is the best and the only way across and that it is possible that it will bear your weight.!!

IN OTHER WORDS—–we have to have faith in the power of the bridge to deliver us safely more than we do in the power of the gorge to kill us, if we are to overcome our fear.  We need to trust in God’s love for us and God’s presence in our lives at all times, if we are to overcome our fearfulness.   Only God is able to help us cancel our fearfulness.

There is a lot of fear in the world.   And we need to differentiate a little here.   There is a difference between “fear” and “being fearful.”

“Fear” is a reaction to a definite threat.   It causes our adrenal glands to shoot adrenalin into our body and prepare by increasing heartbeat, respiration, etc. for either “flight” or “fight.”

“Being Fearful” is a general feeling of being afraid without any concrete reason to feel that way.    It is more an attitude—-the way we view things.    Being fearful is like being anxious—there may not be any concrete and specific reason for it.

So—WHAT IS OUR FEARFULNESS THAT IS CONSTANTLY OUR COMPANION ALL ABOUT?    WHY ARE MOST OF US “BEING FEARFUL MOST OF THE TIME?  I THINK IT IS BECAUSE OF SOMETHING I CALL “THE HUMAN CONDITION” THAT LEADS US TO “BEING FEARFUL.”

The human condition is something we all have to live with It can be summarized this way:   Firstsome things will budge for us and some won’t.  Second, We cannot live forever no matter how desperately we try.   And third, We cannot control everything that happens to us.

THAT IS THE HUMAN CONDITION AND IT CAN BE FRIGHTENING BECAUSE WHAT IT MEANS IS THAT WE CANNOT CHOOSE ALL OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF OUR LIVES.   WE CANNOT CONTROL EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS TO US!

Our lives can be comfortable one minute and spin completely out of control the next.

We can be a happily married couple one minute and a widow or widower the next minute—all in a heartbeat or the lack of a heartbeat

We can plan for our future retirement and wake up the morning before we retire and find that much of what we have worked so hard for and saved has been wiped out by a stock market or bank failure over which we have no control.

We can build our dream home and the week we move in huddle in its basement as a tornado destroys it.

WHAT ALL OF THE ABOVE WITNESS TO US IS THAT WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL!!.

All we can really control is how we respond to what happens to us that is beyond our control.

And just because we believe in God doesn’t shield us from any of the results of the human condition!    Our only assurance is that God loves us and will be with us to give us the strength and resources we need to cope with our human condition.    God’s resources are many,  God’s constant presence  and love are all around us.   God even sends his people, his servants to minister to us in times of need and to help us through any of the storms of life that we face

We are not alone.   We need not fear.   As Paul writes in  Romans 8:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?   Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …..No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who love us.    For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  

It takes a lot of courage to be a human being!!!  And it takes a lot of trust in God!!!  That’s why Jesus’s words are so important—-“Fear Not”!!

Jesus spoke to the problem of the human condition in our text today.  If we put the reading in context, Jesus was preparing his disciples to go on a mission to preach to the towns and villages in Galilee.  and was warning them that the things that people say and do about him will also be said and done to his disciples.   His disciples would be the recipients of the same hostility and rejection Jesus had already experienced.   They must  have shown signs of fear to go on the assignment as Jesus told them a total of 3 times to “Fear Not”.    He said:   “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves;….Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me….(10:16-18).    Because of our own experiences with fear, we can imagine something of the dread the disciples must have felt as Jesus sent them on their mission, especially because he went on to speak of the threats and dangers they could expect to encounter:  arrests, floggings, hatred, betrayal, and other forms of persecution.   I’m sure Peter must have said to himself—“Hey Jesus!  I didn’t sign up for this when I left my fishing boat to follow you!!”

But then Jesus told his disciples to not fear any of these things he had just listed.   He said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”

Jesus also told his disciples:   “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.   What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.    ….

And:  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?   Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.   And even the hairs of your head are all counted.   So do not be afraid, you are of more value than many sparrows.”

 

In the final analysis, Jesus said in this passage,  only two events could  befall his followers—life and death—–and both are in the hands of God.  Trust in God cancels out fear!   THEREFORE, DO NOT BE AFRAID.   God is God of the past,  is God of the present, and is God of the future.   YOU ARE IN GOD’S HANDS AND THERE IS NOTHING TO BE AFRAID OF IF YOU TRUST IN GOD!!  GOD’S GRACE CANCELS OUT FEAR!!  Trust in God’s Grace!!

It’s always been that way.   Long before Jesus spoke, God had spoken to Isaiah, saying:

Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel.  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;  I have called you by name, you are mine.    When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;  when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you…..because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you!” (Isaiah 43: 1-4)

 

Some time ago, I read this story and it has stayed in my mind.   It so perfectly gives meaning to the text of this sermon that I’d like to share it with you.

A man was traveling across the country on an airliner.   Somewhere over Texas, the plane hit a storm and the pilot came on and said,  “We are not going to be able to go around this storm or over it so we’ll be going through it.   Please fasten your seatbelts as there will be a lot of turbulence.

Not too long after the announcement the storm struck.   There was thunder and lightening and the plane was tossed around like a child’s toy in the turbulence as the pilot fought to keep control of the plane.   Everyone was frightened—some were praying others were hugging loved ones—-except for one little girl the traveler observed.    She was about six years old and was sitting quietly in her seat,  seemingly not frightened at all by the fear and turbulence that was all around her.

After the plane safely landed, the traveler approached the little girl, still in her seat, and said:   I am surprised that you weren’t afraid of all that storm and what happened like the rest of us were.   Can you tell me why?

The small girl answered:   “My Daddy is the captain and he was taking me home.”

IF GOD IS THE CAPTAIN OF OUR LIVES—-GOD WILL TAKE US HOME SAFELY—-DO NOT FEAR!!!   Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angry America

We are an angry nation Everywhere we turn we see and hear hostility, hatred, fear and anger expressed from the front page news, to local news, to politics, and even the sports pages.   We are angry about a lot of things:  taxes, health care , immigration, abortion, birth control, voter registration, national debt, corporate greed, shrinking of the middle class, cost of living.    I am of the opinion that we need to seriously consider a revision of or salute to our flag.  We should replace the current version of  “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  The final words should perhaps read“an angry nation, denying God’s love to those who don’t agree with us, severely divided, with liberty to do what we want regardless of the common good, and retribution toward those who threaten us; and with justice for those who can afford the high price!”

Our front page news and TV news every day  tells about murders ,or shows angry scenes at the border towns as people shout hateful words and shake angry fists at young illegal immigrant children from Central America,   In Wichita,  it seems every news program begins with a “breaking news” report of some violence in the city—a shooting after a quarrel, a robbery, a beating.  It includes drunken drivers killing innocent people and the family members of the loved one who died reacting in anger and demanding punishment  and revenge for the killing of their loved one.

Even the sports pages contain a violent view of life:  For example,  football, a violent sport that is often reported in warlike terms with  sports analysts speaking of the potential damage that those trying to get on a team are likely to do to their opponents—“hard hitter”  a “vicious tackler”, etc.

In our political arena, after the primary elections, the candidates now statethe battle has just begun!”   And the character assassination mud is already in the air for the November general election.   Fear and hatred are the hot-buttons that are being pushed, and as Yogi Berra once said:   “it’s deja vu all over again!”    Hostility towards opponents, hostility toward immigrants, hostility towards anyone and any issue that the candidate doesn’t agree with is the way the political opponents work these days, it seems, and if you don’t agree with the person about the issues then you will be slandered, vilified, and be subject to character assassination.   There is little discussion of the issues—it’s all personal and hostile and  an attempt to appeal  to the fear and hostility of the voters in this angry nation.

In all of the above, it seems it is always the “other person’s” fault. It seems it is “us”, the pure and above reproach against “them” who deserve our contempt, hatred and retribution because somebody must be blamed for the bad things that happen. It is always someone else’s fault. A recent example of this is an article about an interview with Kansas Governor Brownback, in which he explains the reason for his poor showing in the primary election (Brownback got 60% of the vote and his opponent, an unknown and poorly financed got 40%) is all to be blamed on President Obama! Really??!!

What goes out the window in an increasingly hostile and fearful and angry nation is any desire to strive for the “common good” of all the  people.   It is always “ME” and never “WE” that wins out in the midst of the hostile and fearful times I have described above.   There is a better way.   The hatred and fear mongers among our politicians and political party activists need to go back to “the founding fathers.

The Founding Fathers that conservatives like to appeal to had a lot of disagreements—-often very vigorous disagreements.  But when they came together to write a Constitution that would govern our country they made sure to include in the Preamble these words:  “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, promote domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”

Those in our present Congress would do well to examine and try to explain how they are keeping the oath they took to uphold the Constitution!   With their hostile and partisan bickering the “common welfare”; i.e. “the common good” goes out the window.   Instead of seeking common ground on any of the issues above they continue to name-call, shake fists, assassinate character, etc.    It is “ME” instead of “WE”.   WHEN “ME” RULES INSTEAD OF “WE” THE COMMON GOOD IS NEVER ACHIEVED..

Those in our national and state legislatures and those who elect them might well take heed of the wisdom of the founding fathers and work for the common good of all the people of this country.

Only when “WE”  the People, and not ME the  individual, come together to solve our nation’s problems can we truthfully salute our flag, saying:   “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

 

 

Why Are We Afraid?

 

It seems very contradictory to me that so many of those who call themselves Christians in the United States are being driven by “fear” in what they say and do.   For Christians to live in fear is a sign of their lack of trust in God’s goodness and faithfulness to be with them whatever happens.

Politicians regularly use “fear” as the basis for attacking their opponents and to appeal to the general public for their votes.    “If my opponent is elected then you we will go bankrupt as a nation!”  they cry as they appeal to your sense of fear.  We are going to be over-run by illegal aliens at our border, they howl!   What other reason can we use to explain the hateful expressions, clenched fists, and signs ‘We don’t want you here!” inflicted on innocent children on buses at the border of Mexico and other locations,  than expressions of irrational  fear?

In our cities people live  constantly in fear.  In Kansas we are now legally allowed to carry weapons (guns and knives) practically any place we go.   The weapons don’t even have to be concealed anymore!   Switch-blade knives are now legal!   We have even passed a law trying to keep  federal agents from enforcing federal gun laws in Kansas.   The sale of all kinds of guns have made the cash registers dance in gunshops all over the state the last few years  as the state legislature has gotten rid of practically all the laws, even in cities such as Wichita, that regulate the carrying of weapons.   And the so-called law-makers have based their actions on the fear that the public has of being attacked.  Every time there is a mass shooting somewhere in the nation, the gun sales in Kansas skyrocket!

The phrase “Do not Fear” appears  58 times in the Bible.   Let me give you just a few examples:

Mark 5:36:   Jesus counseled Jairus concerning the death of his daughter in these words:   “Do not fear, only believe!”

Matthew 14:27:  Jesus told his disciples who were frightened out of their wits  as they saw him walking on the water in the storm on the sea of Galilee:   “”Take heart!   It is I.   Do not fear”.

Luke 2:10:  On the night of Jesus’ birth, the angel told the shepherds:   “Do not be afraid—see I am bringing you news of great joy….”

Psalm 23:4:    The Psalmist says:   “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.”

Today’s Christians need to pay heed to these words:   “Do not fear!”   As Paul tells the Roman Church—-“If God is for us, who is against us?  ….Who will separate us from the love of Christ?   Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?….No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.   For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present\, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, jor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Christians, do you believe this?   IF YOU REALLY BELIEVE IT THEN WHY ARE YOU AFRAID?    Fear not—-God is with you always.   Trust God !   Fear Not!   Do not be afraid!