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Psalm 27:1-6, 13-14; Mark 5:1-18, 21-24a, 35-42
October 25, 2020
– Useless of Fear in Faith
Since we keep talking about masks in this day and age, I thought I would play along with a mask of my own. *** Ok, it is more of a costume, but it does seem especially appropriate given this week and the world’s celebration of Halloween. This is part of a costume I had made for trunk or treat event at my last church. I am a great JRR Tolkien fan, and this is Gandalf the wizard who helps the story and the heroes in the story along. What genuinely surprised me at the trunk or treat events, however, was how may of the little children dressed up in their own truly terrifying costumes were actually scared of me. Maybe it is the size plus looking very strange with the hair, the hat, and the beard, but something about this picture – different robes – was intimidating and right scary even if the character is actually very nice.
There are loads of things that people are afraid of in the world, though. The usual culprits are spiders, snakes, needles, heights, and the dark. Nowadays, we might lump in COVID and the fruit of the pandemic – hospitalization and isolation and financial trouble. This week is ordinarily a week that celebrates the objects of fear and makes them fun. Ghouls and goblins are probably going to be missing this year, however. Instead, if you want someone to scare you and you don’t want to bother me in my Gandalf costume, just turn on some political ads. According to both candidates, the other will lead to the end of our democracy and probably our nation.
But what about the other kinds of fears: dendrophobia is the fear of trees, somniphobia is the fear of going to sleep, papiliophobia is the fear of butterflies, nephophobia is the fear of clouds, arachibutyrophobia is the fear of having peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth, and my personal favorite – coulrophobia or the fear of clowns. That has something to do with the fact that someone VERY close to me [wink, wink] might have been spanked at his 6 year birthday party in front of all of his friends by the clown my parents hired to be there. Thankfully, I never needed counseling for that.
There is a lot of fear out there. If there is a phobia word for it, then it must be a real fear to someone. The only one I have to question is that old Far Side comic strip depicting Lupislippophobia – which was the fear of being chased around your kitchen table by a pack of timber wolves while wearing only socks.
We live with fear, maybe not that one, but we do tend to live with fear on a regular basis. So today we are going to tackle fear and whether it is useful to people of faith. Because we are people of faith, right? We at least want to be people of faith. We believe the Spirit of our Lord is giving us faith enough to be here today, drawing us into a life of service to our God in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Faith is our lifeblood as children of God and as part of the great Body of Christ.
Have you ever wondered what the greatest enemy of faith might be? ** I guarantee you at least a few of you out there just latched onto doubt as the enemy of faith. Well, I disagree. In fact, I am even going to propose that doubt is an essential quality of healthy faith. And that is because of what faith really is. Faith is trust. Faith is your trust in God. It is not so much that God exists, after all, Jesus admitted even the demonic world believes that. Faith is not so much about whether God exists but whether God exists as your life, your light, your help, your strength, your provision, and your salvation. Will the God who gave you life preserve your life through these years in God’s grace and will that same God bring you home to the company of all of God’s children? Does God love you now and forever? That is the essential faith question. It is a matter of trust. Do you trust God to be good to God’s word in Christ? Now, a trust or belief that has been tested is going to be stronger than one that has not. So doubt is not the real enemy. There is something much, much stronger that can erode trust: fear.
Back in my camp days sad a counselor at Camp Hanover in Richmond, we would regularly do trust falls when one person stands up on a ledge, maybe waist high, and they would free fall backward with only the arms of the rest of the group there to catch them before they hit the ground. I even did it myself. This is a classic, powerful way to build trust or faith in others when you know they will catch you. But would you do it? How about church we meet in the fellowship hall for trust falls off the stage? Any takers? If just the thought of that makes you nervous, then you have realized the one great enemy of faith – fear.
Oh sure, there are fears out there that are useful and keep us safe. The fear of getting hurt can cause us to resist reckless behavior. The fear of failure can help us move through a challenge to achieve things we want to accomplish. You may have also heard about the fear of the Lord; it is the beginning of wisdom, and it is not the kind of fear that I am wrestling with today. Today is just good ol’ fashioned, regular, ordinary human fear.
Psalm 27 is a resounding renunciation of this fear. David is admitting that at face value, he should be afraid. He always seems to have adversaries and people trying to get him, but he gives his refusal to fear in faith. It does not matter what you throw at me, I will not be afraid because God is with me and will not let me fall into your devious schemes. The last line is perhaps the most helpful. God’s goodness is coming in THIS life, not just the one to come. There is hope here coming soon. Wait with strength, hope, and faith. Fear steals that confidence, especially our confidence in the Lord our God.
So what happens when the Lord our God shows up?
These stories from Mark are wonderful depictions of a day in the life of our Savior. Just another day for Jesus is the healing of a terribly possessed man in a gentile area, then he goes back to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and finds a girl is dying and needs to be healed.
Just stop and breathe in all the fear in these stories: the man who was possessed by Legion was beyond scary. It was the stuff of movies today, and in fact, that figure has inspired a number of movie characters through the ages. A person who is filled with demonic rage and seems to be uncontrollable. As soon as he sees Jesus, however, he falls at his feet and begs for mercy. You heard the story, Jesus casts the spirits into the a herd of pigs who drown. In light of the mighty power of God displayed here, what is the response of the people, though? They are terrified of Jesus. They beg him to leave. Notice that in the face of the power of God, they were scared silly. Go away; we want none of that!
So Jesus leaves. He was never one to overstay his welcome anywhere. He went back to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to his home turf. There they heard about the girl near death. Death is obviously one of the big fears, has always been, and the people are overcome with worry. Again, someone falls at Jesus’ feet. He agrees to go but is slowed down by the woman with a bleeding disease. When Jesus finally does reach the girl’s house, it appears he is too late to do anything. Don’t bother Jesus, anymore, they said. The girl is gone. Now what was Jesus’ answer? This is the million dollar statement: do not fear, only believe/do not fear, only have faith/ do not have fear, only trust. “Do you trust me?”Jesus is saying. If you do, you do not ever need to live in fear.
Of course, he goes in and heals the girl from death itself, and again, the crowd is undone.
What do you think Jesus’ most common command in the gospels is? There is one thing that he commands people to do more than anything else? Love each other? Follow him? Keep my commandments? Love God? All good answers but none of those are the most frequent command Jesus gives.
The winner is “Do not fear!” He orders people to not be afraid more than any other command. When he needed people to trust him, trust his words, trust his actions, trust his heart, it scared people. Just being around Jesus and seeing what he could do was enough to shake people up. They had a hard time accepting his signs and miracles, let alone his teaching and other commands. Faith in Jesus was not easy. Trusting him was not easy if you still had a heart of the world. The only easy thing, apparently, was to be afraid.
This is crucial and still relevant. When the Spirit of God starts stirring somewhere, things begin to happen. New things begin to happen. Things that might make us nervous begin to happen. Things that might even scare us. When God says, “Do this,” and that is something we have never done before, it is scary. When God says, “Go there,” and that is somewhere we have never gone, it is scary. When God says “Be a church in a new way,” how will we respond?
No one will care to be a part of a church that consuming fear. No one will want to associate with fearful people. No one will want to join in the life of people who are always too afraid to try something. You see where I am going with this. New days are around the corner. A new path is before us. A new way of being and doing is already here and will continue. Our own lives will continue to be challenged by new struggles, issues, and crises. Every single one of us will decide whether we want to give up and surrender in fear or to continue to trust that the Lord is with us and for us. As a church, are we going to continue to trust that Jesus is calling us to be something beautiful in his grace or are we going to feed the fear?
What frightens me is saying I have faith and trust in the Lord but never showing it, never living it to, never walking with that trust into the fiery furnace or the lion’s den. When the time comes for me to step up, I do not want to give in to fear but step in faith. It will be tough. Any faithful decision calls us to risk. But I can tell you no faithful decision in the history of the world has ever been made out of fear. So what are we afraid of? To God be the glory. Amen.