Sermon February 21, 2016
One summer night, during a severe thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small son into bed. She was about to turn the light off when he asked in a trembling voice, “Mommy, will you stay with me all night?” Smiling the mother gave him a warm, reassuring hug and said to him, “I can’t dear. I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.” A long silence followed. At last, it was broken by a shaky voice saying,“The big sissy!”
What are you most afraid of? At the core of who we are as human beings, we find some common threads. I suspect that one of those threads is that we all fear something. Most of us would prefer not to admit it and thus another thread…the fear of being vulnerable. I’ll give you some fears to choose from: sickness, dying, losing someone we love, losing our independence, heights, tight spaces, being victims of a crime, war, natural disasters, rejection, terrorism, nuclear attacks, snakes, spiders, public speaking, running out of money, needles, flying, clowns, bears…to name a few.
The Psalmist here says essentially, “I have God. I am not going to be afraid. Here are all the horrible things that can and will happen and I am not going to be afraid because I trust in God.” This may be the ultimate self pep talk. I think we can be afraid and trust in God – all at the same time. Sometimes it is coming face to face with our fears in an honest way that allows us to admit we need God. It may be in that moment that we really begin to trust in God. That’s not a bad thing.
I have been remembering times in my life that I have been afraid. For some reason, there are several occasions that center on Ann, my best friend from college. Perhaps we were just prone to get into situations or perhaps it was that we spent so much time together in our young adult years. One of the most recent ones with her was a trip to Big Bend National Park in January four years ago. When we arrived, it was 70 degrees and sunny. The second day was cold and blustery. The third day, it snowed all day. I panicked and wanted to leave. I was afraid of being stuck in the park. When we learned they were closing the park in a few hours, we grabbed our stuff and threw it in the car. We were the last car out of the park. I hadn’t really thought it through. I had no idea how to drive in that weather and I was driving my friend who had been through so much with me in my life. I asked the ranger if there was anything I needed to know to drive us out of there. When Ann heard me ask the question, she panicked. It didn’t occur to her that I didn’t know how to drive in those conditions. We made it out safely. She has since moved to Wisconsin and assures me that she will drive if we ever find ourselves in that predicament again.
I am drawn back into Philip Simmons book Learning to Fall over and over in my life. I think it is because Philip is like the Psalmist today. He is riding the see saw of fear and trust. He rides it with reverence, humor, insight, poetry, and several good stories. As he openly acknowledges the ways his body is shutting down, he names the lessons he is learning about living. He reminds us that, “we’re all engaged in the business of dying, whether consciously or not, slowly or not.” And he goes on to say, “For me, knowing my days are numbered has meant the chance to ask with new urgency the sorts of questions most of us avoid: everything from, ‘What is my life’s true purpose?’ to ‘Should I reorganize my closets?’” (p. x)
There is so much to fear every day. The question doesn’t seem to be how to give in to fear, but how to acknowledge what is most true about living. That is not to deny the risk, but to choose life knowing it is a risky venture. This season of Lent is a walk with Jesus through his final days on earth. It must have been terrifying for him. Yet the threats did not stop him from living. He got up. He served. He loved. He healed. He took another step. In doing so, he showed us how to live when there are no guarantees. He showed us that life is walking in the balance between fear and trust.
We can count on the Psalms to tell the truth. The Psalmist names real dangers and fears. He calls out to God in the midst of it all. There is an understanding that all of these things are real. They can and they will happen, but they are not the last word. The final word is God.
This morning, we will learn about Central American refugees in the forum following worship. These are human beings who have witnessed horror and chose to walk toward freedom even when it meant risking everything. The terror of staying where they were was unbearable so they began the long, terrible journey of survival. I imagine the words of the Psalmist, “Wait for God” even as they walked. These refugees have been beaten, robbed, raped, and murdered. They have faced horrors we can scarcely imagine. But they continue their journey of hope. You can see their pictures in the fellowship hall. Within these beautiful human beings is a desire to live and so they keep walking.
Fear is not just an individual phenomenon. It is fear that causes us to put up walls at our borders to keep others out of our country. It is fear that makes us build more weapons. It is fear that causes us to cut services to those who need it most. It seems at times that our government makes decisions based on fear rather than deep trust. Fear has certainly kept many churches from being what they are called to be. It is sad to watch when churches turn inward anxiously watching resources dwindle rather than reaching out. There is a message in this Psalm for all of us. There is a call to be strong and courageous because God is with us.
We sit on the see saw of fear and trust every day. Some days, we may lean so heavily into fear that it seems there is no hope. Other days, we may trust and begin to forget our fears. Hope is most real when it honestly acknowledges our fear. William Cowper said, “He has no hope who never had a fear.” Blaise Pascal describes it this way, “What can be seen on earth points to neither the total absence nor the obvious presence of the divinity, but to the presence of a hidden God. Everything bears this mark.” I have been thinking this week about everything bearing the mark of a hidden God.
This Psalm comes to many of us who are balanced on the see saw of fear and trust. We are seeking God in the midst of it all. We are reminded that God is faithful and God rides all of these waves with us – in life, in sickness, in death, in misfortune, in loneliness, in pain, in uncertainty. Psalm 27 will not let us forget that in all things fear does not eclipse the beautiful hiddenness of God. May the words of this Psalm carry you through this week: “Wait for God, be strong and take courage.”