Jesus’ Third Way: No Fear 2-21-16

Psalm 27 YHWH, you are my light, my salvation— whom will I fear?  You are the fortress of my life— of whom will I be afraid? When my enemies attack me, spreading vicious lies about me wherever they go, they, my adversaries and foes, will stumble and fall. Though an army mounts a siege against me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, I’ll still be confident.

  One thing I ask of you, YHWH, one thing I seek:  that I may dwell in your house all the days of my life,  to gaze on your beauty and to meditate in your Temple. You will keep me safe in your shelter when trouble arises, you will hide me under the cover of your Tabernacle— you’ll set me on a rock, high and out of reach. Then I’ll be able to hold my head up, even with my enemies surrounding me. I will offer in your Tabernacle sacrifices of great joy—I’ll sing and make music to you, YHWH! Hear me when I call, YHWH!  Have mercy on me and answer me! You say to my heart, “Seek my face,”  and so it is your face I seek! Don’t hide your face from me; don’t turn your faithful one away in anger. Don’t reject me, don’t desert me, O God of my salvation, for you are my only help. Even if my own parents reject me, you, YHWH, will accept me. Teach me your way, YHWH, and lead me on a straight path because of my enemies. Don’t surrender me to the will of my enemies; for defamers rise up against me breathing violence. Even so I have confidence that I’ll see the goodness of YHWH in the land of the living! Wait for God—stand tall and let your heart take courage!  Yes, wait for YHWH!

Our sermon series during Lent is Jesus’ Third Way. I came up with the idea for this series on a pastors’ retreat at the beginning of the year. Another pastor who is using the same basic idea called her sermon series Jesus Out of the Box, or something like that. It’s the same basic idea since we usually think there’s 2 ways to go, and Jesus had a way of thinking outside the box of a third or fourth alternative. Today we’re going to talk about our fears.

Jesus illustrated the truth of our Psalm for this morning, that God is our light and our salvation we don’t need to fear anything. But we do have very basic and persistent fears. So how do we deal with them? In our assigned Gospel reading for today, Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem which kills prophets and stones those sent to them. How does Jesus deal with the fear in those circumstances?

Luke 13:31-35 Just then, some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “You need to get out of town, and fast. Herod is trying to kill you.” 32 Jesus replied, “Go tell that fox, Today and tomorrow, I’ll be casting out devils and healing people, and on the third day I’ll reach my goal.’ 33 Even with all that, I’ll need to continue on my journey today, tomorrow and the day after that, since no prophet can be allowed to die anywhere except in Jerusalem. 34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a mother bird collects her babies under her wings—yet you refuse me! 35 So take note: your house will be left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, Blessed is the One who comes in the name of our God!’”

February 21, 2016

Jesus’ Third Way: No Fear

Let me ask you the same question I asked of the children. What are you afraid of? I’m sure you’re aware of being afraid of some of the same things they are, but maybe don’t want to say it. And you aware of being afraid of some bigger things too. What are you afraid of?

afraid that nobody loves you or would stick by you? afraid of being alone?

afraid of crowds?

driving into the city? getting lost? dealing with strangers

driving at night? – not just a fear, but a reality

heights?

Speaking in front of groups? Cathy (& Lauren) in front of hundreds of people? any nerves?

When I got married to Catherine in 1994, I remember being really scared. My first marriage had ended after only a year. I had been fairly confident about that first marriage, and her leaving had shaken me more than I could admit. I was not at all sure that what I was doing this second time was going to work any better.

A couple days before the wedding I took my brother John aside and talked to him about my doubts and fears. He encouraged me enough to get to the ceremony the next day and to get through the day, but frankly I was still scared after the wedding. That was hard on my wife and not a great start to our marriage. In some ways it meant that we went into our marriage with few illusions of the fact that this commitment thing would be easy. We both had to step forward in faith that we would work things out one day at a time. It was scary in a way that I still have some trouble talking about.

I share this story with you not to make my sermons into therapy. I’ve been noticing recently that being vulnerable and sharing our stories brings out memories and experiences in others and can be really helpful.

 

Now that I am older I am aware of how some of my fears have persisted throughout my life, unconsciously effecting decisions I have made and directions I have gone. What I’m saying here is that there are 2 different kinds of fears. One kind of fear is an intermittent fear that comes and goes depending on the circumstance. A fear of dogs comes up only when dogs are around.

Let’s say you have a fear of forgetting names that comes up when you’re in a group of new people. You might think that you have 2 choices – one is to give up and say “i’m no good at remembering names” over and over again. Another is to work really hard at writing down names and creating systems to get around your fear. A third way, however, would be to confront the fear directly. I saw somebody do this once. They asked a friend of mine for help with their fear about remembering names and he said, “Well, remember me a name.”

She laughed and said his name back to him. He looked at her and sincerely said, “That’s tremendous! You remembered that name very well… Remember me another one.” She told him the name of the person sitting next to her and again he told her how great she was to remember that name. By this time she was laughing until she started to cry. Pretty soon, she started to get that the message she was telling herself about her trouble remembering names, her fear of new people and of asking people’s names – enough time to get it, was just that, a fear that she didn’t have to live with any more.

Another time, I saw someone with an intermittent fear of heights ask a similar question about how he could deal with that fear, and this same person had another ‘outside-the-box’ way of helping him deal with his fear. He put a piece of tissue paper on the floor and had the man stand right at the edge of it. He told him to jump off the edge. The man stood there on the edge of that paper and started to shake with fear.

Most of our fears you see, are kind of stupid. They tie us up into knots, needlessly. If we can name them and confront them, with God’s help, they fly over the edge of the tissue paper.

The second kind of fears, like the fear I had on my wedding day, are a little deeper, a little more unconscious and persistent. These deeper kinds of fears play all the time in our lives and we think they are part of who we are. We have become so afraid that we are alone or that we are stupid or ugly or in danger that we act on those fears all the time. We organize our lives around those fears. We build walls around ourselves, and try to protect ourselves from ever being challenged in those areas.

Jesus’ third way is particularly helpful in challenging these kinds of fears. Jesus third way is a way of counting on the power and the presence of the Living God – to give us the courage and commitment to move beyond any fears, even the ones we can hardly name. When the Pharisees came to Jesus and told him that he’d better get out of town quick because Herod was out to get, Jesus didn’t hesitate. He told them to give Herod a message that he was ready to die, that God was his light and his salvation, so he didn’t need to fear any person or any situation – that he would stay on the road to Jerusalem, on his mission no matter what the obstacle.

That’s how we deal with the deeper, more persistent, less obvious fears of our lives – with a commitment to follow the way of the Living God, the way of Jesus, to stay on the path God sets for us, no matter what comes at us. All our fears are rooted in our fear of death, so when Jesus challenges that fear he takes on every fear. When Jesus challenges us to pick up our cross in Lent and face toward Jerusalem with him, it challenges every fear we have.

And at the same time, gives us the support and awareness that God will never leave us along. God will always walk with us on that path. God is our light and our salvation so we don’t have to get lost in any fear. We can remember people’s names when we have to – or we can ask them to tell us again. We can shake with fear at the top of the steps until we realize God will help us down one step at a time.

We can commit ourselves to each other – in marriage, in community, in friendship, in struggle, in life, knowing that God, in those relationships will reveal our hidden fears and help us  take them on even if we don’t understand where they came from or what they’re doing to us. As we build those relationships, as we build our communities of support and love, the Living God is our light and our salvation. Whom shall we fear? Of what shall we be afraid?

Responsive Hymn: 2136  Out of the Depths