Sunday October 11, 2020 19th Sun Pentecost- Faith Over Fear Sermon Series

Grace and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ his son our Lord Amen.  Let me be honest with this week’s scripture there’s more here than can be preached on in a ten week sermon series, Isaiah’s description of heaven- On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines and he will destroy on this mounting the shroud that is cast over all peoples… and God will swallow up death forever, then the Lord will wipe away the tears form all faces”  Wow what a vision to focus on for a lifetime! It deserves more than a ten minute summary.  And then there’s the wonderful Twenty-third Psalm “The Lord is my shepherd”

You can just slowly recite those words “He makes me lie down in green pastures…he leads me besides still waters…”  For me those words are such a comfort during times of trial and confusion.  If I just take a break from the chaos and the churning speeding flow of life and repeat and recite these words… I envision the peaceful stream we’re walking together in the field…God beside me, a verdant meadow sprinkled with wildflowers, lush grasses and ahhhhh, relief.  This is one of those bulletins that deserves to be on your fridge for a while- or even on your mirror you check in the morning.

I struggled for a while as to what scripture to focus on.  Once I felt confident of which one God was leading me to… If you’d just take a minute with me and go back to those holy words from Saint Paul in our second lesson on page 8 of your bulletin.  Starting with verse four.  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness, be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hears and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable whatever is just, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things, Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

For a while now I’ve been feeling the tug of God’s spirit on my sermon sleeve to tackle the tough topic of Faith Over Fear.  Now with this week’s assigned scripture lesson I felt God’s spirit stirring to say a word about this important aspect of Christian living.  Living with Faith Over Fear that’s what Paul is talking about here and its such a wonderful, empowering, lasting message for Christians its vital to lift up in a time of such fear:  global pandemics, social unrest, presidential election uncertainty, economic upheaval, wildfires, hurricanes, and yes… murder hornets!

Now that I’ve inadvertently upped your heart rate with that fear filled list let me say this “Let the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  These words of Paul like the twenty-third Psalm are words that help calm my heart rate and allow me to face my fears in a new and more positive way.  I’m not saying these words erase fear.  As I did some research on this topic of Faith Over Fear I heard one too many pastor’s preaching that Faith erases fear.  Almost as if Faith is a vaccine that prevents someone from every getting this sickness of fear ever again.  That’s bogus.

Fear is a natural phenomenon for any human being.  Its embedded in our DNA as part of our survival as a species.  You’ve heard of the “flight, fight, or freeze” response to danger that’s a God given.  In that moment of danger, fear enters our hearts and mind to give us a surviving chance to choose flight, fight, or freeze.  Fear can be helpful and yes it can be hurtful.  In and of itself like most emotions fear is somewhat neutral.  It’s what you do with fear makes it good or bad.

Faith doesn’t eliminate that survival instinct.  Fear is always going to be part of our life, Faith doesn’t erase fear because it doesn’t erase danger or struggle or pain from life.  Faith is what gives us courage in the face of danger, strength in the midst of struggle, and peace in the midst of pain.  Faith helps us use our fear wisely, guide our fear to steer us clear of danger and towards help and safety.

Paul is writing these words to the folks in Philippi while he is in prison.  Paul is not in a happy place but he says rejoice in the Lord! Rejoice means to express joy.  Joy is different than happy.  Happy is dependent on circumstances- the day is good, the food is good, the company is good and I’m so happy.  Whereas Joy is dependent on decision- the day is bad, the company is bad and the food is bad and I still have joy.  I decide I’m not going to let my circumstances dictate my attitude.  Rather I’m going to focus on something beyond my immediate circumstances that gives me joy… in this case Paul says find your joy in the Lord- rejoice in the Lord.

Paul was writing in prison awaiting sentencing… have you had to wait for a verdict, wait for a diagnosis, wait for a test result.  It is a time of anxiety and fear.  That anxiety can fill you to overflowing … it can direct you to Satan’s deepest layers of depression, debilitating horror.  BUT it does not have to…when you were young just a little kid and had those nightmares that woke you up…did you seek out your parents when had bad dream? Did just being in their room, on their bed, in their presence make it better. For me you bet it did!

Paul in the midst of circumstances like prison that are overwhelming and confining he sought out the very presence of God.  By giving God praise Paul entered into God’s presence through worshipping. Paul drew himself beyond his circumstances by reminded himself of the blessings of God.  Paul kept the promises of scripture before him to reassure him God continues to sit on his throne and continues to watch over him.  Paul kept perspective of present time doesn’t hold a candle to eternal time.

This is the peace of God- peace is not the absence of conflict but the inner strength to face the conflict (courage is not the absence of fear but the knowledge of something more important than our fear).  Faith is not our inner strength- Faith is our God within us giving us strength. 

God with in you- enthusiasm (en theos: God within)  is the holy spirit given us in our baptism- modern Christian singer Jeremy Camp has a song titled “The same power”  I love it because its refrain is a wonderful reminder of what it means to be a child of God “The same power that rose Jesus from the grave lives in us lives in us”!!

This powerful Spirit that rose Jesus from the grave is the peace of God that can live in our hearts and minds.  This peace is ours if we allow the Holy Spirit- the power that rose Jesus from the grave!- to guard it in our hearts.  Nobody can take that away from you… only you can give it up.  Why would you give it up?!

Fear is real but Faith is also real.  We choose what reality to live in- a reality that is shaped by fear or a reality that is shaped by Faith.  We are people of the cross- the reality of the cross is that originally the cross was a symbol of murder, hatred, violence… something to be feared detested avoided but Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” In other words, bring your fears to me, carry them with faith and I will make your burdens light and your yoke easy for I transform the cross with the power of my love, forgiveness, and power of life over death.  Jesus transforms a fearful symbol, into a symbol of hope over hatred, life over death, and Faith over Fear.  Let the peace of God, who can transform the worst Satan has to send at us into a thing of beauty and hope. Let the peace of God, God who raised Jesus from the dead, reign in your hearts.  Let the peace of God, who promises never to leave or abandon his children, remain indelibly your mind. 

Paul makes this quick aside when he says “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts and minds” He notes “Le the peace of God- which surpasses all understanding.”  Why does he say that because he’s pointing out, you can’t put God in a box! The peace of God could also be thought of as the “power of God.”  When we doubt God’s power because we can’t explain it, predict it, certify it, fit it in our box, we miss out on God’s peace. 

We get this stimulus that kicks in our fear genomes into overdrive and our puny little minds run the numbers and say we’re ruined!  We look at the players stacked against us and project the outcome and say we’re losers.  But God took Gideon with puny numbers and wiped out a vast invading army,  But God took the Jews huddle up against the red sea with the vengeful Egyptian army bearing down on them and made a way for them AND repelled, overturned, and ruined the biggest baddest army of its day.

Let the power of God, the peace of Christ Jesus which passes all understanding- it doesn’t come in a formula.  God’s peace doesn’t come naturally like fear, it comes supernaturally through his son. The peace of God is the peace of Christ, and that peace comes in a relationship with him.  That’s how he rules in your hearts and minds.  When you have a relationship with Jesus, you can find peace.  What’s the old slogan- no jesus no peace, Know Jesus, Know peace. 

When You talk to him daily; you focus on what Jesus says is important not just what your fears point out to you.  You allow him to not only comfort you but direct you.  You prioritize him in your life yes especially on the sabbath but all throughout the week. So many believers in Christ are overwhelmed by their fears because they struggle to be followers of Christ.  Just believing puts you on the rolls of Christianity but its not the same as being a follower of Christ which puts you in a relationship with the risen Lord. 

So many Christians are believing in Christ and being overwhelmed by this world in fear. Why is that?  I think it’s because it so much easier to be believer than it is to be a follower of Christ.  It’s so much easier to be a convenient Christian.  We claim Christ as a trophy to be put on a shelf and displayed rather than claiming Christ as a personal savior to move in with. 

We don’t want to be that close that we’re living with him in our living room, family room, bathroom.  We’re convinced we can make a long-distance relationship work and work well.  Yeah maybe but why make it so much work when Jesus can be right beside us every day?  If you are making your faith a long distance relationship, who moved out? 

The reality is if you moved further from God you actually also moved closer to snuggle with your fears.  But you know what that’s not the way it has to be you can actually allow your fears to move you closer to Jesus.  Great GiIECO commercial  “lets run into the creepy house, no lets go into the swamp- why can’t we get into the running car?  Are you crazy let’s hide behind those chain saws!  Great idea….REALLLY!! 

Fear is real, but it doesn’t have to lead to bad choices.  Fear is real, but Faith is also real and it’s a really good choice. We choose what reality to live in- a reality that is shaped by fear or a reality that is shaped by Faith.  Choose faith so that you may live.  Jesus says in Gospel of John chapter sixteen verse thirty three “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And again in John 10:10 “I have come that you may have life in all its fullness.”

Jesus promises life in all its fullness.  Wonderful promise but let me point out this is Not promise for perfect life, not a promise for an easy life,  no promise for a fear free life.  There are no finely polished splinter free crosses of Christ to carry.  Yet Jesus will take those awkward rough heavy splintery parts of life and make them worthwhile.  Jesus give those fear filled moments and give them value instead of meaninglessness. Take up your cross and follow Christ- allow your fear to drive you to the good choice of Faith which will “enthuse” you to  Over-come your fear.  Choose Faith over Fear and let the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus

How is that possible?  To focus on Christ enough to let our faith overcome our fears?  Paul answers that … 8 Finally, beloved,[a] whatever is true, (for me this means focusing more on the bible than the nightly news) whatever is honorable (for me this means focusing on the heroes of faith than the heroes of sports or politics) , whatever is just, whatever is pure (for me this means staying away from a Hollywood media where anything goes) , whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about[b] these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you

The god of peace be with you all and also with you let us pray:  God I know you gave me the gift of fear as a program for me to notice and respond to the dangers around me.  Too often I allow this gift to become a burden because I don’t go to you for help, I don’t trust you to guide me.  Holy Spirit fill our souls so that our Faith can transform our fears like you transformed the cross and grave. Amen.