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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Living In The Tension Between God And Fearmongers - 03/15/2017

Some say the Bible tells us “do not be afraid,” or “do not fear” 365 times – enough times for a different verse to guide us through each day of the year.

I don't know if that's true or not and I'm certainly not going to spend my time verifying this claim. But it doesn't really matter whether this is an accurate statement or not. We can tell by everything from Google searches to our own studies of our Holy Scriptures that this is mentioned a lot and because of that, we should take the cue and pay close attention.

That it is mentioned so much tells us fear is one of those issues that has a tendency to trip us up – we human creatures of big brains and sometimes bigger imaginations.

Do not fear, do not be afraid.

And we can see why. This world we live in sure seems to do its best to put a scare in us, doesn't it? Just a look at today's Associated Press headlines illustrate that pretty well. “Suicide bomber strikes Damascus justice building, killing 25.” “GOP health overhaul puts pressure on state governments” “North Korea threat looms over US envoy Tillerson's Asia trip.” “Growing algae bloom in Arabian Sea tied to climate change.”

And that's just on the national and international level. Our reading from Mark this evening reminds us there is often turmoil at the very personal level that can also strike fear in our hearts. We can certainly relate to that sinking feeling of fear the synagogue leader Jairus must be experiencing as his sick daughter waits for healing and the healer is delayed.

And yet, we are implored, repeatedly, abundantly, do not be afraid, do not fear by God, by Jesus, and by the witness of others.

So I think it's pretty easy to understand why this is something we need to hear, our ancestors needed to hear, and our children and grandchildren will need to hear, over and over again.

Psalm 32, offers us insight in the face of this tension we live in – tension between a world that can produce these headlines and a God who asks us to respond to them in ways not led by fear. So let's walk through this Psalm and see how it dares us to live fearlessly in a world that is constantly trying to convince us otherwise.

Psalm 32 is sometimes called a psalm of repentance, but really it seems to be more of a psalm of thanksgiving and wisdom because, while it is about confessing sin, it's more about how radically forgiving our God is of our missteps and misdeeds.

The psalm gets right to the point … “Happy are those ...” who are freed from their sin, who live as honestly and transparently as possible. The word “happy” is the Hebrew word “asher,” which does mean happy as we would understand it today or communicate in a smiley face emoji to someone. But it is much more than that too – it has a richness about it. More than just an emotion, it is a way of life as a child of God.

We understand this Way, this path, to be based in our love of The One True God and our love of neighbor. And it is with that fear-less perspective that we strive to understand our world, understand the headlines in the news, the rift in the family, the illness in someone we love, the lost job, or whatever might be scary to us.

Like the psalmist, we may sometimes try to deal with the weight of sin on our own, only to find that approach does not provide the relief we are seeking.  “While I kept silence,” the psalmist says, while he tried to address and find relief from his own sin and suffering, it took a toll on his body and drained him of his strength.

But God is pressing in on him, trying to awaken him to better way. It reminded me of my favorite poem by Ranier Maria Rilke. “Everything is close,” “everything is closing in on me” and “has turned to stone” Rilke wrote. “If it's you,” he says to God, “press down hard on me, break in that I may know the weight of your hand and you, the fullness of my cry.” (Rilke's Book of Hours, pg 191)

And then a miracle happens in Psalm 32 – if anyone every doubts that God is still working miracles in this creation – here, I think, is evidence that it is not so. In a miraculous exchange, the psalmist finally confesses his sin to God and just like that … relief. God's forgiveness is immediate, perfect, abundant. If that's not a miracle, I don't know what is – it's nothing we can do four ourselves or others no matter how hard we try and how long we go at it.

It's from the point of this “Divine forgiveness resembling a miracle,” (Walter Bruegemann) that we move into the rest of the psalm.

The faithful – those who chose to a pursue happy life in the way of God,  – also find this sureness in times of trouble and chaos. They offer their prayers and surrender their worries and burdens to God so that even in the chaos and danger of mighty and powerful waters, they are safe in God, who is our only perfectly reliable hiding place – the One who promises to preserve us in trouble and deliver us no matter how well we keep up our end of the deal – no matter how often we turn to our own big brains and imaginations over God's.

Do not fear. Do not be afraid.

The witness of this psalmist speaks powerfully and relevantly into this Divine urging we hear so often. In the face of both sin and chaos that can drag us down, we find hope and security and forgiveness that frees us to live fearlessly – it frees us to look at this world of scary and disturbing headlines, of difficulty and heart break and say – this may challenge me or change me, but with God, I do not need to let it fill my heart with fear and rule me.

And there's a little more our psalmist has to say about what it means to live in this way: Walking in God's rich happiness also means we are called to share it with others. In our words and by our examples we also “instruct” others and “teach” others the way to go … we demonstrate that while the world may want to control us with bit and bridle, that is not God's desire for us.

We must not underestimate the power of that witness. In the face of news every day about war, climate change and self-aggrandizing politicians – do not doubt the powerful witness we happy children of God show the world when, despite all that, we chose to love our neighbor and care for this planet anyway and fearlessly.

In the face of difficulty and challenges in our own lives, do not underestimate the fearlessness we show others when we trust that God goes with us in those tough places – goes with us, guides us and delivers us – every time … even in death.

God created us to be fearless, promises to stick with us, and forgives us endlessly, a truth that rang loud and clear in the gift of Jesus, who promises still to walk with us on the path of God's people. So “be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, shout for joy, all you upright in heart” and do it fearlessly.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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