Scripture - Luke 13:31-35, Psalm 27
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh--
my adversaries and foes--
they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me up.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Cultivating Boldness….Letting Go of Fear
I have my fair share of irrational fears. Thunderstorms in the middle of the night. Having a bridge collapse while I’m driving over it...and as a corollary to that, being submerged under water inside a car. When Ben was traveling a lot a few years ago, there’d be that occasional twinge of terror that something catastrophic would happen to his plane. Having blood drawn.
These are all fears where your brain knows that the likelihood of these events happening is miniscule, and yet your heart constricts or your stomach churns anywhere. Or your brain tells you that thousands of people are poked and prodded every day by phlebotomists and you are not physically in any danger whatsoever and your body decides otherwise.
And then there are the fears that reside more deeply within us. I think we’ve all heard the phrase, “Speak Truth to Power!” and for some that’s a rallying cry that gives energy and excitement and purpose. For me - it’s a phrase that terrifies me to the very core of my being. Even more terrifying was the line going around in the wake of George Floyd’s murder about broaching conversations about race and white privilige with friends and family members and that if you weren’t confronting or educating your racist uncle George, you weren’t doing anything meaningful for the cause of equality. For me, fears about conflict and differentiation have a deeper root -- a fear of disconnection...a fear I don’t belong...a fear that I am unworthy.
These are the kinds of fears that strike at the core of who we are, at what we hope or aspire to be, that speak to the struggle of what it means to be human making our way through this world.
The psalmist here speaks of armies, foes assailing flesh, war and trouble - all that causes him to fear and tremble. I think each of us could put in our own litany of fears and anxieties - and we’re going to do just that in a moment. We all live with fears - the question, however, is what exactly we are supposed to do with it.
What the psalmist does with fear is acknowledge it - and seek God. There’s a beautiful moment in verse 4 where instead of running away from the armies, instead of reverting to “fight, flight, or freeze”, instead of badmouthing is enemies and spiraling out of control, there’s a turn toward God. Seeking God’s beauty and presence, looking for God’s provision and protection, staking his life on seeking the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. The psalmist lets fear lead them back to God.
I’ve been listening to a podcast where researcher and author Karla McLaren, who does a lot of emotion work, is being interviewed and if you aren’t familiar with her theories, I suggest you check out her work. Her most recent book is Embracing Anxiety: How to Access the Genius Inside This Vital Emotion and she starts with the idea that there are no positive or negative emotions - that they all function to give us insight and information. They all have a job to do. In her website, fear is “the emotion that tells you when change is occurring, when you need to orient to something in your environment, and when you need to take action to avoid harm or injury.” Anxiety, worry, panic, confusion all fall under this fear category. We feel these things even when we aren’t physically endangered, (thanks evolution) - and yet they do serve to point out things that feel threatening to us. Fear highlights that something is different and that we need to work with what’s going on within us long enough to figure out how we can respond.
So we’re going to do that a bit together - because there’s a lot of change coming - both for our church community as we envision ourselves apart from the United Methodist Church...for ourselves as vaccines come more quickly...and even for all the personal day to day stuff that we carry and the concerns of loved ones.
I’m going to share my screen here - and I’m going to make a list. My first question is -
I’m going to write that down in one column - and let’s try to limit it to one fear per person….and you can unmute yourself and share it or write it down in the chat box.
So the next question is going to take a bit of reflecting. We’ll have a couple minutes to do this, and I’ll put on some music in the background here. The question isn’t how to solve it or change it or “deal with it” - the question is, What’s one way God is inviting you to step into that fear right now?
I think with something like this, when we’re dealing with our fears and our worries and anxieties, one of the most important things that we can do is acknowledge them -- name them -- honor them -- because they tell us something important about what’s going on and how we can care for ourselves in the midst of them. But I also believe it’s important to seek God in the midst of those emotions - and this is where I love our Gospel passage - where Jesus is lamenting over Jerusalem, longing to gather its children together like a mother hen gathering her chicks when there’s trouble and danger around. We imagine and invite Jesus into that space - into our fear - into the worry and concern….and in that sheltered, protected space, we realize that our fears give us the energy...the impetus...to be courageous and bold in our response.
To cultivate boldness, we must be willing to acknowledge and sit with our fear, letting go of its power over us. We invite Jesus to be with us, to help orient us, so that we can respond in love and courage.
My prayer for us as we move into the week ahead is that we take the time to let our fears teach us...and that we seek God’s abiding presence to ground ourselves again and again in our own belovedness...enabling us to live as bold witnesses for love and grace on this island and in the world.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son and 6 month old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.