May 3 Sermon Dealing with Fear

Dealing with Our Fear by Rev. June Fothergill   May 3,2020

Scripture: Psalm 23

    I found a Doonesbury cartoon the other day that made me laugh.  A couple is talking to their little boy. The father says, “  Alex, honey Mom and I have been talking and we’ve decided it’s time for us to start attending church as a family.”    Alex replies, “ Church? Church is boring!”  “ Well.” His dad replies, “ we thought you might say that. All kids think that….”  Alex, “ Didn’t you think church was boring when you were a kid?”  “ Well, sure  I hated going but church was good for me so my parents made me stick it out.  You may end up hating church, too but you have to come by that feeling honestly. You have to put in the pew time, like Mom and I did. “   “ Oh “ replies Alex,” What if I like it?”    “ Like it?” The father reacts fearfully, “ What do you mean?” his dad exclaims and his Mom adds soothingly, “ We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, honey.”  ( Gary Trudeau)                             

     Ah.  I suspect that most of us have fears about our best laid plans.  In fact these last couple months have been all about changes of plans. Staying at home, social distancing, being careful about the virus has lead to much anxiety even fear in our lives.   Our best laid plans are in disarray.  Even in the best of times, many of have a niggling fear of the future, but when the future is so unclear as it is now- we may experience anxiety and fear.  So  today, as I listened  the ringing words of Psalm 23 and to  the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, I decided to face the issue of fear.   In fact on one of my walks I came up with the memory aid, FACE-for this sermon.

F- is for facing our fears.  I think that we don’t need to be afraid or ashamed of our fear. Fear is a natural human emotion we all experience.  So I encourage you to stop fretting about having fear. Rather face it.  It is simply a part of you.     When we face something, then we can find ways to deal with it. 

  I remember when I was pregnant for the first time.  I had fears about this new experience.  For me, taking some quiet time to face those fears and then imagining the resources and persons I had in my life to deal with them helped me to relax and enjoy that special time.   There are lots of  realities in our lives and our world that bring up feelings of fear.    Facing this emotion , admitting it’s reality can help us to cope with it.

Secondly A is for Accept your fear.  By this I mean take the time to listen to it, to recognize the message it has for you.  This doesn’t mean that you decide to act on all your fears.    Stress management experts say that only 2% of our  “worrying time” is spent on things that might actually be helped by worrying.  The other 98 %   are 40% things that never happen, 30% things that can’t be changed, 15% things that turn out better than expected and 8%  useless, petty worries.   ( Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes, 2/25/2011)   Accepting our fear can help us begin to think about what we are feeling and perhaps gain insight about what fears we can do something about and which ones we cannot.

For example , as  a person of faith, I want to think that I am not afraid of death. But in reality, I certainly am.  I do not want to leave this life just yet. I have questions about what exactly will happen next. I don’t care for the pain and suffering that dying might bring to myself and those I love.  So, to be my authentic self, I need to accept I have this fear.  It is part of what keeps me working for my health and that of others. It is part of what makes me appreciate life and all its gifts.  It helps me to stay away from danger.  But this fear or any fear does not have to overwhelm me and take over my life. 

 Psalm 23 puts it well.  “ The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  God makes to reside in green pastures and leads me beside the still water. The Lord restores my soul.  “   These verses put our fears into context.  They remind us that there is more in our lives that the fear or the things we fear. There is also the green pastures, the still waters, the spirit of God restoring our souls.  

 So my third letter is C for contextualize.  A big word for  seeing our fears with a wider viewpoint.  For example looking around and seeing  the other things in your life besides what is fearsome. Or discovering more information about the thing we fear. For example one of our fears right now is getting or giving to someone else the corona virus.   Obtaining correct information about how the virus spreads and what is protective can help us with our fears. 

Also, as we look around our lives we realize that there are other things happening beside the threat of the virus. There are friends and family to call or facebook or write. For some of us there are yards and gardens to tend or children to care for.  Our lives are more than the things we fear.  When we let fear color everything, we forget this.  The Psalmist reminds us to look also for the green pasture places, to let God lead us to the still waters where God wants to restore our souls.     

One of my prescriptions for dealing with fear is to take a walk.  Even if you live in a retirement home and can’t go out of your room. Take a walk around the room, move a few steps and touch your pictures, your favorite blanket, give thanks for the clothes in your closet and any memories any of these things bring to mind.  IF you are able take a walk down the hall and enjoy thinking about the people you know there and say a little prayer for them.  If you can go outside, take a walk as far as is reasonable for you and notice the trees and flowers, the water , the bugs, the animals. Breathe and give thanks of all these things that are present right now in your life!

 Finally, the last letter of my acronym is E for entrust your life and the life of the world to God.  The second half of Psalm 23 helps us:

Ye, though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou prepares a table before in the presence of my enemies, thou anoints my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

We can entrust our lives to God because as this Psalm illustrates, God provides us resources in the face f our fears.  

One thing I notice is that the Psalmist doesn’t deny the reality of the fearsome thing- death but says to us that there is a remedy.  When we confront death we don’t have to fear evil.    Why? Because God is with us!  We don’t have to fear the things or persons that threaten our well being, because God  will sit us down for a meal together.   We don’t have to fear the unknowns of death because we will dwell in God’s house forever.  Th Psalm says in so many ways=- entrust your life, your fears, even your enemies to me.  Ultimately  I will handle them just fine. And you will be with me! 

  Does this mean we do nothing about the evil  in the world? Of course not,  we are still called to seek to overcome and prevent the suffering and evil we face in our lives.  We just don’t have to do it alone!  Entrusting our lives , including our fear and our efforts to God means to trust  God for the outcomes.  The Psalm invites us  to trust that God wants the good for our lives and our world and is involved in bringing that about with us.  

This is what Jesus life death and resurrection also show us.  Jesus lived a human life with suffering, uncertainty and love.  He though innocent, died a shameful, hurtful death.  Yet, death was not the end for him. He rose to live again in the hearts and minds of his disciples then and ever since.  He entrusted his life and ministry even his death and the future of all that he meant to the world to God’s good work.  He showed us that living an authentic human life is possible even in the face of our deepest fears.

  So I invite us in this time to remember these ideas to deal with our fears:

F- face our fears

A- Accept them and learn what they have to teach us

C- Contextualize our fears, learn about what we fear and look around for what else is in our lives

E.- Entrust our lives and our world to God.

      I close with one other witness to this kind of faith.

The English mystic and Benedictine nun Julian of Norwich ( 1342-1414) had reasons enough for fear. She lived during the Black Plague that killed 75 million people in medieval Europe.  Many people interpreted the plague as divine punishment but not Juliana. In her unapologetically optimistic view of life, she believed that God loved every person and that he would redeem every tear.  In her book of visions called Sixteen Revelations of Divine Lord- Juliana wrote one of the most well know sentences in all of Christian history. 

In her thirteenth vision or “ shewing” Juliana concluded that she was wrong to worry about the sins and sorrow of life. Jesus told her that these trials and tribulations were in fact “behovely” from which we get our word “ behoove”  Even our sins and anxieties are part of our human story.  Despite, ” all the pains that ever  were or ever shall be.” Julian believed that God longs to “ comforteth readily and sweetly.”  God does so by reassuring us that because of the certainty of God’s boundless love, “  All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”  ( Daniell B. Clendenin, “Listening to the Birds, Looking at the Flowers”  2/25/2011)

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