Faith, Not Fear

Genesis 15:1-12,17-18 & Psalm 27                                2nd Sunday of Lent

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                          21 February 2016

 

In our world today, there seem to be many reasons to be afraid.   We have seen what ISIS can do.   We have seen until we are scared to look anymore at the disaster in Syria.   We see rising national and international debt, and banks and other institutions too big to fail.    We see a shrinking middle class, and a rising despair among teens and young adults.   We see mysterious new viruses, like Zika, sweep in, wrecking the brains of newborns.   Great cultural and lifestyle shifts build fear in many of us.   Random acts of public violence shake us to our core.   Piercing awareness of the inequities of race and gender and vicious cycles of poverty, addiction, and incarceration disturb us deeply.  We do not have much hope for real change in our government, and many in our country are drawn to radical Presidential candidates whom nobody would have considered electable.  Their promises and perspectives make many of us very nervous.  

 

Into this world filled with fear comes the message of the Holy Scriptures again and again “Do not fear.”  Why is it that so many outspoken Christians are the very ones stoking the fear?   As I said to the kids, the reminder “do not fear” occurs in the Bible 365 times, once for every day of the year.   Well, this year is going to be tough, because we’ll have one day not covered.   That message came to the shepherds by angels.   That message came from the Risen Christ when he appeared to his disciples.   That message came from God in the covenant relationship with Abraham and Sarah which we will read.   And the same message from the Psalmist, we will read and sing.    Would you agree with me that fear, not doubt, is the opposite of faith.   Faith is putting our trust in God, even with some doubt.   Choosing to believe, even against all odds, that God will provide what we need, that God will strengthen and hold us in our trials.  

 

First today, we read the story of Abraham and Sarah.   At this point in the story, they still have their original names – Abram and Sarai.   They have left their country to go to an unknown place.    God has promised to bless them and make of them a blessing to all peoples.   But Abram starts to question how.   The promise does not appear very promising – just by looking at Abram’s current status – no land, no children.   But God keeps inviting him to have no fear, to trust that the promise will be fulfilled.  God will provide.

 

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

7 Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. …17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,  (NRS)

 

NRSPsalm 27:1 <Of David.> 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? 2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh-- my adversaries and foes-- they shall stumble and fall. 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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. 7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! 8 "Come," my heart says, "seek his face!" Your face, LORD, do I seek. 9 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! 10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up. 11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. 12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence. 13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! (Psa 27:1 NRS)

“Wait for the Lord whose day is near.   Wait for the Lord.   Be strong take heart.”

The word provide has its roots in the Latin pro-videre.   Ahead vision.   Seeing what’s ahead.   

So it’s certainly not a prosperity Gospel – God will give you what you want if you just pray with the right spirit.  

And it’s not fatalistic predestination.   God has already decided everything and causes everything.   It’s no wonder that Christianity gets a bad reputation in today’s world, when people are promoting a prosperity Gospel and a fatalistic predestination.   No, it’s that God can see better than we can what’s ahead.  

In the beginning, it was God who created the light, separating it from the darkness.    Christ was in the beginning with God, the true light, which enlightens everyone.   “The Lord is my light, my light and salvation.”   Those words were composed long before Jesus walked this earth, but we believe that light to be the Light and the life which was in the beginning with God, and became even more manifest in the life which was the light of all people.   Christ was and is the light shining in the darkness, which cannot be overcome.  (John 1)

So when our life’s journey is similar to Abraham and Sarah, and we have promises from God, but find ourselves staring fear in the face, and we are wondering how God is working things out according to the promise, then we must listen to the Psalmist who says, “Wait for the Lord.”    But who wants to wait?   Nobody.   We want it now, even though we know the best things come to those who wait.  

While I was reading over this sermon last night, I got an email from Ed Whitehead.   You know Ed’s brother died suddenly and now Marnie brother has stage 4 cancer.   But Ed sent a good story about a woman who was dying who told her minister to be sure she was buried with a fork in her right hand.   She said, “Whenever you are having a great meal, and someone says, “Keep your fork”  you know there’s a wonderful dessert coming next.   We only see in a mirror dimly, as we read last week in 1 Corinthians 13, but we know to keep our fork, for the best part of the feast is yet to come.

Good things are worth the wait.   But when we are impatient, unwilling to wait, we let anxiety and fear creep in.   We often force a decision that is less than what it could be.   Wait for the Lord.   Be strong and let your heart take courage.   There is no more difficult task than waiting.   “Waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever [that unanswered question] intrudes upon one's thoughts.”  (Elisabeth Elliot)   Our purple seasons of Advent and Lent are waiting times, when we are called to suffer-with Christ andothers and wait for the glory of the next season.

 

To bear the uncertainty of a sick child or family member suffering addiction, to live with job insecurity or a pro-longed search, to wait for medical test results that will shape your future, to care for a dying family member not knowing how long, to wonder if justice will be done for people long silenced, this requires much waiting and seeking God’s face continually.  

The psalmist coaches himself in seeking God’s face, and then pleads with God not to hide, nor to turn away, but to respond.   I love verse 19 which says, “Even if my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.”  If you think about it, most people are abandoned or forsaken by their parents because they usually precede us in death.  55 year-old Alicia died yesterday of colon cancer.   Her daughter Maria is one of our Emily’s best friends.   It’s hard to lose a parent when you are in the early stages of adulthood.   I pray she experiences the loving nurture of God in a profoundly new way as she walks through this loss.   Maria cannot see ahead now, but God can.   God is pro-viding for her, looking ahead for it, to reassure her that all will be well, despite the present darkness and pain.

The opposite of faith is fear.   And the temptation with fear is to gravitate toward cynicism or certainty, rather than faith.   Cynicism disappoint, but so does striving for certainty.  For how do we handle this world’s crushing blows and brutal losses, and discouraging injustices, without reaching toward God.   By God’s grace we can hold faith and doubt in tension, without fear.  Then we do not need to rush to certitudes.   We can live with uncertainty.   We can wait.   We can abide the tension of not knowing but trusting God in the doubting moment.   We can let the light of God’s truth hold us, rather than proudly thinking that we have the ability to hold God’s truth ourselves.   We don’t have the ability to see ahead, but we trust in a God who sees ahead for us, pro-video, pro-viding all we need.   If we lived in a world of certainties, rather than mysteries, then we would not need faith, for it is precisely faith that can live into the mystery without certainty.   Faith is a willful decision to keeping trusting in God to provide when experience tells us to doubt, to wonder, to fear.

You hear the tension of faith and fear in the psalmist voice.  I am confident.   I’m scared.   I trust God.   God, don’t let me down.  I’m seeking you.   You will not abandon me.  I’m strong.   I’m struggling to hang on.   I believe.   I doubt.   Teach me.   Don’t give me up to adversaries.   Like the psalmist, like Abraham and Sarah, we have the temptation to give in to fear.   Sarah gave in to fear and sent Hagar her maid into Abraham’s tent, because she could not wait for God’s provision.   Trust and let your heart take courage.   Wait for the Lord.  Do not fear.   God is your pro-vision.