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Faith in the Face of our Fears

June 23, 2024 - The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 



My friends, I speak to you today in the name of one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


Please be seated.

 

Well, good morning again, Epiphany. It’s good to be with you on this fifth Sunday after Pentecost, our first official Sunday of summer in South Haven... some of you may have also noticed my parents here this morning, Ken and Joni, and my mom just had a birthday on Friday... it’s good to have you both here with us. Welcome to Michigan.

 

I want to talk to all of you this morning about fear. Last week, we touched on the love of Christ, and we stayed mostly peppy and positive, it was my first Sunday after all... but this morning, I think we need to talk about fear. (pause for dramatic effect... bring out the toy of Fear, pictured above.) Ladies and gentlemen, meet Fear. I’ll leave him up here for later if you can’t see him in the back.

 

Earlier this week, while the new carpet was being laid in the office wing and the hallway (looks good, doesn’t it?), Abbey and I took the kids to the Michigan Theater on Center Street to see Inside Out 2, the latest animated movie from Disney/Pixar. We got our four-dollar popcorn buckets and four-dollar matinee tickets, and we settled in with dozens of other families to be entertained in a cool, dark room on a muggy June afternoon... it’s really a great theater experience, and no, this is not a paid advertisement.


For those of you who have seen Inside Out 2 or its predecessor, you might know that these are not exactly your run-of-the-mill kids' movies with heroes and heroines, nor with clear-cut villains ready to be defeated in less than 90 minutes; these movies pull at parental heartstrings and really have some healthy, psychologically-sound messaging.


The original Inside Out came out in 2015 and introduced us to the story of five emotions that live inside the mind of the main character, a young girl named Riley, as she moves across the country with her family to make a new home in a new city. The emotions of Joy, a little yellow pixie, and Sadness, a frumpy blue girl with droopy glasses, well, they get the majority of the lines and the plot points in that movie, and the emotions of Anger, Disgust, and Fear all play their supporting roles. In this summer’s Inside Out 2, a frizzy, orange Anxiety character takes the lead as Riley moves into puberty, and emotions like Envy, Ennui, and Embarrassment join the scene too. High school, we are told, is an extremely emotional and topsy-turvy time. You might remember this. (Please pray for us parents, ha.)

 

However, unlike in the kids’ movies we might have been used to in the 20th century, these conflicting emotions are never seen as villains to be defeated but instead portrayed as necessary parts of who we are, working to find proper balance. Fear, in particular, is shown as a useful and important emotion in both Inside Out movies. Voiced by comedian Bill Hader in the original and represented by this eccentric, skinny, purple guy with big eyes... Fear keeps the main character Riley safe from danger... that’s what Fear does. We first meet Fear when he prevents a toddler version of Riley from tripping over an electrical cord when she is running around the family room.

 

Fear, then, as I think Disney/Pixar rightly points out, can keep us safe, and that’s important, especially when we are children.

 

But there is little we love more in this country than our own safety. Let me repeat that before we get to our lectionary scriptures for today: There is little that we love more than our own safety.

 

Our first story today, from perhaps the longest lectionary passage I’ve ever seen in a bulletin by the way, thanks Rosalie for reading it so well... it comes from 1 Samuel. Last Sunday, we read that young David was anointed king of Israel... this Sunday, he gets to fight a giant, which is just a heck of a week for the guy. At the beginning of this familiar Old Testament story, we hear that the Philistines choose a champion to fight for them, Goliath of Gath, who stands “six cubits and a span.” Some commentaries say this is around 7 feet tall, others as tall as 9 foot 9 inches... so while he might not be as tall as Tolkien’s giants in The Hobbit or the cartoon ones from my childhood Sunday School lessons... Goliath is no small warrior... oh, and he’s wearing a very heavy coat of mail... and he has a massive spear. He then asks for Israel to send forth someone to fight him. He is now a clear and present danger to their safety, to their very lives. We read in 1 Samuel 17:11 that Saul and all Israel were dismayed and greatly afraid. 

 

This David, on the other hand, had something greater than fear driving his actions. David, the young shepherd anointed to be the next king of Israel, has a hell of a lot of faith. “Just a boy,” according to the words of Saul, David comes forward and volunteers to fight a giant, just as he has fought lions or bears when defending his flock. “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” David seems to be tempting fate here, he has already been through quite a bit, but there’s clearly something more going on.


David’s faith gives him the confidence he needs to manage his fear and move out of that place of safety toward what he is being called to do.

 

Saul, meanwhile, is clearly skeptical in this passage, but he’s also incredibly relieved that no one expected him to fight Goliath himself, and he essentially says, "Alright David, go for it. Here’s a ton of my armor because you’re going to need it.” David tries it on and then refuses the armor, taking instead just five stones and a sling. The Philistine laughs and makes fun of him, but then David calls on the name of the Lord, announces what he will do and how God will be glorified, and then runs toward Goliath, his safety no longer a concern, puts a little stone into his sling, whirls it around and around... And as the children’s song says... the giant comes tumbling down.

 

Fear - even rightly reasoned and rational fear - paralyzed Saul and all Israel, holding

them back from facing Goliath. Faith - especially world-baffling, irrational, and yet deeply held faith - helped David to see that he could do what others could not. It's a story of fear and faith.

 

Now there’s another story in the lectionary today that clearly talks about fear and faith, the one I read just a moment ago out of the Gospel of Mark. A much shorter story, but perhaps no less familiar, Jesus and his disciples are on a boat, and “a great windstorm” arose on the Sea of Galilee. Now some of you have perhaps been to the Sea of Galilee, it’s really just a small lake at about 64 square miles, a tiny fraction of the size of Lake Michigan. But even if you haven’t been to the Sea of Galilee, I know that some in this room in a coastal town like South Haven are familiar with what it is like to have a storm come up and surprise you while on a boat... I heard stories from a few of you just this week about being afraid you would never make it back to shore.

 

We might then be inclined to side with the disciples in this Gospel story, as Jesus is sleeping through a storm and the disciples are scared that they might die. They wake Jesus up, and then he “rebukes the wind,” saying “Peace, be still,” and all becomes calm. There’s an interesting biblical resonance here with the story of Jonah, where there’s another storm and Jonah is asleep on another boat... but instead of being able to say, “Peace, be still,” Jonah, who is running from his own faith, has to sacrifice himself to calm the storm. Jesus, who is beginning to prove to the disciples here in the early parts of Mark’s gospel that he is unlike any man, calms the storm on his own, and then immediately looks to the doubting disciples and asks...... what? “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”


?!? Why are they afraid, Jesus?!? There is little that we love more than our own safety!

 

If my message for you this morning was not clear enough in the story of David and Goliath, it should begin to come through here in high-definition clarity: There are two options for us as Christians: we embrace our fear or we embrace our faith. Now, this is not a one or the other dichotomy, where we will 100% live into one and completely ignore the other; life simply does not work that way. But Jesus asks the disciples... in a situation where fear is the completely reasonable and rational response, where their safety is threatened, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

 

Inside Out and Disney/Pixar teach us well that Fear is a normal part of existence from our early childhood on through adulthood, and sometimes it is indeed a helpful response... but our scripture passages today encourage us to embrace our faith in the face of our fears when those fears hold us back from following God, to trust that God will deliver us from insurmountable odds, to trust that Jesus will calm the storm when we choose to follow him.

 

When we embrace our faith in the face of our fear, we can make that difficult, frightening step toward reconciliation with those who have hurt us... When we embrace our faith in the face of our fear, we can move outside of our comfort zones to experience God in new ways, on a pilgrimage to Spain perhaps... When we embrace our faith in the face of our fear, we can leave behind our deeply held love of safety to pursue whatever frightening thing God asks of us... When we embrace our faith in the face of our fear, we open the door for Jesus to use us as he would, to live into the kingdom of heaven today, here on the shores of Lake Michigan. And though we are scared, if we choose faith, we will not regret it.

 

I’ll end my sermon today with another personal example because I know kids' stories are popular here.... my kids spent a lot of time at the neighborhood pool this week, and on Tuesday, our five-year-old, Nora, was afraid of jumping in the deep end with her floaties on. Fear was keeping her safe, as fear does and as fear often should.


But then, Nora put her faith in her floaties – yes, this is a metaphor, people - and she pushed past her fear, jumping in. And she absolutely loved it.


May all of us embrace our faith in the face of our fears and jump freely into whatever frightening goodness God may be calling us to do, today and every day. Amen.

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