Facing Our Fears and Following in Faith

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.  Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.  Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Matthew 24:36-44

We are citizens of the age of terror. Since September 11, 2001, when planes destroyed the World Trade Center and crashed into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania… we have lived-we have lived with a sense of fear. The fear has led us to places like Afghanistan and Iraq and maybe now Iran… The fear has been fed to us through the media-with terror alert status available every day… you can even post it to your website… Get a daily update on how afraid we should be. We go to the airport and because of our fear we have allowed a system to be put in place where we take off our shoes and give ourselves over to searches and tolerate long lines… Since September 11, 2001 we have lived in fear…

Well, that’s not quite true is it? Not for all of us. For you see, I am not only a citizen of a 9-11 world, I am a child of the nuclear age… Since August 6, 1945, when an atomic weapon exploded over Hiroshima… we have lived… not only Americans… but all people who on this earth do dwell have lived in a Nuclear age-afraid. I grew up learning to hide under a desk… I grew up hearing questions like, "What will happen to us if (or when) there is a nuclear war…. Then it was the Soviet union… today we wonder about Iran and North Korea to mention only two.

Fear… it is a powerful force.

I’ve read a book this fall called "Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear"  by Scott Bader-Saye…

He says that he had not yet begun to know fear until he and his wife had their first child. They took to reading all sorts of books hoping to do the right thing… worried about how the wrong decision could be catastrophic for their child… He says, where once it was enough to listen to the wisdom handed down from one mother to the next, it had become important to consult an array of "experts" in order to be a responsible parent. Parenting, he concluded is increasingly an arena of fear and anxiety in part because we don’t know if we are getting it right. He says in the absence of "good parenting" we increasingly find solace in "safe parenting".

We don’t let the nurses take our baby to the hospital nursery because we’ve heard stories of babies getting mixed up or stolen… we baby-proof (what an odd term) our house … ordinary living becomes fraught with reminders of extraordinary dangers.

Even sleeping poses a threat. How many parents have awoken in the night to make sure their baby was still breathing… Even though the SIDS institute describes the syndrome as very rare, yet for many parents this is not enough to keep them from sleepless nights. In the midst of all these parenting fears, the marketplace steps forward to offer solutions for a price. Child safety has become a lucrative industry.

The hard thing of course is knowing what to fear and what not to fear. Real fears versus overblown fears.

Fear is profitable and promoted by marketers and news agencies. Just watch your evening news and hear the fear in the voices of the promotions and teasers. You better watch our newscast or something bad will happen. We are surrounded by fear and those who profit from it.

This may help explain why our fears do not often correspond with our actual level of risk. According to the Center for Disease control, the top three causes of death in the US in 2002 were, in order, heart disease, cancer and stroke. Yet these are not what we are afraid of in our culture, at least not in the same way we are afraid of terrorism, pedophiles, road rage, school shootings, plane wrecks, risky strangers, killer bees, serial killers, new addictions and a host of new medical and psychological conditions.

Scott says "Although we may be experiencing a heightened level of fear and insecurity, the truth is that our world is no more dangerous now than 50 years ago, 100 years ago or 1000 years ago. The types of dangers have changed-no one had to worry about plane crashes 100 years ago-but in general we (in the west) are living longer, healthier lives than ever before.

We certainly have it better than those in Matthew’s gospel. Matthew was likely written a decade after 8-10-70. Don’t’ know what that is? Come on now. It was one of the most fearful, terrifying and confusing moments in Judeo-Christian history. 8-10-70. It looked like the end of the world. That was the day the temple of the Lord God Almighty… the maker of heaven and earth was burned to the ground by Titus and his Roman legions. The Romans had sieged the holy city of Jerusalem and in a Shermon- marching through the south- like campaign destroyed everything in his way. He even destroyed the central symbol of their faith-the temple-God’s house.

Ask the average Christian in Matthew’s congregation if they know what fear is like. Had they been here on 9-11 they could have said, we’ve been there before. We asked the same questions: Why? We wondered "where was God." We even wondered if Jesus Christ is born and is even raised from the dead, how can such bad things happen to God’s holy people?

I sort of feel for Matthew, don’t you? He has to help his flock understand and hang on so they can still follow Jesus in a culture of fear. What Matthew says to them has wisdom for us today. He does not deny the fact that the world is not as God intends it to be… not yet. He knows that the work of Christ is not finished… and he knows that holding on to faith is difficult when fear fills your heart.

Add to that the fact that in midst of these terrible conditions, there were many voices in his culture raising fears by suggesting that "the end is near."

In the gospel Jesus himself seems to sum up much of the current "end time" talk:-"And you will hear wars and rumors of wars… for nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places" (Matt 24: 6a, 7).

Well, what else is new? For 2000 years now people living in difficult days have been looking to fearful signs as an indication that the end was near. Many have seemed to be exploiting those fears for religious purposes.

When I was growing up it was Hal Lindsey writing the Late Great Planet Earth telling us that the coming communism and nuclear threat were signs of the imminent end. More recently best selling books and movies with the "Left Behind" Theme by Tim LaHaye have implied the same. "The end is near." Well, 51 years old and many of the end of the world predictions later-I’m still here!

I hope you noticed Matthew does not remember Jesus feeding their fears by giving his followers a date. In fact Jesus says that no one knows-not him, not the angels… no one but God-when these things will take place. So why do we keep buying the books of those who pretend to know? Why do those who pretend to know often use their predictions to breed more fear than faith into the hearts of God’s people. For the way Jesus responds is meant to comfort and calm the church… to give Christians a reason not to cave in, to panic or fall apart. The emphasis is on comfort and confidence, not crisis and catastrophe… it is on faith… not fear… it is meant to help us live with hopeful expectation…

In fact Jesus seems to be warning us about those people who try to claim special knowledge or control of the future so they can tell us that if we don’t believe them we should be afraid. Don’t listen to them… listen to him!

Jesus would have us to believe in him to banish our fears. Jesus would have us keep watching and looking and waiting because one day- not necessarily a day when there are wars and terrorism – but a day as ordinary as the days before the flood when people were eating and drinking and marrying… or an ordinary day when people are going about their business… working in the field.. grinding the meal… going off to the office or to the classroom…driving on the beltline or going grocery shopping in the morning– that may be the day when our Lord returns…

"Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know when your Lord is coming…"

And that will not be a day to fear but to hope for. Pray and hope for that day. That promised coming is not meant to be a threat but good news to those who have been waiting in fear. It is meant to be a word to encourage faith… as we hope, wait and watch for his coming again. It’s meant to offer the faith that casts out our fears.

Years ago, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that life in the world creates fear, cynicism and despair; the gospel comes into the world as good news that tames our cynicism and reverses our despair. Niebuhr helped me hear Jesus’ promise to come again not as a threat but as promise. In the days of Noah, the world was wicked, but God came-God came to Noah-and the rainbow in the sky is the sign of God’s promise to come again-not to destroy but to redeem. Niebuhr helped me see the tragedies of life, feel the tragedies of life-they are real, and Neibuhr helped me hold fast to the promises of God-they are more real-and they are eternal. Most of the stuff we fear is temporary. [1]

As we begin this Advent season we begin with the promise that God will come… and the coming of God will make the wrongs of life right. As we wait for that day, I don’t believe Jesus would have us wait in fear… but in faith… I think Matthew would have us remember the first time Jesus came… to bring hope, life and faith to fearful people… and that we would let that memory fill us and direct the way we live our lives today until he comes again.

Do you remember the Broadway show Annie? Annie sings of such hope. Even in the darkest and most difficult situations, when she seems most vulnerable and helpless, Annie insists that the sun will come out tomorrow.
The sun will come out tomorrow, so you’ve got to hang on ’til tomorrow—come what may! Tomorrow… tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow; you’re only a day away.

"Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…"

[1] Insights and reminders on Niebuhr come from Art Ross, White Memorial PC in Raleigh.


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