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Posts Tagged ‘fear’

God of time and of eternity,
we thank you for the signs in the most unlikely places
that you are in our midst,
bringing in your reign of love and healing and peace.

In Jesus, you invite us into the blessings of your reign
but there are times when we are afraid to say yes to the gifts you offer.
There are times when we are afraid your guiding hand
will lead us where we do not want to go.
There are times when we cannot see your new creation clearly enough
to dispel our fears.
There are times when we fear that letting go of what we know
will mean only loss.

Lord, have mercy.
Overcome our fears with your powerful grace.
Hold us fast in your faithfulness.
Ground us deep in your love.
Heal our blindness.

Then, do not leave us as we are.
Remake us.
Renew us in the image of your Son
so that we face all our days
with holy freedom and daring courage;
so the we live to your glory and honour and praise.

 

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A prayer based on Luke 24: 44 -53

We try to live our lives in faith, O God,
but then giants invade the places
we thought we held secure and safe.
We name them terrorists who threaten our world
and bullies on the schoolyard or at work
and diagnoses from the doctor that change everything
and job loss and divorce and addictions.

We try not to be afraid,
but we are.

Good Shepherd,
rescue your lambs:
our weapons
our carefully constructed armour
have failed us.
You are our only hope.

Send your covenant love
into the midst of our apathy and despair.
Speak your liberating Word
against the words that have shut us down.
Show us your cross and resurrection
and the power you have for life
where no life seems possible.

Train us for faith —
deep, transforming faith
in you, the Living God,
for Jesus’ sake,
and through your Holy Spirit,
the Three-in-One,
the One-in-Three,
who cares for this world
and for us
with love that is powerful
beyond our imagining.

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A sermon on Mark 1: 21-28, Epiphany 4B

Jesus, it seems, is always on the move. By the time Mark gets to the 21st verse of the first chapter of his gospel, Jesus has travelled from Nazareth in Galilee, south to the Jordan River to be baptized, out into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan for forty days and forty night, and then back up to Galilee where he began calling his disciples.

When he called Peter and Andrew, James and John to join in his adventure, he did not ask them what they believed. He did not say, “Can you explain to me the doctrine of the Trinity?” He did not say, “Do you believe in the virgin birth?” He did not even ask them their position on important political issues: “Should health care be reformed? What is the best way to deal with criminals?” He just said, “The reign of God is at hand. God is up to something new. If you want to get in on it, follow me.” Then, off he went again, leaving the disciples to decide whether or not they would keep up.

Following Jesus, it seems is largely about being willing to be on the move with him. Are you willing to head off on a great adventure with him called ‘the reign of God’?

In today’s scripture, Jesus has already left Lake Galilee and has entered Capernaum. Mark says, “When the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue — the gathering of God’s people — and he taught.” It sound like a pretty ordinary thing to do. Jesus was a Jew and, on the Sabbath, the Jews gathered in the local synagogue. An adult from among them would read and teach from the Torah — the story of God’s actions among God’s people. So, when the Sabbath came, Jesus went to the synagogue. It sounds like an ordinary worship service on an ordinary holy day.

Except, that is not how the Greek actually reads. The Greek says, “When Jesus entered the synagogue, immediately the Sabbath came.” Jesus did not wake up on a Saturday morning and say, “It’s Saturday. I guess I’ll go to worship.” No. Jesus went to Capernaum, entered the synagogue and “immediately the Sabbath came.” Jesus is travelling on a great adventure and he brings the Sabbath with him.

The Sabbath is the seventh day of creation. For six days, says our story, God created the heavens and the earth. For six days, every time God speaks, new life springs forth. God speaks and something new happens. First, light separates from chaotic darkness. Then, dry land and the seas are put in their places. Trees, vegetation, animals, birds, sea creatures — all begin to join their voices to the song of creation. Then, God creates human beings, male and female in God’s image. Creation is a story of life, more life, life in profuse abundance. Part of being human is that we get to join the chorus of praise.

There are six days of prodigal creativity. Then, on the seventh day, there is a day of rest for all creation. Somebody has called the Sabbath “God’s greatest act of creation”. On the Sabbath, we get to stop working. We get to cease our striving for more and more. We get to rest from trying to put our world in order. Sabbath is a day of celebrating and enjoying God’s good creation.

Sabbath also became a day of anticipating that time when God will set everything right. One day, everything that has gone wrong with us will be put right: wounds will be healed; nations will live in peace; all the divisions among us — the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak the haves and the have-nots — will be done away with. All creation will be filled with rejoicing again.

When Jesus went to Capernaum, he entered the synagogue and “immediately the Sabbath came.”  It is an amazing claim. When Jesus shows up in our worship, he brings God’s life and joy and abundant creativity with him. Mark says that the people were amazed and astounded.

He had an authority about him that they had not experienced from their own religious leaders. He had energy that commanded their attention. This was not at all what they had come to expect in worship. Someone has said that, sometimes, our worship services are so dull and boring and banal, that people of the church merely endure them in order to get to the refreshments time afterwards. People come to encounter the living God. Too often they find that they have to settle for catching with with news about their friends’ latest cruise or golf game.

Jesus shows up, though, and worship becomes a place where something really significant happens, where life happens. It sounds like good news. Except, says Mark, immediately, a man who was deeply disturbed interrupts Jesus and yells out, “What business do you have with us Jesus? Nazarene! I know what you’re up to! You are the Holy One of God and you have come to destroy us.” (Mark 1: 23 -34, The Message)

In this place of God’s creativity and life-giving power, suddenly, there is great anxiety and fear. That is a pretty good description of what happens in us on a regular basis when we try to follow Jesus. Jesus invites us into the new creation God is making in our time and our place. He invites us into God’s transforming work in the world. At some point, we realize that God intends to transform the world by transforming us — by changing you and me. He intends to make a new creation by making you and me into a new creation in Christ.

That makes being a disciple of Jesus both very exciting and very frightening. Each of us has some areas of our lives that we hold onto tightly because they make us feel safe. They help us feel like we are in control. Maybe it is our possession, or our status at work or in the community. Maybe it is some pattern of behaviour that helps us cover over a deep wound in our souls. Maybe it is the lies we tell ourselves so we do not have to face a difficult truth. Whatever it is, it makes us feel safe and in control. Whatever it is, it also functions like a wall that keeps out new life and creativity and freedom. Inside, we are slowly dying.

Jesus shows up, brimming over with life and creativity, and we are afraid. We are afraid that, if we let go of the lies and the coping mechanisms, we shall be destroyed. We will be left with nothing. So, we resist. We push back against the newness that Jesus promises. The fears that we know seem safer than the new life Jesus brings.

Jesus commands our fears and anxieties, “Quiet! Get out of him! Get out of her!” Jesus speaks with authority. He speaks with the authority of someone who knows that nothing we fear in all creation can ever separate us from the powerful, death-defeating, life-giving love of God (Romans 8: 38 -39). That love has gone to hell and back for us. That love intends to lead us into joy and delight and great beauty. That love intends for us life, more life, life in all its fullness.

“Quiet!” he says to our fears and anxieties. “Get out of her. Get out of him.” It is a great gift to have someone with authority say to our fears, “Get out!” It is a great gift to tell them to quit possessing us, to stop holding us in their grip. This is good news because those words come from Jesus who brings God’s Sabbath with him: life, life and more life.

I invite you to take a few moments to become aware of your fears. Hear Jesus say to them, “Quiet! Get out!” Hand them over to God and let God carry them. Do it for a few moments here; then do it again and again throughout the week. Hand them over because that is the way you get to walk in the freedom and the joy of Christ’s great love for you. Thanks be to God.

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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett at Central United Church, Sarnia, Ontario on August 11, 2013.

Scriptures: Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16 , Luke 12: 32 -40

The letter to the Hebrews is written to a church community that is in trouble. To be fair, most of the New Testament is made up of letters to churches that are in trouble; churches that are barely holding on.

There are no perfect churches. There are no churches that ‘have it all together’, where there are no problems. There are only groups of ordinary people who have been gathered together by the Holy Spirit. They find themselves on a journey with Jesus and most of the time they are not sure where they are going. Much of the time they are pretty sure that this journey is going to take a lot of faith — more faith than they can muster on their own.

“Faith,” says the letter to the Hebrews, ‘Is the assurance of things hoped for; faith is the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) In case that’s too vague, it goes on to say that faith is Noah building a boat to save his family from a flood even though there isn’t a cloud in the sky and all he has to go on is a word from God telling him he needed to do so.

Faith is Abraham at 70 years of age hearing God tell him to pack up his belongings and head out on a journey even though he didn’t know where he was going.

Faith, says Jesus, is being dressed, ready for God to show up at any time, surprising you with what he wants you to do. Faith is being open to receive God’s creativity into your life even when it comes in unexpected ways (Luke 12: 35 – 36).

People often talk about faith as if it were something they were trying to wrap their mind around: “I gave up faith when I studied science at university. Now I can’t believe in the virgin birth or the resurrection from the dead on Jesus walking on water.”  They think people who still have faith are like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland. “One can’t believe impossible things,” said Alice. The Queen replies, “I dare say you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes, I believed as many as 6 impossible things before breakfast.” (Through the Looking Glass, chapter 5, Lewis Carroll)

Some people pit faith against doubt and thing that they have to wrestle their doubts to the ground before they can have faith. That’s not what the Bible does. In the Bible, the opposite of faith isn’t doubt. The opposite of faith is fear. The opposite of faith is being afraid of what life might bring you; being afraid of what God might ask of you.

The really critical question of your life is not, “Can you believe?” The really critical question is, “Will you trust? Will you trust God with your life?”

Have you noticed how often the Bible says, “Don’t be afraid?”

“Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people,” say the angels to the shepherds as they announce Jesus’ birth (Luke 2: 10 ).

“Don’t be afraid”, says Jesus, ‘It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  (Luke 12:32)
“Don’t be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows.  (Luke 12:7)

“Don’t be afraid,” say the angel to the women at the empty tomb. “the one whom the world crucified has been raised by the power of God.” (Matthew 28:5)
“Don’t be afraid,” says the risen Christ to the his disciples before he sends them out to be in witnesses in the world.

“Don’t be afraid”.

God promises joy and peace and steadfast love and faithfulness.
God promises to lead you home and to a place of rest and to a city where love rules and life flows to all people and you shall see God face to face.
God promises that nothing in all creation will be able to separate you from his love.
God promises that God will never leave you or forsake you.

However, the truth is that, for much of the journey, we travel by faith and not by sight. We hold only promises that are about things that are not clearly evident. Partly that is because we are dealing with great mysteries — large realities that cannot be seen and touched and measured. Partly it is because God’s ways are not our ways and some of God’s ways confront us with difficult and painful truths. They disrupt the plans we had for our lives.

Jesus said, “God can be like a thief in the night. (Luke 12: 39 -40) It is not a particularly flattering picture of God, but that is what faith can feel like sometimes. In order to follow Jesus, you have to leave somethings behind. Sometimes, what you have to leave behind is the safety of the careful plans you had made for yourself.

Some people find faith hard because, at some level, they know it is risky. They have been wounded in the past, or they are afraid of being wounded. They decide it is safer not to trust anyone, not even God, especially a God they cannot control; especially a God who often works in hidden ways; especially a God who might take you on a journey and you will have no idea where you are going. They choose not to venture any further into faith.

You can do it: you can life you life operating more out of fear than out of faith. But know this: fear will make your life small. Fear can take over and paralyze you. It will keep you from opening your heart to others. it will keep you from opening your life to God’s grace. Invite it into you heart and it will threaten your soul and control what you do. Fear steals the kingdom from you — the reign of blessing and love that God wants to give to you.

Somebody said, “Faith does not mean that you have no fear. Faith gives you the courage to walk through the fear.” (Joanna Adams,   “Faith and Fear”, Journal for Preachers 19 no 4 Pentecost 1996, p. 25-29)

Faith is trusting God to walk with you through your fear and to get you home.

There was an evening when Jesus gathered his disciples together in the upper room of a friend’s house. He knew that they were about to head into an unknown future full of danger and fear. He said to them, “Don’t be afraid. In my Father’s house there are many rooms and I am going to prepare a place for you. You know the way to where I am going. “ One of his disciples said, “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”   Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”  (John 14: 1-6)

Stanley Jones was, for many years, a missionary in Africa. He loved to tell the story of the time he got lost in the jungle. He wandered around for a while and did not see any familiar landmarks. At last he came upon a small settlement of huts. He asked if someone could show him the way home. “Follow me,” one of the villagers said and set off. As he hacked their way through the jungle, Jones became worried. They didn’t seem to be on any path. “Are you sure this is the way?” he asked. “Where is the path?”  The man turned around and said, “Bwana, in this place there is no path. I am the path.”  (“Proclaiming the Gospel on Mars Hill,” Michael Rogness, Word and World, June 1, 2007, p. 275)

There are no perfect churches. There are only communities of people who have been gathered together by the Holy Spirit who find themselves on a journey with Jesus toward God’s reign of love. Most of the time, you are not sure where you are going. Much of the time you are pretty sure the journey is going to take a lot more faith than you have on your own.

“Don’t be afraid,” says Jesus. “I am the Way. I am the Truth. I am the Life. I will lead you home.”

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Set in the company of saints

A prayer for All Saints’ Day 

You are our God and we are Your people,

and we are grateful that

You have claimed us as your own.

You have set us in the company of saints

past and present,

among those who have made bold witness

to Your goodness and Your truth.

Your Word opens up new futures

where we see no way forward.

You know the places in our hearts

where we are afraid

— afraid of a future we cannot control;

— afraid of losing health and independence

— afraid for the well-being of our children

— afraid that past mistakes will ruin our future

Write the stories of your people deep into our hearts

so that we may learn to trust you beyond our fears.

Give us hearts and minds and spirits

ready to trust and follow wherever your Spirit leads,

confident that you will not lead us

beyond your loving embrace.

We ask in Jesus’ name whose outstretched arms welcome us and hold us securely in your grace.

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