Responsive Call to Worship
Even if we look back with, predominantly, gratitude,
and ahead with, predominantly, hope,
we may still very well live lives full of fears—
some acknowledged, some not.
Oh, not so much the monsters under the bed,
nor the fear of God or of death
(which may well be one and the same),
but we are afraid of dying—
of getting old (and of not getting old).
We’re afraid of not remembering,
while some of us are afraid of, precisely, remembering.
We’re afraid of the sharp pain in the knee—
in the heel—the abdomen—that shoulder pain—that headache.
Will it go away? Does it mean anything?
We’re afraid of the harsh word,
the rejection, the betrayal, the loss, the grief.
We’re afraid of what’s next that’s not known and familiar—
be it the next grade, the next teacher, the next school,
the next job, retirement, the next real conversation,
the next relationship, the next opportunity.
We’re afraid of the other opinion,
the other experience, the other background.
We’re afraid of the stranger—the alien—the one who’s different.
We’re afraid of not being known well enough and of being too well known—
of intimacy and the lack thereof.
We’re afraid of solitude and silence.
We’re afraid of not having enough.
Oh are we afraid of not having enough!
We’re afraid of standing out and of not standing out.
We’re afraid of what violence might take from us
and of what non-violence might require of us.
We’re as afraid of what God expects of us
as of what the world would be like (is like?)
with too many not living up to God’s expectations.
We’re afraid of too much being asked of us
and of not enough being asked of us—
afraid of what we have and have not done, have and have not said—
of what we will and won’t do—will and won’t say.
Fear upon fear following fear upon fear.
Yet it does not overwhelm us.
Because we are loved.
Within the community of faith and by our God,
we are not overwhelmed,
we are loved.
Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
Only be strong and very courageous,
being careful to act in accordance with all the law
that my servant Moses commanded you;
do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left,
so that you may be successful wherever you go.
This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth;
you shall meditate on it day and night,
so that you may be careful to act in accordance
with all that is written in it. For then
you shall make your way prosperous,
and then you shall be successful.
I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous;
do not be frightened or dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’
Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people,
‘Pass through the camp, and command the people:
“Prepare your provisions; for in three days
you are to cross over the Jordan,
to go in to take possession of the land
that the Lord your God gives you to possess.” ’
To the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh
Joshua said, ‘Remember the word that Moses
the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying,
“The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest,
and will give you this land.” Your wives, your little ones,
and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you
beyond the Jordan. But all the warriors among you
shall cross over armed before your kindred and shall help them,
until the Lord gives rest to your kindred as well as to you,
and they too take possession of the land
that the Lord your God is giving them.
Then you shall return to your own land and take possession of it,
the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you
beyond the Jordan to the east.’
They answered Joshua: ‘All that you have commanded us we will do,
and wherever you send us we will go.
Witness of the Living Word, ii.
Last week, we remembered how All Hallow’s Eve
was originally prelude to All Saints,
and how that progression—
from images of the undead and fears of those dead but somehow not gone—
how that progression directly confronted pagan stories, festivals, and fears—
constituting initially an acknowledgement of those fears—
but then, the affirmation of what it means to live with fear—
in spite of fear and through fear, within the story of God.
It was about so much more than costumes and candy
All Hallow’s Even into All Saints was originally
an opportunity to laugh at fears
in order to overcome them.
We’ve turned Halloween into something to amuse us—entertain us—
stock up for our sweet tooth—
and completely lost what was intended to heal us—
make us whole—healthier.
Today’s almost exclusive focus on Halloween
at the almost complete expense of All Saints
has, in truth, and ironically
(given the gory aspects of Halloween decorations and costumes),
even undermined the acknowledgment of so many real fears.
And so we’re still in such need of such healing.
We just don’t admit it—
because my impression is that now, by in large,
we can’t admit to fear.
That doesn’t fit our culture—our cultural stories.
And so our fears remain to great extent unacknowledged—
not placed into a larger context—
not contextualized within that story of God.
Of course they don’t go away (our fears),
and so they pop up,
in ways that are not healthy or helpful.
I’d suggest fear is behind much of our material focus—
much of our consumer mentality—
stuff as buffer between us and what is not stuff—
that’s so much more important than stuff—
so much richer and so much scarier.
A lot of the violence of our culture is actually an expression—
a manifestation of fear.
Whether that’s a fear of no viable future,
or a fear of no voice in the larger conversations.
Furthermore I would suggest that if we justify guns
in order to protect our homes and families and our way of life,
we’re ironically waving weapons at a fear
that has already vanquished us.
We began listing fears in our call to worship,
and you’re invited, throughout our worship,
to think through specific fears—
maybe some we have named already, maybe some we haven’t—don’t,
but ones that are real to you.
The things that wake you up in the wee hours of the morning
and don’t let you go back to sleep—
the things that feed your anger—
add to your stress—
increase your uncertainties.
You’re invited to take the opportunity for naming explicitly
what too often goes unnamed.
We so very intentionally entered our worship this morning naming our fears,
and we continue because we believe worship can ground those fears—
give us perspective on them.
So now let me name some more—
some of my fears that some of you may or may not share:
I am afraid of what the objectification of women in our culture
will mean for our children—and not just our daughters.
I’m afraid of our children growing up caring more about stuff than people—
wanting things more than justice and peace—
caring about themselves at the expense of others.
I’m afraid of the model I am for them—we are for them—
afraid we, as people of faith, don’t counter our culture explicitly enough.
I am afraid of what the violence of our culture means for our children—
afraid we won’t get that balance right of teaching them
to be appropriately careful without living lives of fear.
I am afraid of how often our focus on short term gain
overrides a sense of long term consequences—
afraid of how profit overrides care.
Did you know genetically modified food is considered
no different from regular food by the Food and Drug Administration,
but different enough by the US Patent Office to be registered and “protected”—
that some of the large food companies are out to change the definition of “organic”
so they can profit from our desire for organic
without actually having to be organic as we understand it?
And it’s not just them focused on the profits.
I’m afraid of money.
I’m afraid of how much money I want—
afraid of how much I want money.
And afraid we don’t model a better alternative to our culture.
I’m afraid of the partisan divisiveness of our culture—
afraid of the dearth and death of real conversation—
real conversation risked—
afraid of ideology ignoring—distorting—denying facts.
I’m scared of where my mind goes if the girls head down the street
and don’t come back when I expect them.
I’m afraid of the dearth and death of sacrifice as part of relationship and love.
And I’m afraid again (and again and again),
that we don’t confront and resist the world enough.
So what does our faith tradition have to offer
a fear-filled society that can’t admit to just how scared it is?
After all, a lot of the time, in the Bible,
the “fear-nots” follow an encounter with God!
It’s not about circumstances that are scary,
but about the unexpected reality of God present.
But not always.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley—
the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil (Psalm 23:4), right?
We heard read God’s command to Joshua,
and Joshua’s exhortation of Israel
to be strong and courageous.
Earlier in the story, we first met Joshua
when Moses sent twelve spies out to explore Canaan.
They came back saying, it is a good land,
but the people are strong—
the towns are fortified and strong (Numbers 13:27-28).
The land devours its inhabitants,
and all the people are of great size—giants.
We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers (Numbers 13:31-33),
and the spies, well ten of the twelve anyway,
discouraged Israel moving on.
But Joshua sand Caleb, two of the spies
tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the Israelites,
“The land that we went through as spies is an exceedingly good land.
If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us,
a land that flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the Lord;
and do not fear the people of the land, for …
the Lord is with us; do not fear them”
That’s the background to God’s command
to be strong and courageous—to not be frightened or dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
It’s what Caleb and Joshua had said, earlier,
but they had not been heard.
To face fear and go on—
to move into promise—
is at the very heart of our sacred story.
But fear, by its very nature, magnifies its object—
makes it bigger—
there are giants ahead.
They make us feel small—like grasshoppers.
Be strong and courageous anyway.
A couple of suggestions.
First, facing our fears,
I’d like to suggest we need to be clear about what’s most scary.
Because it’s not about not being scared.
It’s not about being not scared.
There’s a lot that’s scary. It’s not about not being scared.
It’s about having a larger context in which to name fear—
in which to be scared.
But first you have to be able to name fear.
Then it’s about being honest about that fear—
where it comes from.
A friend of mine on Facebook asked, what are you most afraid of losing—
as the flip side to what’s most important?
And in the midst of our politics and economy—
in the midst of all that’s going on in the world—
in the midst of the violence and crime,
the overwhelming response (and I checked again this morning)—
the overwhelming response out of almost 50 responses,
was family—those I love.
But that’s not how we live.
Another case of the verbal profession we make
not matching up with the profession our living makes.
And it doesn’t have anything to do with
having a weapon or enough money to protect those loved ones—
to address our fear of losing them.
It’s honestly rather that we don’t have time for family—
don’t make time for family—
for meals together—
We join our culture in validating busyness as status symbol.
If we’re going to name our fears,
we need to be more honest with ourselves
than our culture encourages or expects.
The greatest threat to family is not some external threat.
Here’s another suggestion:
We often need to get beyond our own expectations.
I grew up skiing in the Alps.
I don’t often talk about that—it sounds too much like bragging.
It just happens to be true.
Quite often the system there
is such that you take a gondola (or two or three)
from the bottom of the mountain to the top.
At the top there are t-bars and chairlifts.
So you can ski the top of the mountain,
or you can ski down the mountain.
Skiing down the mountain was a big deal.
And I remember dad taking a friend of mine and me
down the mountain.
We weren’t good enough to ski down the mountain.
There were slopes we would get to,
look over and down and laugh,
sit down and slide down on our butts,
standing back up when we got to the bottom.
I have called that experience failing forward.
We didn’t ski the way we would imagine skiing down the mountain—
the way anyone would imagine skiing down the mountain!
But we got down the mountain!
Sometimes not doing what we think we can’t—
is it just that we can’t the way we think we should,
or the way we might want to?
My guess is we often fail backwards in fear
because we’re unable (or just unwilling) to envision failing forward,
and unimpressively getting down the mountain on our butts.
Never mind we laughed the whole way down—
and have a great memory—and a great story.
(As an aside—as you become more accomplished at skiing the steep,
you learn that successful style and balance
is all about not leaning back—and sitting on your butt!—
but about leaning forward—down the slope—
staring into the abyss).
We also need to be clear about what we
as the people of God in the way of Jesus
have to say—have to offer—when it comes to fear.
Because what we tend to say is that God loves you.
But while that’s true, it’s not about saying that.
Nor is it even really about saying you believe it.
It’s about living into it—
living into the assurance of knowing you’re loved
The assurance of God’s presence as counter to fear—
that’s a consistent scriptural affirmation:
that’s what Joshua and Caleb say, “Do not fear for the Lord is with us.”
Psalm 23, “I do not fear for you are with me.”
Psalm 118, “With the Lord at my side I do not fear.”
What a good word—a gospel word.
And thank God we have the community of faith to remind us
of this truth—and to incarnate it.
But we also have Jesus as example and inspiration.
Jesus who faced not just physical pain and death,
but profound betrayals
and a terrible loneliness—
facing those fears
even through the perceived absence of God.
So do not fear, even when God has forsaken you.
On the other side of prayer and the practice of love
and the assurance of resurrection,
there is a sense of and a commitment to the story of God
even beyond a sense of the presence of God.
So it’s coming!
How many of you have been involved in costume construction?
We do trunk or treat next Saturday here from 3-5.
Don’t forget!—after the church workday.
But I invite you to remember,
next Saturday and the next,
as you look at ghouls and ghosts and goblins
the gory and gross …,
it is important to name the real fears—
to place them in a larger context
within what’s truly important
and to move forward
to face what’s scary with hope and commitment—
to lean into it.
Not because we say God loves us,
but because God does.
Not because that’s some theological abstraction,
but because that love is made manifest
in a community that lives into love—
because that love is made manifest
in a story so much better than the stories our culture offers
(silly stories of superficial costumes and candy)
while what’s real and true is too often ignored and denied—
because that love is made manifest
in people who love you and urge you never to settle
for those lesser stories
until you know that better, richer, deeper story—
know it and claim it—
are claimed by it—
and love it and live it—
a story worth your life
the story of the love of God—
the story of love as truth and as possibility.
May it be so.
Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
2 Timothy 1:3-7
I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience,
as my ancestors did—when I remember you
constantly in my prayers night and day.
Recalling your tears, I long to see you
so that I may be filled with joy.
I am reminded of your sincere faith,
a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice
and now, I am sure, lives in you.
For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God
that is within you through the laying on of my hands;
for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice,
but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.