Thursday, September 29, 2016

Fear Not, Faith Yes - Psalm 37

Do not fret because of the wicked;
    do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
    and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will make your vindication shine like the light,
    and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
    do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
    over those who carry out evil devices.

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
    Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For the wicked shall be cut off,
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

Psalm 37

I love that word “fret.” 

I’m not sure I use that word very often.

I use the words like…
Cold feet and even

But fret – that is a good old fashioned term for fear.

I think the first time I remember being afraid was in October, 1962.  I was 8 years old and in the 3rd grade.  The Soviet Union had been caught putting missiles in Cuba, and these missiles had nuclear weapons. 

Suddenly American cities were in immediate danger.  The world was on the brink of nuclear war and the extinction of all life on the planet. 

My next door neighbor built a fallout shelter and he was not the only one. 

In my school we were taught what to do when the bombs began to drop.  Looking back, these preparations are laughable.  After all, curling up under a wooden desk would not keep us from being disintegrated by a nuclear bomb. 

Now, we are still here. 

The missiles were removed from Cuba and America agreed to remove our missiles from Turkey – of course, it was decades before the Soviets knew those missiles had been declared obsolete by our submarine missiles and were going to be removed anyway.

So it all turned out well. 

But there were changes.

At the time, I lived in Greenville SC, which happened to be the home of the only American to die in the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Rudolf Anderson was a 35 year old pilot of a U2 spy plane shot down during the 2 week crisis.  After the crisis, a memorial was erected in his honor.  It was put in a park where children played – a reminder to all 8 year olds like me to live in fear of our impending doom.

This thing about fear… 

We learn to fret about things in life early on.

According to a recent Gallop Poll, the top ten things people fear include spiders!  Makes sense.  Being alone.  The future.  Death.  Violence.  And the number one fear?  Terrorist attacks.

Oh for the days of a much earlier Gallop Poll when the number one fear was public speaking.

We are a people who fret.

We live in distress.

We are gripped by anxiety.

Americans are gripped with fear.

We are afraid.

We want to build a wall around this country – because we are gripped with fear.

We want buy a gun – because we are afraid at work and at home and in the car.

We want to buy security alarms and video cameras for our homes – because we are afraid of who might break in.

We want to keep our children away from the public parks – because we are afraid of strangers.

In this age of fear, what can we do to make sure that we and our families are safe?

(long pause)


The world is a dangerous place.

Get used to it.

Want to buy a gun?  No one will stop you, but understand we are a nation in which there are 88 guns for every 100 people, and it has not made us a safer place.

Want to put up an alarm system in your house?  Fine.  I’ve got one.  But burglars can still break in, steal your new TV set and be out the back door before the police arrive.

Do you put your seat belt on when you drive?  I do this every time.  But am I safe?  No.  I am certainly safer than I am without one – but I am not completely safe.  If I’m hit by a tanker truck going 70 mph and carrying a ton of gasoline – well, I’m pretty much doomed even with the seatbelt I insist on wearing and that keeps me safer – but not completely safe.

The world is a dangerous place.

And this has always been true.  ISIS and mass shootings have not introduced us to a sudden change – life has always been this way.

Now, yes - we can do some things to make the world around us safer for our selves and our children – wear that seat belt, take precautions, but understand that you will never be completely safe.

What you can do is deal with this fear that is taking over the lives of so many people in our country.

It is this fear that is the most dangerous enemy in our society.

It is fear more than anything else that will destroy our nation.

And that is – after all, what terrorist want.  Terrorists don’t want to bomb buildings or kill people – that is a means to an end, and their end, their primary goal is to cripple us with fear. 

And they are succeeding.

We are afraid.

We fret!

Now against this fear is the Scripture.

Our Old Testament lesson says,
Do not fret because of the wicked;
for they will soon fade like the grass,
    and wither like the green herb.

Remember Psalm 23?

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

In a world that has always had evil, we do not have to fret.   

We can still have peace of mind.

Frederick Buechner, in his reflection of the 23rd Psalm, reminds us that this psalm does not pretend that evil and death do not exist.  He says, “Terrible things happen, and they happen to good people as well as to bad people. Even the paths of righteousness lead through the valley of the shadow. Death lies ahead for all of us, saints and sinners alike, and for all the ones we love. The psalmist doesn't try to explain evil. He doesn't try to minimize evil. He simply says he will not fear evil. For all the power that evil has, it doesn't have the power to make him afraid.”

Rather than struggling to find a safety that we will never completely have, we need to find courage.  We need to find that attitude of being at peace in an unsafe world. 

You know what Jesus said in the New Testament about how to be safe?

This is what he said – he said it in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 12.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more…Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight… Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Now – wait.  Jesus didn’t tell us here how to be safe.  What he did say was how to be free of fear in a world that was filled with people who, as he put it, could kill the body.

In a world of evil, we will not fear.  We will have peace.

One of the great quotations about fear comes from an American President, Franklin Roosevelt.  He said that great line, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Great line.

Those words were spoken in his first inaugural speech in 1933.  The nation and the world was in the grip of the Great Depression.

One out of every four people was unemployed.

Homelessness was at an all time high.

Hitler had just been elected as chancellor of Germany and Nazism was rising.

The future looked bleak.

And it was bleak.

In the days before his inauguration while he and his speech writers were working on his speech, there was even an assassination attempt.  A gunman tried to kill Roosevelt.  FDR survived – unarmed.  But the mayor of Chicago died.

It was against this backdrop that he delivered his first inaugarual speech in which he said,“the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes.”

What good, after all, is it to live in fear?

Our Old Testament lesson says this:
“Fear leads only to evil.”

And an even greater weapon against fear is love.  1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

So those of us who are paralyzed by fear – let us remind ourselves of the Gospel. 

We do not have to fret and fear and be anxious!

We have a God who is greater than all of the evil in this world.

We may become victims of violence, or victims of disease, we may even know that we are at this very moment walking through that valley of the shadow of death.

But we can choose say no to fear, and yes to faith.

You see, the opposite of fear is not courage. 

It’s faith.

We can say Yes to trusting in God.

We can say Yes to being at peace in a dangerous world in which God is more powerful than anything we can fret over.

Fear?  No.

Faith?  Yes.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.