God Overcomes Our Fear

God Overcomes Our Fear

SLIDE 3: GOD KNOWS THE LIMITS OF OUR COURAGE

X GOD KNOWS THE LIMITS OF OUR COURAGE            As I begin writing this sermon, I am torn between two titles: “God Overcomes Our Fear,” or “God Knows the Limits of Our Courage.” Our scripture this morning speaks to both themes.

SLIDE 4: THEMS WITH THE GOLD MAKES THE RULES

X THEMS THAT HAS THE GOLDElijah was a prophet called by God to oppose the religious idolatry and the political and social oppression of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Ahab and Jezebel worshipped Baal who was the god of power and wealth. Though seldom worshipped by that name anymore Baal is still popular today. You may have heard of the Golden Rule: “Thems who has the gold makes the rules.”

Anyway the followers of Yahweh opposed the idolatry and oppression of the Crown, and the King simply had his opponents executed. So Elijah predicted there would be a drought. And since Baal was also god of the rain, this was a direct challenge to the royal idolatry. In fact Elijah said Yahweh would prevent the rain, until people stopped worshipping Baal, then he went into hiding for fear of his life.

SLIDE 5: CONTEST ON MT. CARMEL

X CONTEST ON MT. CARMELFor three years, maybe an exaggeration, there was no rain. All of the crops dried up, the grass disappeared and the animals were dying. Then God told Elijah to come out of hiding and challenge the King and his 450 prophets of Baal to a contest. They were to gather all of the people on Mt. Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal were supposed to build and altar and make sacrifice and Elijah would do the same, and the God who answered with fire, that was the God everyone should worship.

Given the distress of the drought and the public nature of the challenge King Ahab felt he could not back down. So the contest went forward, and Elijah won. Yahweh not only answered with lightning from heaven, there was also rain, blessed rain that broke the drought. And all of the people gathered on the mountain bowed down to Yahweh and then executed the 450 prophets of Baal. Elijah had won.

SLIDE 6: JEZEBEL PROMISED TO KILL ELIJAH

X JEZEBEL PROMISED TO KILL ELIJAHConfident in his victory Elijah ran from Mt. Carmel to the royal palace to engage in a little na-na-na-boo-boo with Queen Jezebel over her 450 prophets of Baal. But Jezebel was not about to cringe before some prophet. She was made of sterner stuff than that, and she looked Elijah in the eye and said, “Before this time tomorrow may the gods strike me down if you aren’t as dead as one of those 450 prophets of Baal.

SLIDE 7: ELIJAH RAN

X ELIJAH RANAnd Elijah’s courage left him. His knees started to quake, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, and he turned tail and ran. He ran and he ran and he ran until he couldn’t run any more, and then he laid down and prayed to die. But God sent him an angel with food and water, so Elijah got up and ran some more all the way to Mt. Sinai, where he hid in a cave. And then the Holy Spirit showed up. There was a mighty wind, an earth quake, a fire, and finally a still small voice. And God spoke to Elijah, “What are you doing here Elijah?”

And Elijah complained, “Ahab has killed all of the other prophets of Yahweh, and I did what you asked me to do, and now Jezebel is seeking to kill me.”

SLIDE 8: PERSPECTIVE AND SPECIFIC MEASURABLE TASKS

X PERSPECTIVE AND SPECIFIC TASKSAnd here I want to stop to look at Elijah and his courage. God gave Elijah the courage to challenge Ahab and his 450 prophets of Baal. Elijah stood up to them. He made fun of them and called down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice in front of all Israel. But when he was confronted by the threat of death from Jezebel, he ran. God gives us courage to face challenges, but God also understands the limits of our courage. When Elijah started to run, God didn’t try to stop him. God even sent an angel with food and water to help him run a little further. And when God finally caught up with Elijah, God didn’t order the prophet to go back and confront Jezebel. First God comforted Elijah with the divine presence in a still small voice. Then understanding the limits of the prophet’s courage God gave him three specific measurable tasks to perform. “Go anoint Hazael to be King of Syria, anoint Jehu to become King in Israel, and anoint and mentor Elisha to become prophet in your place.”

SLIDE 9: FOR ME FEAR IS OFTEN DRIVING THE BUS

X FEAR DRIVING BUSI find comfort in the story of Elijah. So often my own courage fails me. That is why I often ask the question of myself and others, “What would you do, if you were not afraid?” So often our fear is driving the bus.

SLIDE 10: DARK IMAGININGS, FATIGUE AND LONELINESS

X DARK IMAGININGS FATIGUE AND LONELINESSMost of our fears are irrational. The famous poem Desiderata advises us: “Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.” Dark imaginings, fatigue, loneliness, doubt can haunt us until we run away from worries and the shadows of our fears. We can imagine almost any problem to be so large, so difficult and so complex that it will eat us for lunch.

SLIDE 11: PRAYER ESTABLISHES PERSPECTIVE

77481121.jpgIf, however, we pray, God can help us find that still small place inside of ourselves, where we can establish perspective. That is what happened with Elijah in that cave on Mt. Sinai. After running away and hiding Elijah finally found that still small place inside of himself, where he could hear the quiet voice of God. And then he realized he didn’t have to do it all by himself. (“I have left yet 7,000 in Israel who have not bowed their knee to Baal.”)   (“Go anoint and mentor Elisha to become prophet in your place.”)

SLIDE 12: RESIZING OUR PROBLEMS

X RESIZING OUR PROBLEMSYes our lives do have dangers and difficulties, but in perspective our fears are not nearly as large or as scary as we imagine them to be. Most of the time when we are confronted by a problem, if we can resize the difficulty into specific measureable tasks, we can take one step at a time until the challenge has been managed.   And in confronting our fears we can remember we do not need to be alone. God does not demand we stand all by ourselves against all that terrifies us. Like little Robert who is afraid of the dark we can ask someone else to take us by the hand and walk into the dark with us. That is why God gives us good spiritual friends, why God calls us into the life of the community of faith.

SLIDE 13: DESMOND TUTU A STORY OF COURAGE

X DESMOND TUTU STORY OF COURAGEI was inspired this week by a story about Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. During the deepest, darkest days of apartheid in South Africa, when the government tried to shut down opposition by canceling a political rally, Archbishop Tutu declared that he would hold a church service instead.

St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa was filled with worshippers. Outside the cathedral hundreds of police gathered, a show of force intended to intimidate. As Tutu was preaching they entered the Cathedral, armed, and lined the walls. They took out notebooks and recorded Tutu’s words.

But Tutu would not be intimidated. He preached against the evils of apartheid, declaring it could not endure. At one extraordinary point he addressed the police directly.

SLIDE 14: YOU ARE POWERFUL. COME JOIN THE WINNING SIDE!

X YOU ARE POWERFULHe said, “You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you’ve already lost, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!”

With that the congregation erupted in dance and song.

The police didn’t know what to do. Their attempts at intimidation had failed, overcome by the archbishop’s confidence that God and goodness would triumph over evil. It was but a matter of time.

SLIDE 15: IN LIFE, IN DEATH, IN LIFE BEYOND DEATH, GOD IS WITH US. WE ARE NOT ALONE. THANKS BE TO GOD.

X IN LIFE IN DEATHOur courage comes from a faith that God is with us, and nothing can separate us from God’s love. God helps to give us the courage to overcome our fear, and God also knows the limits of our courage. When we fail, when we chicken out, God is still with us and loves us seeking to help us find those specific measurable tasks we can perform that will overcome our fear. And even when the night of death closes in God is still with us. As it says in the last three lines of the Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada, selection number 887 in your hymnal: “In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.”

SLIDE 16: COURAGE IN THE STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE

X COURAGE IN THE STRUGGLEAnd as long as we are in the back of the hymnal turn to selection number 885 our United Church of Christ Statement of Faith. Look at the last two paragraphs:

You call us into your church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be your servants in the service of others, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.

You promise to all who trust you forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, your presence in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in your realm which has no end.

SLIDE 17: HOLD HANDS WITH EACH OTHER

X HOLD HANDS WITH EACH OTHERGod does indeed call us into God’s church to give us courage and hands to hold, when we step out into the dark. A symbol of our commitment to one another is holding hands, when we sing Shalom. A little later this morning when Rhonda Potts and Mitch Hayles come forward to be received into membership we will promise them that in the face of life’s difficulties we will walk with them, we will hold hands with each other, we will pray with and for them, and together we will find the courage to overcome our fears. In this we can rejoice.

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