Putting Fear in its Place

6-25-17 Scripture:  Matthew 10:24-39
Theme:  Do we chase fear to catch it, or to push it away?  What is fear?  Facing the unknown?  Considering the worst case scenario?  There is only one thing to truly fear – separation from God.  But God desires us, loves us, and  knows us better than we know ourselves.  The real foundation of life and faith is built upon this realization – of God’s incredible love for us.  In the face of this realization, fear doesn’t have a chance.
A recent conversation brought back a memory I’ve shared before – at least I think I’ve shared before.  It concerns a time when fear controlled my life in a very specific way.
When I was in the eighth grade, I faced this fear.  It was the greatest fear in my life up to that point.    Nothing came close – not illness, war, political upheaval, civil unrest, family strife, or even the loss of my allowance struck a similar terror in my heart.  The cold war was in effect, with the knowledge that we could blow our world to kingdom come – a minor concern, compared to what I faced, at least in my heart.  On a scale of 1 to 10, this fear of mine rated a 30.

“What,” you may ask, “was the nature of this fear?  What was its object?”  I’m glad you ask.  It was a class I was required to take in order to pass the eighth grade.  The class was called “Basic Communication.”  The class itself didn’t cause my fear – it was one of the requirements for passing that caused me extreme terror.  One requirement.  One absolute.  For, in order to pass the class, we had to take two written exams – AND GIVE A FIVE MINUTE SPEECH IN FRONT OF THE CLASS.

Impossible.  I just couldn’t do that.  It was beyond me.  I set a new definition for the term “introvert.”  I was the one who always sat in the back of the room, who was an expert at the gestures that told the teacher “DON’T EVER CALL ON ME!”  It was so much a terror in my heart, the thought of standing before an entire class and give a speech, that I found myself in the school counselor’s office, asking to be excused from the class (this was also something I had never done before).  It wasn’t in me.  I couldn’t do it.  I would do anything else in it’s place, do a thousand points of extra credit, write essay after essay, even wash the principle’s car for the rest of my life.
The counselor heard all of my reasons, heard all of my pleas, and then gave me a one-word answer – he said, “TOUGH.”  I had to take the class; I had to give that speech.  No exceptions.  I was forced to confront my fear, perhaps my greatest fear.
To make a long story short, that class was misery to me.  Through all of the semester, I could see that horrible moment on the horizon, and I lived in terror of that five-minute speech I just knew I couldn’t give.  Somehow, I made it to that moment.  It was my turn to give my speech.  I entered a time-warp; everything began to move agonizingly slowly.  My name was called; it took me forever to walk the seven or eight miles to the front of the classroom.  I unfolded my papers, which took me about three hours.  Everything took so much time, and seemed so long.  I just wanted it to be over!

And then, …..it was over.  I had done it!  I had faced my fear, and somehow survived!  Yes, it was at that moment that I truly believed there was a God, for I had been in constant prayer for the entire semester.  And as I returned to my seat, I remember two things very strongly, two reactions I had in that moment.  One was that I made a pact with God, and said to him as well as to myself, that I would never, ever speak in public again.  My public speaking career was over!  (you know how that one turned out!).  But the second reaction was very strong as well – I can do this!

I discovered that the world was bigger than my fear; I discovered that my life was bigger than my fear; I discovered that my future was bigger than my fear.  And thus, without my realizing it at the moment, a new possibility arose in my mind, that maybe I was more capable than I thought I was.  I was able to see the falseness of my anxiety, and the possibilities I was blinded to when imprisoned in fear’s darkness.
You ever been there, imprisoned by fear?

One of the basic functions of fear is to paralyze hope.  Fear begins with worst-case scenarios out of a desire to be fully prepared for what could happen, what might happen, but taints these possibilities with darkness and foreboding.   Ironically, such tainting tends to shut out alternatives which are positive, hopeful, and just as possible – and which might be made more likely with a good attitude and a motivated engagement.  There’s an old saying that goes – “Fear sees the trickle of water down the face of the dam and has one running for the hills; hope sees the trickle and immediately looks for a plug.” (OK, I made that up – but it sort of works!)

The point is that fear often works its control by diverting our attention away from the substantial to the peripheral, from the real to the nebulous, even from the rational to the irrational.

And many are the ways in which fear exerts its power over life.
I recently came across a list of the different kinds of fears that control people.
Peladophobia: fear of baldness and bald people. Aerophobia: fear of drafts. Porphyrophobia: fear of the color purple. Chaetophobia: fear of hairy people. Levophobia: fear of objects on the left side of the body. Dextrophobia: fear of objects on the right side of the body. Auroraphobia: fear of the northern lights. Calyprophobia: fear of obscure meanings. Thalassophobia: fear of being seated. Stabisbasiphobia: fear of standing and walking. Odontophobia: fear of teeth. Graphophobia: fear of writing in public. Phobophobia: fear of being afraid.

These are actual classifications of psychosomatic illnesses that are treated through therapy.  They are largely considered irrational.  And, yet, these are fears that control people, shaping their actions and thought, influencing what they will do and won’t do.  Fear has this power – but it is very often the power we give it.  So very often, when fear is tested, we find that its power is empty, a figment of our protective instincts or desire to control life absolutely.  When we face our fears and our worries, how very often do we find little or nothing there?

I love a statement made to this effect by Walter Kelly.  He says:
“Worry is faith in the negative, trust in the unpleasant, assurance of disaster and belief in defeat…worry is wasting today’s time to clutter up tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s troubles. A dense fog that covers a seven-city-block area one hundred feet deep is composed of less than one glass of water divided into sixty thousand million drops. Not much is there but it can cripple an entire city.”

General George Patton was known as one of the most fearless generals of World War II.  But he himself contested this perception.  Once, a military governor met with General George Patton in Sicily.  The governor praised Patton highly for his courage and bravery, but the general countered this observation.  Patton said to him, “Sir, I am not a brave man. . . “The truth is, I am an utter craven coward. I have never been within the sound of gunshot or in sight of battle in my whole life that I wasn’t so scared that I had sweat in the palms of my hands.” Years later, when Patton’s autobiography was published, it contained this significant statement by the general: “I learned very early in my life never to take counsel of my fears.”

It is perhaps wise not to take counsel of our fears.  It is perhaps wiser still to face them.  And that is the point of our scripture lesson for today.  Christ is telling us not to take counsel in our fears, but to face them in the good company of Grace.  It is widely thought that Christ tells us to have no fear, but here we see that this is not exactly correct.  In essence, Jesus is saying to choose our fears carefully.

Christ says, “Have no fear of those who malign God, for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.”  A little later, he says, “ Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.”  Now, I don’t think Christ is saying “be scared of God” in these lines, but more “be centered in God”, the only one who can ultimately destroy both soul and body.  Fear in this sense means respect; respect in this sense means have faith.  This is strongly supported by Christ’s next statement – “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  SO DO NOT BE AFRAID; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Do not be afraid.  Have no fear of God in this sense.  Have the fear of God which respects God’s position relative to his creation, relative to us.  Have this understanding of God which is the end of all other fear; have this sense of God’s love for his children, which knows us better than we know ourselves.

Dr. E. Stanley Jones puts it this way:
I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear, doubt and anxiety. In anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath–these are not my native air. But in faith and confidence, I breathe freely–these are my native air. A John Hopkins University doctor says, “We do not know why it is that worriers die sooner than the non-worriers, but that is a fact.” But I, who am simple of mind, think I know; We are inwardly constructed in nerve and tissue, brain cell and soul, for faith and not for fear. God made us that way. To live by worry is to live against ourselves.”

You and I are designed to run on faith, not fear.  We are able, through faith, to keep from giving fear the power to control our lives. But – how do we do this?  Fear comes upon us so very easily, so quickly – it seems like a natural response to a naturally frightening world…….how do we keep fear and worry from gaining the upper hand in our lives?
I like an idea put forth by  J. Arthur Rank, an English executive.  Mr. Rank decided to do all his worrying on one day each week. He chose Wednesdays. When anything happened that gave him anxiety and annoyed his ulcer, he would write it down and put it in his worry box and forget about it until next Wednesday. The interesting thing was that on the following Wednesday when he opened his worry box, he found that most of the things that had disturbed him the past six days were already settled. It would have been useless to have worried about them.

Could we not do the same?  Could we, as Christians, decide to do all of our worrying on one day each week?  A day when we come together and do our worrying together?  A day when we gather together with God, intentionally, purposefully, to be reminded of his presence, his love for us, his glory and truth?  Could we choose Sunday worship?  How many of our worries and fears would still be there come Sunday morning?  Whatever worries and fears remained would be met with the revisited promises of God and love of his fellowship that conquers all fear.  Would you be willing to save all your worries until next Sunday?  Again, that is your homework for this week – save all your fears and worries for next Sunday; bring them to worship.  Let us do all of our worrying together.  Lets see what chance they have in the presence of God.