Living with(out) fear

Feb 1, 2015 Matthew 6:25-34

I tried a new thing on Sunday: I recorded the sermon with the voice memo function on my phone.  You can listen here:Feb 1 Matthew 6 Sermon

Gus Grimly plays a police deputy in Duluth in the tv mini-series Fargo. Early on, Gus has an encounter with the Big Bad of the series, Malvo, when his life is threatened and he seems more governed by fear than his sense of keeping the law. Later, as the character Malvo is slipping away under a false identity and story, the earnest and honest Gus asks him how he can live such a lie.

Malvo responds with this question: Did you know the human eye can see more shades of green than any other color? My
question for you is: Why?
Gus is the kind of guy you are just sure is not going to survive from episode to episode. He’s too gutless. And he seems afraid of his own shadow. Without giving away crucial plot points, Gus is given the opportunity to turn and run from this darkness and fear embodied in Malvo or turn and face it.

Today, Jesus speaks right to our human tendency to worry. Today’s trouble is enough for today, Jesus tells us. And let me be the first to tell you, he’s the only one who gets to tell me to not worry without it sounding glib and insensitive and dismissive.

On my road to recovery from gallbladder surgery, I had plenty of time to worry as I lay on the couch, in the chair or in my bed. As I did laps around and through my kitchen and living room. As I stared out the window or studied the jade plant that is really quite healthy and seeks the sun just as you and I do. I had plenty of time to worry about tomorrow and the next day, and the day after that. I had too much time to scroll through my FB feed and read all the dismal news. I needed good news. And one day, in the mail, I got the first issue of my subscription to Geez magazine, a Christmas gift from my brother-in-law. It’s a magazine that offers an alternative view, another take on what it means to be Christian.

And this is the cover of my first installment of Geez magazine:


A dooms day cover. Where I was hoping I would find some relief from my Facebook feed and the news in general of the world, here I was faced to contemplate doom theologically, thoughtfully, slowly even. I was so mad. Because I’ve just heard about the end of the world clock and that it’s been moved 2 minutes to midnight. And sex trafficking and young girls gone missing. People going hungry, measles come roaring back, homelessness.

It seems I couldn’t catch a break from my own brain, spinning in worry.

Until I looked at the scripture for today. Honestly, I laughed out loud, so fitting is it to be back among you after this very sedentary time of healing and going a little stir crazy.

Don’t worry about today, says Jesus. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Which is sort of an unsettling statement, isn’t it? Because do you see what Jesus isn’t saying to us? He isn’t saying, “everything will work out” or “things will be ok” or “it’s smooth sailing from here on out!” Jesus doesn’t say that in the morning, no more trouble. It seems that Jesus knows our potential for trouble. Jesus knows what our imaginations are capable of. Jesus knows what our minds and hearts can whip up in the dark of night.

What do you do with your fear, your midnight worrying session? How do you shake yourself out of this place? What do you do with fear?

Do you live in denial, frozen in the face of it, hoping it will go away or that someone else is in charge of solving it for you? Or is there something about it that changes you, motivates you to action, to change something to let go of something?

Unchecked fear, fear run amuck is a dangerous thing indeed. Free floating fear that seems to beat with the rhythm of our hearts sets a course for our lives that serves no one – it serves only the fear.

To face the fear is to show up – and to truly face it is to bring our whole selves with us. And this action leaves you vulnerable and exposed, right? Which, at first blush, might seem like a stupid thing to do- to dangle out there like that so foolishly to be hurt or taken advantage of. Brene Brown is an author who talks about vulnerability as strength. She says, “The willingness to show up changes us, It makes us a little braver each time.” I think of Gus in a pivotal moment in the Fargo series, my mom and I yelling at the screen, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it! Run!” Gus showed up, made himself completely vulnerable, and faced his fear.

So to shake us loose a bit, to get us to take the blinders off and to look up from our own terrible worries, our own fascinating navels – Jesus says c’mon, look around you! Jesus doesn’t point to a silver bullet or a quick easy solution. Jesus doesn’t serve up a glossy power point with reasons to not worry, pointing out logic and fact. No, Jesus points to the stuff that surrounds us in our lives. For the people of his time and, most likely, the outdoor setting Jesus was in as he was talking, he pointed to the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, which you and I also can see in our here and now, if we’d only look up. Jesus points to all the other ways that continue to survive and thrive much to our dismay or to our disinterest. Maybe Jesus would also say, “consider your neighbor, who is going through something just like you.” or “consider the stranger being a helper to you in this thing called life.” Lilies of the field and birds of the air come in all shapes and sizes after all.

When we depend on our worry, our greatest fear to guide our lives it means that we think we are in control and that we must keep at it or we will fail. When we live this way, it is as if we are trying to be God. And trying to be God reveals that we are afraid we are unacceptable. We are not enough. We are unlovable. This is what is at the base of our fear: that even God would not choose to love us.

It is then that you can turn to this fear: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We hear these beautiful and confusing words in the Old Testament. Let go of all of your ideas about fear and instead think: the awesome power of God. This word “fear” in the Old Testament has more to do with being in the presence of God and to be knocked back on your heels with reverence. It’s not the flight or fight kind of fear, but the Oh My God kind. Because being in a relationship with God is not for the faint of heart. “It is a dangerous, a reverent, a fearful relationship.”[1] It will change you. It will orient you. It will define you.

So don’t worry about today, says Jesus. Consider the lilies of the field, the birds of the air. Follow their lead.

It is this awesome God who has the right to tell you to not worry and God sends Jesus to interrupt our lives and point to all that around you that will ground you back into your identity as someone who is chosen and loved by God. Once and for all, now and forever. Yes, be very afraid. But in that awesome kind of way that breaks open your heart in wonder. It is a wonder that God loves us, isn’t it? It’s true. It’s the truest thing you’ll ever hear. And in the face of that, your human fear doesn’t stand a chance.