Handling our Fear | Sermon from September 10, 2017

Based on Psalm 46

We love the movie Cars in our household. I’m a huge fan of all Pixar movies, Jack and Carter have both gone through phases where they loved all things that move, and so Cars has often been played in our house.

There’s a scene in the middle of the movie that stood out to me the last time I watched it. Tow Mater and Lightening McQueen, who began the movie as enemies, are beginning to bond and find a friendship. Tow Mater drives backwards at a high speed and impresses Lightening McQueen, who asks how Mater can drive backwards at all, let alone so well? This encourages Mater to show off, so he throws his gearshift into reverse and drives through trees, narrow hedges, small gaps in fences, and around the Cozy Cone Motel, all at very high speeds, cheering himself on the whole way, having a tremendously good time. As he drives back up to McQueen, Tow Mater declares:

“Ain’t no need to watch where I’m going; just need to know where I’ve been.”

That is the sentiment of our scripture this morning.

“Ain’t no need to watch where I’m going; just need to know where I’ve been.”

The ancient Israelites face danger on many sides. Late in the Psalm, they declare their political troubles and the enemies they face as they describe God’s power over sword and shield, but of particular interest to us today is the way they declare their troubles from the earth. Verses two and three describe the earth as in great tumult, with mountains quaking, waters roaring, and the earth giving way. Our scripture translates that last phrase as “though the earth should change,” but the original Hebrew suggests “though the earth should give way.” The natural weather phenomena they face are of such great consequence that they fear the earth will cease to exist.

The people are afraid. I imagine that many of us here this morning are also afraid.

Yesterday morning, I sat outside at the rec fields watching Jackson play his first soccer game. I felt the wind blowing from behind me, gusting up to twenty-five miles per hour. The wind made me increasingly nervous, for twenty-five miles an hour felt pretty powerful, which stoked my imagination. If twenty-five miles per hour is pretty powerful, what is one hundred fifty miles per hour going to be like for the people of Miami? What will seventy miles per hour be like for us here in Eastman when Irma passes by.

Then I thought of all the very tall pine trees that surround the parsonage. By the looks of properties in this town and around the county, I imagine many of us are in the same boat when it comes to properties full of tall trees with shallow root systems.

This morning, I confess to you, I was afraid. I didn’t mean to be, I tend to be pretty unflappable, but I was afraid.

There’s much to be fearful of. When I decided yesterday afternoon to change my sermon for today, to respond to the hurricane that’s bearing down upon us, I went back through my sermon archives, looking for an old sermon on fear to pull out, and I found many. All of them, however, focused on fear created by political situations, by societal evils, or by fear-mongering politicians and media outlets. There’s much in the world to be afraid of.

Today, we add to that list of fears the waters that roar and the earth that gives way, removing its order for chaos. Perhaps natural disasters are things that evoke the most fear because they seem to offer the least amount of control. When it comes to facing down political situations, we can at least vote and voice our opinions, seeking change. When it comes to societal evils, we can organize, we can give money to organizations that fight systemic injustices, and we can volunteer our time to work with marginalized populations. When it comes to fear mongering, we can use the bully pulpit we all have via Facebook and twitter to condemn those who use fear to gain power and point instead to the truth.

But when it comes to natural disasters, what exactly are we supposed to do?

Natural disasters evoke fear because there’s literally nothing we can do. We can prepare our properties for the worst. I imagine we’ve all spent time the last few days bringing in outdoor furniture and items light enough to be blown around. We’ve put together our emergency kits, tested our weather radios, made sure we know where to go in the house in case of a tornado. We’re prepared here at the church to put tarps over expensive and irreplaceable equipment in order to shield it should there be a roof leak. Cathy and I walked all over this church snapping pictures of the interior and exterior of the church for insurance purposes. We’ve spent time in preparation.

But to change the direction of the storm? Or to get rid of the storm completely? That’s where the powerlessness comes in. We wish there was something we can do.

But there’s not. We’re powerless to affect change when it comes to the storm. So once we’re prepared, once we’ve done all the things to be storm ready, what do we do with our fear?

“Ain’t no need to watch where I’m going; just need to know where I’ve been.”

The Psalm opens with a confession of trust in God. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” It’s a famous verse, but it came alive for me when I noticed one of those tiny letters next to the word “present.” Most of our bibles have those, it’s a tiny letter that points to an alternate translation of the word or phrase. Present, here, can mean “well proved” or “has been found,” which means we can read the verse this way:

“God is our refuge and strength, who has been found to be very helpful in trouble.”

Or

“God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble.”

Or

“God is our refuge and strength, a very well proved help in trouble.”

I like that last translation: well proved help in trouble. It says the same thing that Tow Mater said:

“Ain’t no need to watch where I’m going; just need to know where I’ve been.”

There’s no need to know where we’re going with this storm. Just need to know where we’ve been with God.

Just need to know where we’ve been to recall how God has been present in our past, how God as proven to be of great help during times of trouble. Just need to know where we’ve been to find faith that can rest in the fact that God is faithful, that God has never let us down, that God has always been present during times of trouble. Just need to know where we’ve been to know that God is, indeed, a very well proved help in trouble.

And this morning, I can testify that I know where I’ve been with God.

I’ve been rejected and laid low. God was present in that trouble.

I’ve been deeply hurt by those who supposedly loved me and wanted the best for me. God was present in that trouble.

I’ve been grievously injured and in the hospital, worried for my life. God was present in that trouble.

I’ve been in a tornado and heard the roar. God was present in that trouble.

God is a well proved help in the troubles I’ve known in my life. I know where I’ve been with God.

And this morning, you too can testify that you know where you’ve been with God.

I’ve heard many of you testify to me that you’ve seen God bring back family members who were close to death, you know of God’s salvation from addiction, you know how God has restored fortunes after terrible disasters. You’ve experienced it, you’ve seen it up close and personal. You know that God is “a help always near in times of great trouble.”

And so, we can all confess this morning that God is, for all of us, a well proved help in the troubles we’ve known in our lives. We know where we’ve been with God.

Which means we shall not fear, though the waters rise, though the wind howl, though the trees fall, though the earth give way, for we know where we’ve been with God, we know that God has been and thus will be our refuge and strength.

In the face of this storm, in the midst of our fear, we can all confess that we shall not fear because we know that God is present in our troubles, for God has been well proved as present in the midst of the storms of life.

There’s no guarantee that trouble will not come our way. There’s no guarantee that we’ll not experience disasters of our own. The winds will howl starting later today, the waters will roar, and the earth will feel like it’s giving way.

But we know where we’ve been. To know peace, to know comfort, to know release from anxiety and freedom from fear, know where you’ve been. Be still, and remember all the ways that you have known God. Remember when God has saved you in the past. Remember when God has come to your rescue or the rescue of a loved one. Remember when God has blessed you in the midst of a terrible time in your life. Remember when you discovered God in the midst of a stormy time. Remember, know where you’ve been with God, and be not afraid.

For there is “…no need to know where [we’re going with this storm]; [we] just need to know where [we’ve] been.”

Do not fear, for God is our refuge and strength. God is in the midst of this storm and God will come to our aid.

For as the Psalm says, “the Lord of hosts is with us! The God of Jacob is our refuge.”

God is a well proved help in times of trouble. Know where you’ve been. Be not afraid.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I invite us to enter now, before we sing our final song/hymn, into a time of prayer where we will remember where we’ve been with God.

Holy God,

We come to you this morning with fear in our hearts. Hurricane Irma approaches and we know not what it will bring. We have made our preparations, we have been smart and done what’s required of us, and now we wait, with angst in our hearts. But we know, and we declare boldly this morning, that fear is not of you. You do not desire for us to live in fear, but rather you are our refuge and strength.

Throughout our lives, we have known you as a place of refuge, as a shelter, as a very present help in our troubles. You have done great and marvelous things for us, and we confess to you this morning that we have not rested in faith in those. We seek, together in this time of prayer, to rest our trust in you, remembering all the ways that you have proven yourself faithful to us.

Hear us now as we lift up to you the ways you were faithful to us as a child.

Hear us now as we lift up to you the ways you were faithful to us as an adult.

We have known of your refuge and shelter for loved ones in our families, too. You have moved powerfully in their lives, saving them from afflictions and disasters, demonstrating that, indeed, the Lord of heavenly forces is with us.

Hear us now as we lift up to you the ways you were faithful to our families.

Hear us now as we lift up to you the ways you were faithful to our friends.

God, you are indeed a well proved help in trouble, a refuge and strength. Grant us the memory of your faithfulness as the foundation of our faith as Hurricane Irma approaches. Guard our hearts against fear, tuning us instead to see and feel the memory of the ways you have blessed us and saved us.

And before we leave our time of prayer, we offer up our requests for your protection, your faithfulness, your very present help for all those in the path of Hurricane Irma, both those now experiencing the hurricane in Florida and those who will in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

Hear us now as we lift up to you all those in the path of this storm.

Hear us now as we lift up to you all emergency management personnel, the national guard, and all first responders who bravely head into harm’s way.

Holy God, we pledge to you this morning that we know where we’ve been with you, and so we do not fear the future, for you are our refuge and strength. Great is your faithfulness to us, a faithfulness we know because of your loving actions through our brother, Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray by saying…

Amen.

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