Sermon 26 January: Psalm 27 & Our Fear of Living

The text for Sunday was Matthew 4:12-23.  But I decided to preach on Psalm 27:1, 5-13 instead.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?”

So yesterday [Saturday], once again I spent an afternoon in a high school gymnasium coaching at a wrestling meet.  We’re nearing the end of our regular season, and these last few final matches are a time to be fine tuning, to establish a consistent game plan during matches, to fix any technical mistakes with moves or strategy.  And yesterday was a day of ups and downs….we have a young team, lots of kids who are starting on varsity for the first time, and who frankly, haven’t been wrestling for very long.  And so while some are coming into form and are wrestling really well, others are struggling.

And honestly, most of their struggles don’t bother me too much, because they’re out there battling it out, working as hard as they can even though the wins aren’t coming.  The ones that concern me the most are the one who well, seem to be holding back.  They put in all the same work; and some of them are the more talented and experienced wrestlers on the team.  But they’re struggling…struggling with fear, holding back when it comes to battling it out come match time.

 “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?”

The opening words of Psalm 27 jumped out at me this week….at about 10pm last [Saturday] night.  Because as I thought of some of my wrestlers who are struggling with things right now, it made me think about the church and people in the church today…..and I wonder if perhaps it isn’t the same way – as much as we say we have faith, as much as we participate in worship, read devotionals, come to church regularly….we still hold back.  We still seem to live with this sense of fear.

And as I think about my wrestlers and their struggles, as I think about the struggles we all go through as people of faith, I think we hold back, not so much out of a fear of failure.  I don’t think we hold back so much because we’re afraid of the presence of darkness and difficult moments in life.  Speaking from what I know about myself and other people I’ve come across in my life, we humans can endure a lot; we can take it; we can carry burdens pretty well; we’re a resilient bunch.  I think we hold back because honestly, we’re afraid of the light.

One of my favorite professors at seminary would talk about Psalm 27, and what it meant to him.  He had gotten cancer at a young age, and in his high school years they had to amputate both of his legs.  And in the midst of that trial, he would say he was never really afraid of dying…..what he was really afraid of, was living.

We was afraid of what life might look like for him.  Would he be able to have a full life without his legs?  Would he find meaningful work, would he find someone to fall in love with, and get married to?  Would he be able to have children?

Everything he was told and what was true about himself both physically and emotionally said that all that and more was possible.  But he found himself doubting….he had no legs….all those things he hoped for his life…..he held himself back from hoping.  The promise of a full and meaningful life…..it seemed too good to be true.

 “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom (and what) shall I be afraid?”

I think a lot about you all…..no seriously, I do.  I think about you all as individuals living in this world, and I think about you all as a congregation.  You are on my mind a lot, and not because it’s simply my job to be thinking about you.  And as I think about you today, I wonder, what holds you back?  If we are people and a church who come to worship week after week, confessing that Jesus, the Lord is our light and our salvation, what is holding us back from living fully into that good news?

Because to live into the promise that Christ is our light and salvation means that fear plays no role in our life of faith.  It doesn’t mean fear gets magically erased, or that we deny that fear really is powerful sometimes.  What it means is that in the face of that fear, the God’s promise casts light on God’s vision of life for us.

 It means that such fear can and has been overcome by Christ’s death and resurrection, so that we might know that nothing – suffering, pain, isolation, death – holds us back from truly living as God intended.  And that’s not something we have to wait around for, wallowing in fear until the day we die and go to meet our maker, it’s something we can live into know with confidence and courage.

 “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom (and what) shall I be afraid?”

My professor went on to say that Those opening words of Psalm 27 gave him comfort and courage….TO LIVE.

And this gives us a vision of what the church can be too…..the church is a place where people come together, seeking God, seeking light in the darkness of fear.  The church is a place where all those fearful that the good news of Jesus Christ is simply too good, too hope-filled, and perhaps being cynical, too optimistic to be true gather together in community and together strive in faith and trust to live……live into this hope.

We follow Christ into each other’s fear – we take time to share openly how we feel, we listen to each other, and together we courageously find a way forward, letting Christ lead us. We work through differences, we acknowledge the ways we’ve been hurt or doubt, and we open ourselves to new possibilities revealed to us by the Holy Spirit – both in ideas and thoughts and dreams and to people of all backgrounds and walks of life – because we are people who seek courageously for God and courageously live in faith, knowing because of Christ, nothing holds us back.  This is God’s vision of the church.

And the church is a place that invites others outside our community to join us and take part in this way of life – a way of following Jesus – a way of discipleship.

Last week, I had you write down where you saw Jesus and why you came to this church.  I compiled a list of everyone’s responses.  A couple things I want you to get out of them: One, I hope you read what your fellow congregation members and are affirmed, hopeful, and challenged by their words as I was.

And two, consider those responses on the list, ask yourself: “What’s holding you or us as a congregation back?  What is holding us back from a life of encountering Jesus, from following Jesus, from truly living with and for each other?  

As you consider these questions, my prayer for you is simply this: Go in faith, be of good courage……Jesus, is our light and salvation.  And in the face of all fear….in Christ may nothing hold you back.  Amen.

Speaking of those lists….those were responses that came out of asking each congregation: “Where do you see Jesus in your lives?” and “What do you value/why do keep coming to your respective congregation?”

For your own reflection, I’d ask you this: “What about church keeps people away? What barriers exist to encountering Jesus in churches today?”  Feel free to post a comment!

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