June 14, 2015
Stetson Memorial United Methodist Church
Psalm 27:1-5 NRSV
Psalm 91 The Message Bible
Isaiah 43:1b-3a, 5 NRSV
Matthew 28:19-20 NIV
Prayer for God’s word to be heard through me or in spite of me…
A reading from the book of Psalms, chapter 27, verses 1-5…listen to and for a word from God to you and me the people of God…
Triumphant Song of Confidence Of David.
1 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?
2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—my adversaries and foes—they shall stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
4 One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
Yesterday, Ray, I and the girls went to the Graduation Ceremony at Katahdin High School. It was a wonderful ceremony with many wise words written and spoken. The class motto was “To anyone who says you can’t…just say watch me.” It is a motto that I have decided to adapt for my own life. The Valedictorian, Mariah Farrington, gave an awesome address to the senior class as well as everyone who was listening. The key phrase in her address was “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” well this really got me thinking. What would I do if I weren’t afraid? We live in a world full of uncertainties and we can’t help but fear the future at times but…what would I do…what would you do…if we weren’t afraid? Why is there so much fear in the world? As a matter of fact…why is there so much fear amongst Christians? As the Psalm I just read tells us…with God on our side…if God is with us…whom or what shall we fear?
Last week, I talked about “Finishing Only To Begin” and how, at times, we finish something only to begin a new thing. That sometimes we need to finish one chapter of our lives to be able to begin the next. I talked about how Jesus had to finish His chapter here on earth in order to begin His reign in heaven and for us to begin a new life with and in God. But finishing in order to begin can be difficult at times. We fear the new and unknown and we become frozen where we are.
Isaiah 43:1b-3a and 5a tells us…gives us a promise of strength and power to help us forge ahead:
Restoration and Protection Promised
43 Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
5 Do not fear, for I am with you;
This fear thing…this cancer…has taken a toll on Christ’s church. There have been many churches that have closed and are still closing to this day because of the cancer of fear that has infested their lives both personally and corporately. I have been reading a book by Thom S. Rainer called “Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways To Keep Yours Alive” and it has caused me to really contemplate on why faithful Christians allow their church to close. He has looked at 14 churches’ that have closed and sort of “dissected” what happened…what the process was…as they began to deteriorate. The main thing that I have seen…that I have read…is that fear is at the bottom of it all. Fear of the unknown. Fear of doing things different. Fear of change. Fear of stepping out of their comfort zone. Fear of moving on so they live in the past. Now don’t get me wrong, the past can be a wonderful thing. But the past is just that, the past, and there is a time when the past can be so comfortable that even the thought of change can cause fear and trembling. What would you do if you weren’t afraid…?
Now the Church itself will never die but churches have been dying for a long time. There seems to be a slow erosion within the church. It may not be seen until it is too late. The people of the church don’t even see it coming because it is so gradual. But come it does and when the doors are closed for the last time, people are wondering what happened. A decline in ministries that are vibrant and vital, a decline in attendance, a decline in the prayer lives of the congregation, a decline in the outward focus…reaching into the community instead of within itself, a decline in the hopes and dreams of the church and looking at what was instead of what could be, all of these things happen in a gradual rate almost unseen… What would you do if you weren’t afraid…?
There are people within the community that don’t feel welcomed in the church. Christ’s church seems to be more afraid of changing the way they “do church” than reaching others with the gospel of grace. What do you think would happen if the church opened the doors of their hearts to others who “are not part of them?” But that can be a scary thing…something to cause us fear…what if I did that and my life changed…what if I did that and I had to care more about others than myself…what if they came in and changed everything that I hold from the past that is near and dear to me…Others first=Life. Me first=Death… What would you do if you weren’t afraid…?
Some of these churches close because they have forgotten the Great Commission that Jesus gave all of His disciples…the Great Commission Omission Tom Rainer calls it. Don’t get me wrong, they start out on the right path and the right heart. But somewhere it is set aside for other things to take its place. These church members “remember when…” we have had 25 kids in youth group in the past; we used to have all the pews full, ect. They live and think about the past instead of the here and now. What can we do to improve our numbers? How can we attract more youth? How can we… (fill in the blank). The Great Commission found in Matthew 28 verses 19-20 is full of action words…not just words to be memorized…
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The members of the church longed for the good old days when… but they have forgotten about the action words needed to make it so. They just wanted it to happen…boom…over night. What would you do if you weren’t afraid…?
Fear…it can be immobilizing. It can take hold and before we know it…all that we have worked for…all that we have strived for…all that we have toiled for…is gone. Just like that. Church can no longer “be done”…church needs to morph into what God’s wants it to be if it is going to continue to be the hands, the feet, the voice of God in the world. What would you do if you weren’t afraid…?
I would like to leave you with one piece of scripture today. It gives hope, it gives promise and it can take away all our fears…remember…perfect love casts out all fear… it is Psalm 91 and I will be reading it from the Message Bible…
Psalm 91 The Message (MSG)
91 1-13 You who sit down in the High God’s presence, spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow, Say this: “God, you’re my refuge. I trust in you and I’m safe!”
That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps, shields you from deadly hazards.
His huge outstretched arms protect you— under them you’re perfectly safe; his arms fend off all harm. Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night, not flying arrows in the day, Not disease that prowls through the darkness, not disaster that erupts at high noon.
Even though others succumb all around, drop like flies right and left, no harm will even graze you. You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance, watch the wicked turn into corpses.
Yes, because God’s your refuge, the High God your very own home, Evil can’t get close to you, harm can’t get through the door. He ordered his angels to guard you wherever you go. If you stumble, they’ll catch you; their job is to keep you from falling.
You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes, and kick young lions and serpents from the path.
14-16 “If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God, “I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!”
What would you do if you weren’t afraid…? Amen!