Making Peace with Fear

RCL - Eastertide  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  17:40
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The sermon explores the paradox contained in the scripture readings of trusting God in the midst of fear, especially death. It proclaims the good news that Jesus meets us in our place of fear and proclaims his peace: "Peace be with you!" He even meets us in our place of extreme doubt and invites us to put our finger into his wounds. The prayer suggested at the end of the sermon is "Lord, in the midst of my fear of ________, I receive your peace. Lord, in your mercy." RCL - 2nd Sunday of Easter

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I will never be shaken?

Let us pray...
“I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”
This is great stuff, isn’t it?!? I need this in my life. I’m gonna claim this!
I wonder if the Psalmist really believed this? Do we really believe it?
The ironic thing is that this declaration assumes that Psalmist expected to go through challenging circumstances.

Illustration: Sudden Fear

Many of you know that Amy and I were missionaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo for several years with Mission Aviation Fellowship. Our reception in the village where we lived was not very positive. The first day I rode up to the airstrip on my dirt bike, a large rock went whizzing by my head. Someone was trying to get 50 points for hitting the white guy on a bike!
Fast forward a couple years. One day on the way to the airstrip on my 4-wheeler, with one of our pilots Dan, who was born and raised in Congo—and the Congolese would say that he spoke Lingala better than they did—we heard chanting as we were just cresting the hill. This was somewhat odd. We finally saw a group of young men dancing in a circle singing and chanting. We didn’t know what was going on, but it became evident very quickly that they were blocking the road! Then I noticed they had machetes. I knew things were going downhill when they started looking at me and then one of them pointed a machete directly in my face and said something. I was terrified!
This was a sudden test that I was not prepared for.
Many options of response were available...
lecture the youth about God’s protection over me?
call for the authorities and have them track down these misguided youth?
plough through them with my 4-wheeler in self-defense?
leave the field because of the threat on our lives?

Will we be shaken?

I will come back to this story at the end and share how I responded, and I’ll show you my machete scar if you want... but for now, I want to wrestle with this question:
How are we supposed to trust God when we are confronted with terrible fear? What is it supposed to look like?

The Tension Illustrated in the Readings

Our reading from 1 Peter (1:3-9) underscores the tension.
Peter says, we are born into a living hope, we have an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance
BUT we suffer various trials.
Do you feel the contradiction?
The Gospel reading (John 20:19-31) also points to this tension between our actual circumstances of fear and the invitation to experience God’s peace.
The disciples are holed up in fear; the door is locked; there’s no way they are going out.
BUT Jesus has the nerve to say “peace be with you.” The words don’t match the situation. Then he even commissions this band of terrified people to go out and face those who are threatening their lives!
If we are honest, probably all of us are like Thomas. We don’t have the guts to tell God, “I’m terrified and I need you, and I don’t really believe deep down that you are going to be there when I need you most.”
So we expect God to show up in a big way, to prove us wrong. I won’t believe unless I put my finger in the hole of his hand. But aren’t these demands for a miracle really just confessions of unbelief dressed up in religious clothing?
Instead trusting God, we invent creative fleeces for him to indicate to us—don’t miss this— ahead of time! We want to know in advance—before confronting our difficult boss, before going through cancer treatment or surgery, before taking financial risk, before being vulnerable to another— that we are going to be ok.
It’s easier—note I did not say easy, but easier—to be thrown into a fiery furnace when we know ahead of time that we are going to be fine.
But what if we don’t know? What does trust and faithfulness look like when we might very well die in that furnace?

Psalm 16

We generally don’t live in constant fear of death, although that possibility is probably closer to reality than we like to admit. Not long ago, we were shaken by the near death of Amy’s dad, a man who is the model of health and safety!
David likely wrote Psalm 16 following an experience where death was a potential outcome and had this poem inscribed in stone somewhere. Both the LXX and Hebrew title for this Psalm suggest this.
Some fear appears to have confronted the Psalmist since he asks for
affirms God’s control of his fate
claims to never be shaken because of this trust
rejoices in the security he finds in the Lord
and in knows he will not be abandoned in or to death

Road not taken

While it is debated as to whether the Psalmist has resurrection in mind—our reading in Acts 2:22-32 clearly takes it this way as a proof for the scriptural basis of Jesus’s resurrection—what I find most important is the road not taken by the Psalmist, that is, idolatry.


We often associate idolatry with religion—something that only pertains to the spiritual sphere. Then, after performing mindless ritual, people went back to their daily lives. But this is a significant misunderstanding.
Ancient people turned to Idols for all the reasons we find important to our daily lives today:
healing from illness
wealth and prosperity
protection from enemies and natural disasters
guidance for decisions
They wanted answers and sought help just like we do. They wanted to know ahead of time that they were going to be ok in the face of whatever fears before them.
Jeremiah 44:16 “...We will sacrifice and pour out drink offerings to the goddess called the Queen of Heaven just as we and our ancestors, our kings, and our leaders previously did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, were well-off, and had no troubles. 44:18 But ever since we stopped sacrificing and pouring out drink offerings to the Queen of Heaven, we have been in great need. Our people have died in wars or of starvation.” (NET)
Ancient people groups in and around Israel, and even many Israelites, worshipped numerous deities because they each had control over various domains of life and different regions of the land. Besides, a second insurance policy isn’t so bad.
To make things more confusing, worship of other gods largely resembled acceptable worship of the God of Israel. In other words, idolatry offered the common person a tangible way to secure well-being in this life.

When do we cross the line?

Hold up iPhone
Our struggle is not so different from ancient people even if we don’t struggle with idolatry in the way they did. Let me give an example from my life.
Doing a doctorate was never on my radar. When I decided to pursue it, I knew full well I would be entering a dead job market and I don’t have any guarantee to get a job.
Everyone in my situation knows that to be considered for a job, you must
perform well in class
pad your CV
get articles published
obtain teaching experience
cultivate relationships for positive reviews, etc.
In this competitive environment, there are a lot of good and necessary things that I need to be doing…
but when do these things cross the line of trusting in my own strength or mechanisms of my field and not trusting in the Lord? How does idolatry manifest itself?
Maybe I should work late… just this once.
Maybe I’m not really present with my family because I have projects or papers in my mind.
Maybe the stress over my situation comes out in anger at home or being overly critical of peers.
Maybe I see and treat professors or peers as objects to help me obtain success.
I think you get where I’m going with this and the principles can readily apply to wherever you find yourself.

Experiencing the Good News

So here is the Good News, Wilmore Anglican!
Jesus knows our fears and willingly embraced his own that we may have new birth into a living hope. Right wherever you are holed up this evening in fear, whatever terror has gripped your heart—Jesus says “Peace be with you.”
Will you receive his peace tonight?
Not only does he meet you in your place of fear and invite you into his peace, but he will even meet you in your place of doubt.
Come, put your finger into the hole in his hand. Know that your savior lives and trust him even when you don’t know how things will turn out.

Anticipating the Consequences

Sitting on the 4-wheeler with a machete recently in my face, I frantically asked Dan,
“what should we do?!?”
He calmly said,
“Let’s just sit and wait. They’ll eventually calm down and we’ll find out what they want.”
They finally did calm down and we passed peacefully.
Here’s an important point to catch… Dan had a powerful influence on me in how I initially responded that that fearful circumstance.
We need each other in times of fear. Our community is critical, let’s help each other.
But it wasn’t over just yet—Dan got to fly home, but I still had to go up and down that road and deal with the relational tension.
So, I asked the pastor and head of the mission to call a meeting with the youth. I was open and vulnerable and expressed my fear, sadness, and pain and tried to articulate the sacrifice I was making by coming to live and work among them. I also expressed the love I had for them and their people which is why our mission was there in the first place. Instead of running from my fear, I faced it with the Lord’s help.
Likewise, Jesus walked willingly and directly into the heart of his fear and death.
Neither I, nor the Good News can promise you painless deliverance from your fear at this moment, but I promise you that your idols, whatever they are, will leave you empty.
In your bulletin, there is a prayer that you can fill in the blank and pray at any time during the prayers of the people or throughout this week. “Lord, in the midst of my fear of ______, I receive your peace. Lord, in your mercy.”
In closing, there is a massive difference between our idols and God.
We make our idols other-worldly” in that they help us escape our pain and struggle.
Jesus is this-worldly,” meeting us where we are, suffering with us, and giving us new life.
Come to the table tonight and receive his body and blood, the proof of this.
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