sermons

The "F" Word

June 10, 2018

So, did you catch the theme in today’s scripture, the common word in all of those Psalms?


I can’t imagine that you didn’t, but just in case, let’s take a look at them again real quick…


Psalm 36:5 ESV
Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

Psalm 40:10 NIV
I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.
I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly.
 

Psalm 86:15 ESV
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
 

Psalm 89:1-2 NIV
I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.
I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.
 

Psalm 91:4 NIV
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
 

Psalm 100:4-5 NIV
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
 

Psalm 111:7-8 NIV
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established forever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.
 

Psalm 119:90 ESV
Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
 

Psalm 89:8 ESV
O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you?

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Now, tell me that you saw it, the common theme… the word we heard over and over… the “F” word… Did you catch it?


Right… fear. That nasty F word… F-E-A-R… fear.


What? You didn’t hear the word fear in all those Psalms?


Okay, to be honest, I didn’t either. As a matter of fact, all of the scriptures we heard today make us feel pretty good about God, who God is, what God does, what God wants for us, what God provides for us, where God takes us, how much God loves us…


And actually, while I was preparing this message, and as I was reading these scriptures over and over, I started feeling pretty good about things, the world, my life, our church, the future….


These scriptures that declare God’s faithfulness toward us sound pretty reassuring.


And that would be all good if we could do nothing but dwell in those words… live day in and day out with nothing but the notion that we can find refuge in being covered by God’s wings and shielded by God’s faithfulness just like it says in the 91st Psalm we just read.


But the truth is, we usually spend a lot more time on Twitter and Facebook and watching the never ending “breaking news” and unbelievable headlines on CNN than we do in the comforting words of scripture.


We know they’re there. We know that God is an ever present help in time of need. Psalm 46 says so. But did the writer of those words know what kind of world we’d be living in today?


And what do words like that even mean to the parents who are trying to find a better life for their children by escaping a land of desolation and lawlessness, only to have those children taken from their arms to be hidden and locked away?


We can quote and shout and preach about God’s faithfulness in the midst of despair all we want, but fear will always rule in that situation, my friend.


It’s only the pious and self-righteous who will try to tell you otherwise.


I love the hymns we sing here at Bluegrass. Just a few minutes ago we sang, “Great is your faithfulness, O God Creator… You do not change, your compassions they fail not, all of your goodness forever will be.”


It’s beautiful. It’s majestic. It sounds wonderful.


But sing those words to the people who are living in the parts of the world that are desolate and dry and barren, or those who live under the threat of heavy handed and murderous governments.


It’s pretty easy for us to sing such things. But compassion and goodness from a faithful God seems like a dream or a fairytale to people like them.


As upside down as things seem here in our state and country, we’re pretty fortunate when compared to many parts of our world. 


But I’m gonna get personal here for just a bit.


I’m not immune to fear. It’s small compared to most things, but just this past week, Mason and I put a rainbow flag in our yard. We live on a street with good people. It’s a wonderful neighborhood, but we both had a moment of wondering if we were marking ourselves for some sort of attack or confrontation.


I sometimes fear for the future, for the safety of my family, for the well-being of my close friends.


I fear for those refugee families I mentioned earlier that risked everything to find freedom only to have been torn apart and separated by the people they expected to help them…

for African-Americans who have good reason to feel betrayed by an unfair justice system…

for the homeless who can’t get solid footing for a fresh start…

for the Native Americans who continue to be mistreated and pillaged…


I fear for our children and their teachers who just want to educate them, but more and more have to assume the role of defender and protector.


I fear for our environment as we continue to mistreat it and plunder and poison it.


I fear for those people who live in parts of the world controlled by murderous regimes.


I fear for the sick who have no access to effective medicine and proper healthcare.


I fear for children and the elderly who face abuse or neglect.


As your pastors here, Pastor Marsha and myself have fears of our own.


When we get word that one of you, the people we love and want more than anything to be able to minister protection and care and comfort to… when we learn that you are facing struggles and crisis and hard decisions and health issues, we straighten ourselves up on the outside and walk in with confidence. We want you to rely on our courage and faith.


But on the inside, we are wrestling with our own fears of inadequacy and not being able to be that perfect pastor and diplomat and preacher and counselor with the solution to your hard situations.


And then there are those of us who grew up in constant fear… fear of a god who couldn’t wait to punish us, and got some sort of twisted pleasure out of watching us squirm and constantly beg for forgiveness.


It was always such a confounding thing to pick up our bibles and read scriptures that reflect a beautiful God who desires to walk with us and be in our world and hold us and love us and protect us… then go to church and hear sermon after sermon of a god who rejects us and loathes us and takes great delight in reserving a special place in hell for us.


That’s why, for folks like us, to find a church that takes the scripture seriously and that scripture says that you are beautifully made in the image of God and that same scripture says that God is Love which means that we are made in the image of Love and that same scripture says there is no fear in Love because perfect love casts out all fear because fear has to do with punishment and retribution and God is not about punishment and retribution, God is about love! (1 John 4:18)


Jesus came to reveal a God who loves us by hurting with us in our pain, weeping with us in our sorrow, staying up with us all night long when we can’t sleep because of worry.


And he reveals a God who thinks we are the bomb.


God thinks you are the best thing since sliced bread, the fanciest car on the lot, the finest suit on the rack, the nicest house on the block, the smartest kid in the class… To God, you are the masterpiece in the gallery.


And Jesus revealed a God who cherishes us, whose love for us is perfect.


For most of us, that is a concept that we cannot wrap our minds around. It is simply too unbelievable to think that someone would love us just because. 


There’s no test. There’s no audition. There’s no interview. We don’t have to perform well or meet a quota or look a certain way or be part of a certain clique or group or church even.


The words and deeds of Jesus remind us over and over again that God’s love is capable of dealing with our fears.


And that is the God we preach and teach about here at BUCC. And that is why it’s important that everyone knows that we believe with everything in us that we all belong to God.


At BUCC, we are not just “friendly” or “tolerant” or “accepting” or “don’t ask-don’t tell.” 


At BUCC we celebrate the diversity of God’s creation.


But truth is, even among the people who need that message most, it isn’t always received. As a matter of fact, for those who’ve been abused and wounded by a church or pastor, they just can’t bring themselves to trust a voice or a church that uses the same God and the same Bible and the same songs and the same Jesus that was used to incite fear in them.


We don’t blame them, and we don’t hold them at fault. But we hope that they will believe us and give us a chance to prove it when we say no matter who you are, and no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.


Give us a chance, and we’ll start working on some of those fears… the fear of rejection and disappointment and feeling unloved.

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I read somewhere that the phrase “fear not” appears in the bible 365 times. That would be awesome if it were true, but it’s not. But it is in there enough that we should be encouraged.


We’re commanded only a few times in the bible not to steal, kill, lie or covet. A couple of times we’re told to love our enemies and treat others as we want to be treated. 


I think it would’ve been a good idea to say somewhere in there thou shalt not be stupid, but no none saw fit.


But what you do find over and over in the scripture is the command to not be afraid… to fear not.


I love what Nadia Bolz Weber says about fear:

Maybe God always says fear not – not to make us feel bad for our worrying, but to invite us to lift up our hearts to the presence of God and others’ love in this present moment. Because… this moment is a gift. And this gift originates in the goodness of the gift giver not in the worthiness or fearlessness of the gift receiver.


Bill Gaither wrote a song…

“I am loved, I am loved, I can risk loving you,

for the one who knows me best loves me most.

I am loved, you are loved, won’t you please take my hand.

We are free to love each other, we are loved.”


Jesus has made it clear, we can place supreme confidence in these words, “perfect love casts out all fear.” And why? Because the one who knows us best loves us most.


I’m not sure how that makes you feel, but the thought of God knowing all of my thoughts and intentions and motivations and deeds, both in secret and for all the world to see, knowing that God is aware of every part of my life… knows it all… and loves me just the same… that thought boosts my confidence.


It does a lot to remove the fear of what others may think of me.


Remember all those Psalms we read at the beginning of this message? Remember this one?

(Psalm 86:15 ESV)
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.


If you find yourself in a moment of fear. If the news or social media has convinced you that all you can do is be afraid, maybe turn to Psalm 86 and let those words absorb into your mind and heart and exchange that F word “fear” for a better, more promising one that describes God to a tee… faithfulness.


You can count on it. God will always be faithful in love toward you.

Amen.

Psalm 36:5 ESV
Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
 

Psalm 40:10 NIV
I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.
I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly.
 

Psalm 86:15 ESV
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
 

Psalm 89:1-2 NIV
I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.
I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.
 

Psalm 91:4 NIV
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
 

Psalm 100:4-5 NIV
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
 

Psalm 111:7-8 NIV
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established forever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.
 

Psalm 119:90 ESV
Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
 

Psalm 89:8 ESV
O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you?