From our Old Testament reading, these words: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

So, what are you afraid of?  It’s quite a bold statement that serves as the theme of this service on the 2nd Sunday of Lent: “Standing Unafraid.”  Really?  Do you stand completely unafraid?  Yep, me neither.

I will share with you just a few of my own personal fears.  First off, I must honestly confess that I am a little bit afraid of admitting that I am afraid.  I grew up with the mentality that real men, strong men, do not admit they are afraid of anything.  I’m afraid of looking weak, or of having a weak faith-- especially for a pastor.  Right now I’m trying to overcome that fear by admitting I do have fears.

Like most people, I fear bad news from a doctor regarding my health, or the health of a loved one.  Probably an even greater fear is a very real fear of failure.  So far, I feel things have gone pretty well in my role as Zion’s Pastor.  But what if I mess things up?  What if I don’t have the smarts or the energy or the ability to meet whatever challenges may be on the horizon, or if I bite off more than I (or we) can chew in terms of some of the rather ambitious mission and ministry possibilities we are pursuing?  What if I have some major moral failure? 

I have some fears stemming from things well beyond my control.  I fear the deep divisions and political chaos that is in the daily news.  I fear the moral chaos that I perceive as eroding the very foundation of our culture, and the fear that comes from observing how very broken so many lives are, and I fear the weakness of a divided church in terms of being able to bring about the necessary healing.

These are very real fears.  And there are more.  But that should suffice for now.  The point has been made, I think.  And I have to assume that I am not the only one here who deals with fear in all of its various forms.

In a sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent of 1533 Martin Luther addresses a fear that is very real for many people: death.  I do not list that as being a strong fear for me.  I’m not so much afraid of dying as I am of missing out on the rest of what has been an incredible life journey for me.  Even though I am confident that what awaits us after death is infinitely superior to anything we can experience in this life, I do fear missing out.

Luther nailed it when he said: “Even though death consume us, we yet shall not feel its sharp fangs, for Christ’s Word is our armor that supplies us with a confident life and a quiet, peaceful death and eternal life.”  Isn’t that what we all long for?  We want to know and trust what Jesus taught and demonstrated about death.  We want to believe in life after death with all of our hearts, but we’re surrounded by so much that makes us doubt.  No one we know has come back from the dead to reliably tell us about what’s on the other side.  So there may be times we find ourselves lying awake in the deep dark of the night with the fear of death gripping our hearts.

Terrorism and mass shootings in our country have heightened our fears.  We don’t really know anymore where we can be completely safe.  It would be nice to be able to walk around with some kind of body armor that we know would be one hundred percent effective against any weapon.  But even if we could do that, there is no armor that can protect us from illness or disease on the inside, or keep us completely safe from the results of failures, be they our own, or those of people around us.  As St. Paul said, “the wages of sin is death.”  We know it all too well because we see it all around us.

But there is an invisible armor that protects us from something far worse than physical death.  It is the armor that has the power to calm all of our fears.  It’s the armor of God’s Word that defends us against eternal death.  The armor of God’s Word has protected all of God’s people who have gone before us.  It reminded Joshua that his God was with him wherever he went.  It reminded Paul that the Lord would rescue him from all evil.  The Word became flesh in the person of Jesus so that He could speak words out of His own mouth reminding us that He is our eternal companion, guide, rescuer, and Savior.

And the Word made flesh, Jesus our ever-present Lord and friend, is there to help us face every fear.  With Joshua, we take great comfort in these words: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Are you traveling?  The Lord is with you.  Are you walking down the aisle?  The Lord is with you.  Are you going into surgery?  Are you going to a funeral?  The Lord is with you.  Are there things that you know are out of your control?  The Lord is ultimately in control of everything, and even setbacks and defeats can be used by God to bring about good.  Are you going to your own grave?  Yeah, me too.  Be strong and courageous!  The Lord is with you!

In our Epistle, as Paul defended himself in court he looked around and realized that everyone who might be able to help him had abandoned him.  Paul was in prison for his faith as he wrote to young Timothy and didn’t know how long he had left on this earth.  But the Word of God came to him and wrapped him in its armor: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

If you ever feel the strong temptation to return to a sin or an addiction you thought you had abandoned, the Lord will rescue you to protect you, or pick you up and embrace you if you do stumble or fall.  If you feel alone and abandoned by people you thought loved you, the Lord will never leave you or forsake you.  If you ever feel shaky in your faith as you face current or future challenges, the Lord will rescue you.  Do you feel the fear of death creeping in on you?  The Lord will rescue you and bring you safely into His heavenly kingdom.

You see, the fears I admitted to having a few minutes ago all have a common theme: they all reflect a reliance on myself, or on other things and people.  The only way we can truly stand unafraid is to rely on Jesus, and as we sang a few minutes ago, to stand in His strength alone.

The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own. Put on the Gospel armor; each piece put on with prayer. Where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there.

Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you.  1 Peter 5:7

   April 2019   
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