Sermon for March 6
May God’s grace, mercy, and peace be with you, through God the Father, and the Son Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Remember the movie “Jaws”? It was a big hit back in 1975. It was about a great white shark terrifying beach goers. You can still see this movie on TV after 47 years. People were terrified coming out of the theater. Some even vowed never go back to the beach.
I wonder what Jesus was thinking when the Holy Spirit led him out into the wilderness. He had just been baptized. And he heard God speak while he was praying: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” I wonder if he knew what he was in for as he made his way into an almost barren land. Was he afraid? Did he know he was going to face Satan himself? Was he up to the task? I ask these questions because Jesus was truly human. He laughed; he wept. He got hungry and thirsty and tired. He had and felt all the emotions we do. I just wonder if he was afraid.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, a speech was given by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which we hear a line that has been quoted thousands of times: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Probably all us fear something. Whether it is a real or a perceived one, we fear and it is real. And with the things going on in the world, threat of war, and all the things around us in our personal lives, we fear—and it’s probably the fear of the unknown as much as anything. So, what are we to do about it?
Walter Brueggemann in a lecture on “Why the Old Testament Must Not Go Away” commented: “You gotta have a place where you process your fears, because if you don’t process your fears, they will devour you [and] they will immobilize you.”
Where, then, can we go? Where is the place that we can process my fears? During this time in the Christian calendar, Lent, we look inwardly at ourselves and reflect on where we are in our faith journey. It is a good time to take stock of the things that cause fear in our lives. Today, we look at the scriptures, especially the psalm we just read—Psalm 91.
In order to process our fears, we have to identify them, name them. Otherwise they become even more difficult to process. Fears are named in the psalm: fowler’s snare, i.e., hunter’s trap (that would be physical danger); deadly pestilence or plague (like COVID); terror of the night (the unknown); and the arrow by day (our everyday worries and concerns). The writer gives the fearful person some comfort. God will cover you with has feathers and wings like a hen protecting her biddies. God will be faithful to you! In these verses, God promises both a safe place and a safe journey. There is no place, no time, no circumstance that is beyond God’s ability to protect us.
In our gospel reading today, Satan quotes the 11th and 12th verses of this psalm to tempt Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple. But Jesus refuses to claim God’s promise of protection for his own benefit. Jesus responded that to do so would be to test rather than to trust God.
If you notice in the psalm there are three persons involved in processing fear. The person who has the fear, the person listening and God.
Psalm 91 provides us hope and confidence in processing of our fears. The words can sometimes lead us to believe that we are promised a roadblock against anything that would even cause fear. Verse 10: “no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.” And verse 12: “they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
While we make pick out a few verses that say this, the psalm as a whole does not say this. Even process our fears does not promise that we will never fear again. The psalm is not a magic trick that makes all fear vanish.
The psalm is better interpreted as God preventing our fears having dominion over us. God promises in verse 14 to love, protect, answer deliver and satisfy. God speaks directly to us in the psalm. Paraphrasing John Calvin: The world may not be any safer but our place in is more secure and our journey more certain.
When Jesus went out into the wilderness, he was facing an unknown. But he knew his Father was with him. He could resist the temptations Satan put before him. But at the same time, he became fully aware of our temptations.
So, in the midst of all the things going on around us, we rely on God through His Son, to get us through the hard times, those times when we are full of fear. He is with us; His spirit dwells within us. We lean on him and we take comfort in the knowledge our fears will not dominate us and we can go about doing his will in his world. Amen