May 17, 2020 Zoom worship
What do you love and what do you fear in life? Paul was on a tour of Athens and looked around and saw all the idols and temples. In a way, the monuments showed what the people of Athens loved... and what they feared.
As I consider what I love and what I fear, I decided to look around my workspace to get some clues. Straight ahead is a picture of Julie in her wedding dress. Off to my right is an older picture yet of my mom holding me when I was about 1. Behind these is a family picture taken from our 40th anniversary party. Right behind that, me holding Christa on the first day we met the girls in Duluth.
Left of that, Ariel, William, Viola and me in our costumes from the two community plays I was in-Oliver and Beauty and the Beast. A business card from Julie's run for school board, a baby picture of Ariel and an action picture of me from a baseball game 40 years ago. Not hard to discern what I love; Lots of love and mostly family.
What is around me that shows what I fear? I have my meds, which I take for just one reason, to avoid migraines. I fear getting another migraine. I haven't had one for several years now, but I am always aware and afraid of getting one. Otherwise, fear is not a driving force in my life.
So what was it that Paul saw in Athens? What did the Athenians love and what die they fear? When Paul first arrived at Athens, the author of Acts began his account this way, “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” The “them” was Silas and Timothy. The area he explored was the Areopagus which was adorned with statues and markers, tributes to what Paul called idols; what the Greeks called their gods. Their memorials to their gods reflected their love for them; or at least their feelings of need for them. God's that provided rain and victory and successes and children.... But these monuments also a signified their fears. They were afraid of what would happen if they failed to honor the god's, failed to properly worship them. In 1 Peter we read, “Do not fear what they fear.” Peter is telling his readers that we don't live in the same circle of fear as the Greeks, or anyone that doesn't know the true God.
Perhaps the greatest sign of their fear is that they built a monument to the unknown god. They were so consumed with satisfying the needs and wants of their gods that they took out kind of an “insurance” god. Their thoughts seem to be, “Just in case we missed some deity who might feel slighted, let's cover our tails by building an extra statue to any god we may have missed.” Those gods they worshiped were there to cover their fears living in a world of so many unknowns.
So what do we fear? We are living in a time where many of us, our family and neighbors are living in constant fear of this virus we are living with. This pandemic is filled with unknowns. And we aren't wrong to live with a healthy fear of the dangers of this world. But we are wrong if our fears overwhelm our faith and our hope. For the bible tells us many places to fear God. But the fear of God is not the same as the fear of the Coronavirus. The fear of God might be best described as living in awe of God, of submission to God. We are not to live our lives fearing eternal judgment; Jesus took care of that. We are not to be overwhelmed with worry or fear of death, Jesus has conquered death. We are to be consumed with the love of God which leads us to love our neighbor.
And that sounds great, but what if you can't talk yourself out of fear? Is there a way to get beyond fear? Scriptures give us assurances, 2 Timothy 1: 7, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and self-control” and 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” God loves you perfectly. And that love does not mean that we are immune to the virus, it does not mean that nothing bad will ever happen to us, but it does mean that God is with us in all things. Even in a pandemic.
John Piper has written a book called Coronavirus and Christ. He writes about overcoming the fear the coronavirus has brought so many of us, “The secret is knowing that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus, yet doesn't, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it. (emphasis mine) That God reigns is good news. Why? Because God is holy and righteous and good...and infinitely wise.” We are mistaken if we think that any of this has caught God by surprise; has caught God off guard. The how and why's are not ours to know, but God is in this. And Paul gives us a promise in Romans, a promise that God sticks with us in and through everything. He makes the point that nothing separates us from the love of Christ: “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans (8: 36-39) And we add, not even the COVID-19 virus can separate us from the love of God!
So does all that mean we just “let go and let God” as the saying goes? That we just get up in the morning and whatever happens, happens? No. I am not saying that we don't take common sense actions to protect ourselves. God has provided us with minds to make proper plans, with medical advances that make our lives safer, with ever improving technology for car and home and work for defenses against danger. In our current situation, if staying at home brings you comfort, stay at home. If you are a people person and need contact to stay sane and happy, find a safe way to socialize. Zoom is not perfect but it has kept us in contact here with all of you and with our grandkids. Wear a mask if that gives you confidence. Stay safe, but don't let fear control your life. And if we suffer, know that God is with us. Peter wrote, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” We are not put in this world to avoid suffering, but to love God and neighbor. Jesus gave this promise in today's gospel, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” So in and through all the fears and anxieties of the COVID-19 world in which we live, know that Jesus walks with you. When we are safe and comfortable and happy, God is with us. When we are worried and fearful and suffering, God is with us. Not an unknown god, but the God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Quinn Caldwell in an article for Christian Century... from 9 years ago, shared a benediction that I think speaks to what we are going through right now. "May you love God so much that you love nothing else too much. May you fear God enough that you need fear nothing else at all."
Live safely, but live in the fear of the Lord; not in dread but in awe and love and reverence. We are not to live in fear of the things of this world. The bible has the words “fear not” or “do not fear” many times, over 40 actually. Take that to heart. Live confidently knowing that God loves you and is walking with you. Believe this: neither death nor life nor anything in all creation can separate you from the love of God. Amen.
Hymn: God of Grace and God of Glory