Date: October 16, 2016
Title: “Quaking in our Boots”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:3-10
Today is the second in a three-part sermon series on fear and the response of faith to fear. A few months ago researchers at Chapman University surveyed 1600 Americans, asking what it is they fear the most. And the survey said…corruption of government officials! 60.6% of those surveyed listed this as their biggest fear. Imagine that! Americans’ number one fear is related to the ethics of our leaders!
Following that fear, the survey found Americans fear these things:
- Terrorist attacks…41%
- Not having enough money for the future … 39.9%
- Being a victim of terror…38.5%
- Government restrictions on firearms and ammunition…38.5%
Okay, so now I want to know – where did they find these particular 1600 people to survey?! I don’t know about you, but they are hardly representative of my biggest fears! In fact, I am more likely to fear these things:
- People I love dying…38.1%
- Economic or financial collapse…37.5%
- Identity theft…37.1%
- People I love becoming seriously ill…35.9%
Whatever your particular “hit list” of fear contains, it is easy to let them run away with you, and to end up feeling a bit like the character “Fear” in the movie Inside Out, which portrays the various emotions that drive an individual. “Fear” is a somewhat humorous individual always catastrophizing the future by pointing out every possible problem that might come along.
Our fear – especially our inner fears, those voices warning of potential disaster and bringing to mind possible pitfalls – it is a bit frantic and can even be overwhelming, if that is all we listen to. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor and theologian who preached against the Nazis, said this at the beginning of their rise to power:
The Bible, the gospel, Christ, the Church, the faith – all are one great battle cry against fear in the lives of human beings. Fear is, somehow or other, the archenemy itself. It crouches in people’s hearts. It hollows out their insides, until their resistance and strength are spent and they suddenly break down. Fear secretly gnaws and eats away at all the ties that bind a person to God and to others.
Prophetic words indeed at the beginning of World War II. And Anne Lamott, in our day, says this about fear:
My 6 year old associate, who sleeps down the hall about 30 feet away with both our doors wide open, wakes up on many mornings and predicts, “This might be the best day ever!” Then, in the dead of night, a tiny voice calls out to me, “Nana, will you ever get sick or die?” Then he cries at the very thought of it. He terrorizes himself. I think this says it all.
If you are alive, conscious, and sensitive, which is to say, human, you’re going to have incredibly joy and terror this side of eternity It’s Life 101, life on life’s terms, not on ours, all these things – fear, joy, grace, mess, isolation, communion – all mixed up together. And it’s not helpful to tell each other cute things we saw on bumper stickers, whether our beloved people are 6 or 60. It is condescending, and patronizing, and it makes us turn on you.
And yet, two very short sentences do help…The most important is “Me too.” Yes, joyous and scared, chosen and lonely, healing and cuckoo, all at once. Yep, me too. The second is “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” Courage when your kids leave, or you lose them, or evil pulls on them too hard; courage for the limbo of sick parents, and cold silences and dark nights.
Me too…what about you? We all carry within us the potentially debilitating, often demoralizing inner fears that come with the territory of being human. These fears may present themselves as reasonable reactions to very real dangers. Or, they may simply pose as urgent needs born out of nothing more than our own imaginations! If we let those fears go unchallenged, if we succumb to their frantic energy and let them run unchecked, after awhile we begin to believe that the only way to stay safe is to retreat inside ourselves, to build walls around us, to hang onto routines and worldviews and attitudes that never risk change. And there, in those protected, isolated spaces we slowly begin to die.
Which is why we need, in 2 Timothy’s words, to rekindle the gift of God that is within us. This is why we need to be reminded that God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self control. Mary Ann Rademacher suggests that
Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes, courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying “I will try again tomorrow.”
And Frank Haney tells us that there are two types of courage – what he calls “loud” courage and “quiet” courage.
Loud courage is being the dissenter in the room, speaking truth to power, leading troops into battle, fighting for change. Quiet courage is taking that next step toward a goal even when the conditions are not ideal. If loud courage is about taking on city hall, then quiet courage is all about taking on yourself.
Quiet courage is taking on yourself. It is finding the courage to stand up to the fears which keep you stuck in ruts of safety and security, isolation and perfectionism. Quiet courage is speaking over the lies which would have you believe you are not good enough, or smart enough, quick enough or lovely enough, or whatever “enough”. Quiet courage is listening to the Biblical record, which tells us at least 68 times to Fear Not. There is a reason we are given those words so often. The truth is we are all afraid. But the truth also is that doesn’t mean we cannot be brave. Choosing courage does not mean we will never again know fear. Choosing courage simply means we will refuse to let fear have the final word. Choosing courage means we will refuse to let fear dictate our every action. And it absolutely means we will refuse to let fear take the place that is meant for love in our lives.
In the film “Akeelah and the Bee”, a young girl is asked to choose this kind of quiet courage. Early in the film, Akeelah goes to meet a potential mentor, someone who can help her train for the National Spelling Bee. On their first meeting, the teacher asks Akeelah to read aloud a quotation from Marianne Williamson, which says:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
When she finishes reading, the teacher asks “What does this mean?” Akeelah struggles to find an answer, but eventually says in a quiet and hesitant voice, “It means I shouldn’t be afraid.” To which the teacher again asks, “Afraid of what?” And once more Akeelah struggles with her growing epiphany until she says, “I shouldn’t be afraid of me.”
Do not be afraid of yourself. You are a child of God, born to make manifest the glory of God that is within you. You can refuse to let fear take the place that is meant for love in your life. For God did not give you a spirit of cowardice, timidity or fear. Instead, God has given us all a spirit of power and love and self control. Thanks be to God! Amen.