HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
May 21, 2017
Romans 8: 18-19, 31-32, 35-39 (CEB)
18I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. 19The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters.
31So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him?
35Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written,
We are being put to death all day long for your sake.
We are treated like sheep for slaughter.
37But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. 38I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers 39or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.
If you are around Owen for any amount of time, at some point, you will hear him talk about lawnmowers. If he sees someone mowing the grass, he will say something like, “Watch wawnmower.” Or he’ll say, “Wawnmower done,” or “Daddy’s wawnmower done.” And usually, he’ll say that at several random times throughout the day; in the car, at the dinner table, and so on. When I put him to bed at night, we always say a nighttime prayer, and on most nights now, after we say, “Amen,” Owen will fold his hands back together and say, “Daddy’s wawnmower,” which means he wants to pray for Daddy’s lawnmower.
This fascination started back in the late winter when we couldn’t get the lawnmower to start. Ken and I troubleshot the lawnmower for a while, changed out the spark plug and that kind of thing, but all to no avail. So on our way to a Conference, we stopped at my parents’ house, where we dropped off both Owen and the lawnmower. My parents watched Owen while we were away, and that also gave my Dad some time to take a look at our lawnmower. My dad worked during college in a small engine repair shop to make a few extra bucks, and we figured if the lawnmower was salvageable, he would be the one to get it fixed.
On the first evening, as Ken and I ate dinner during a break, my Mom started texting me pictures of Owen helping Grandad “fix” the lawnmower. Owen knelt down on the ground, screwdriver in hand, watching as Grandad fixed the lawnmower. Ultimately, my dad got the lawnmower running, and he credits that somewhat to Owen, who wouldn’t stop pushing the big red primer pump button. Turns out nothing was really wrong with the lawnmower, we just have to push that button about 100 times now to get the lawnmower started rather than just three or four times. In any case, when we picked up Owen a few days later, he showed us the lawnmower, and he really hasn’t stopped talking about it since.
Now, it’s not just that Owen talks about the lawnmower; if Daddy or anyone else is mowing the lawn, Owen wants to watch. But he wants to watch from Mommy’s lap, or in Mommy’s arms. And he doesn’t want to get too close, because really, he’s quite afraid of the lawnmower. Therein, I believe, likes Owen’s fascination with lawnmowers. I’m sure you all are familiar with this phenomenon; the object of our fears is also often a source of intrigue for us. It’s like we are trying to understand our fear, or gain control of it, or overcome it by studying the thing that causes us fear.
So this plays out in our lives in other ways, too. Studies now show that when we are afraid, we seek out news sources that talk about the things we are afraid of. Probably the most classic example of this in recent history was the aftermath of 9/11. As a country, we were uncertain and terrified. And for days, even weeks, we were collectively glued to the news and these images of planes flying into towers. We weren’t watching that because the situation was changing, or because the videos were different, we were watching because we were afraid. I was in college at the time, and when I wasn’t in class, I had the little 13” tube TV on in my room watching the news. Until one day, about 10 days in, one of my professors said to my senior seminar class, “We’ve got to get out of this. We’ve got to stop watching this over and over again and get back to living our lives.”
But fear can have that sort of grip on us, where it becomes all-consuming and begins to shape our lives and our behavior, even when we know it is irrational. There’s an old children’s story, it’s been around in some form for about 2,500 years, and we know it as “Chicken Little,” but you might know it has “Henny Penny.” My nephew played Chicken Little in his school play a few weeks ago, I want to share a picture of him with you just because a cute kid pic is always a nice diversion (show pic of Bryce). Anyway, the way the story goes, Chicken Little is out feeding in the yard one day when an acorn falls on his head. Not seeing the acorn, Chicken Little thinks the sky is falling. So, in a panic, Chicken Little starts out on a journey to let the King know that the sky is falling. Along the way, he meets Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey, and others. With each new character, Chicken Little shares the catastrophic news and the gang grows as they journey to warn the King that the sky is falling. Among many other lessons, this story shows how our fears can get blown out of proportion, especially when we start passing those fears along to others.
Here’s the thing; we are a fearful bunch living in a fearful time. Those fears are compounded by the fact that marketing has mastered the skill of pandering to our fears in order to sell us goods, and media knows how to use our fears to draw us in. Ken, who was a news reporter before he was a minister, tells me that in the news industry, the motto is, “If it bleeds, it leads.” In fact, an annual study of people’s fears, conducted here in the United States, has shown that our fears rise and fall over whatever is dominating the news cycle. Add to all this an ever-growing sense of unease around the state of world affairs, including our own country, and in all reality, it’s a recipe for disaster. We panic. It is as if the sky is falling and the world is coming to an end.
But here’s the thing, as Christians such fear gets our lives off track. And in all actuality, the problems in this world really stem from the problem of fear in each of us. Our collective fear leads us to be less than human and it grows into a vicious cycle where we are less and less compassionate, less and less merciful and forgiving, less and less loving toward one another. Without giving this a whole lot of consideration, it’s obvious where such a cycle leads—only to a greater fear, greater panic.
But friends, we don’t have to get caught up in all of that. As a matter of fact, when we read Psalm 46 together earlier in the service, we proclaimed that “we will not fear when the world falls apart.” Do you all feel like the world is falling apart? I certainly do! Yet, as people of faith, we declare that whether the sky is falling, whether the mountains are crumbling into the sea, whether the world is falling apart, we will not fear! But how do we put aside our fears, our panic, and get to that place of perfect faith. For one, we have to begin by taking seriously the promises of God. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t hesitate to spend hours upon hours feeding our fears, but what if we did the same to feed our faith? Our Scriptures are full of stories of God’s promises, of God taking care of God’s people in especially troubling times; two of the greatest we heard this morning, from Psalm 46 and Romans 8.
Psalm 46 tells us we don’t have to fear because God is our “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Some translations say that God is our fortress. In God we have protection and peace, no matter what may be happening in the world around us. That promise is confirmed in Paul’s words to the Romans. In that famous question, Paul asks, “If God is for us, who is against us?” And as you read on, what you see is the answer to that question is not that there are no troubles, but that God is greater than anything that causes us fear! Nothing, not trouble, not distress, not harassment, not famine, not danger, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In fact, Paul says, through Christ we win the sweeping victory. Friends, if that’s not a reason to put aside fear and live in faith, I don’t know what is!
I understand what it is to be consumed by our fears, even to a point of panic. I remember being fearfully stuck in the news of 9/11, of Sandy Hook, of the July 16, 2015, attack here in Chattanooga. Such fears really can dominate our thoughts and our lives, they can become seeds that grow into overwhelming doubt. But we serve a mighty God, and we can never forget that. God in Christ Jesus is all the assurance we need in the face of fear and doubt.
Whenever Owen gets really scared of the lawnmower, he starts whimpering, and he climbs up on me and wraps his arms around my neck. When I ask him, “Are you scared, Owen?” He says, “Yesss.” And I always say to him, “You don’t have to be scared. Mommy and Daddy will always be here, and we will make sure you are safe. You don’t have to be scared, be brave.” Those words haven’t sunk in for Owen yet, but I will keep saying them to him until they do.
I can only imagine that God’s words to the frightened children of this world are much the same. “You don’t have to be afraid. I am your protection, your strength. I will always be here. I will always keep you safe. I won’t let anything happen to you. You don’t have to be afraid. Have faith.”
Friends, that truth will never change, and God is uttering those words to us even now. I guess the question for us is: Do we trust what God says?