June 25, 2023 Sermon: Fear Not!
Rev. Steve Nofel
First & Franklin Street Presbyterian Church
June 25, 2023
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
As we get to know each other, you will come to realize how much I have loved Super-Heroes since before I could read. My oldest brother had a big old wooden shipping crate full of comic books since before I can remember.
In the earliest days I couldn’t decipher the words, but man! The art and the action. I was and am hooked! I read those comic books until they turned to dust. It was also the high time of the Adam West Batman TV show.
Years later the Batman movie with Michael Keaton & Jack Nicolson came out on my birthday – kismet! I was in the Air Force then and used up hours of a precious three-day pass and time with my family to go to the movies.
Batman has always been my favorite. He faced all his challenges with no superpowers; only his natural intellect, ingenuity, athletic ability, a great costume super-cool car, and wonderful toys. He always seemed fearless. Unless he was facing The Scarecrow…
The Scarecrow had this stuff that could instill fear into anyone, even Batman. To me, Scarecrow has always been Batman’s worst archenemy. The Joker, Bane, Penguin, and the rest might possibly kill the body. But, only the Scarecrow could kill Batman’s spirit and make him fear.
Only fear could paralyze Batman and stop him in his tracks. Only fear could stifle his intelligence. Fear could even drive out how to use those wonderful crimefighting tools on his utility belt. Fear could make him doubt his own skills and abilities and doubt Robin, Comm. Gordon, and the rest of the Bat Family.
I truly believe that our worst archenemy is fear. In fact, I know my worst enemy is fear. Fear stifles and paralyzes my everyday life and my faith life. Fear makes us doubt our calling to love and serve the Lord. Fear makes us doubt each other and God’s very self.
Fear is the driving force of our passage from Genesis. When Abraham was 90 and Sarah was 90 years old, God called them to be the parents of the multitude. But after 10 years it wasn’t happening. Driven by the fear it would never happen, they hatch a scheme. Abraham and Hagar conceive a son, Ismael.
However, Sarah does finally bear a son, Isaac. Fearing that her son would be overshadowed by his older sibling, Sarah demands Abraham banish Hagar and Ismael. Fearing he messed up in the eyes of God, and (honestly) fearing the wrath of his wife, he banishes them to the desert. Fearing that the boy will die, poor Hagar does everything possible to help him die.
Fear does force us into horrible decisions!
However, God is near. I want you to remember and think about the Word of God given to us by the Prophet Jeremiah in chapter 29:
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord
I want you to remember the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
God rescues Hagar and her son. Yes, the body is healed. And the spirit is healed. Hagar, Ismael, and the nations move forward. Not without bumps in the road, but knowing God is near. Even when we are struggling to realize it.
Even when we run out of words. Even when we run out of hope. Even when we run out of faith. Even when we run out of prayers – God is with us. God is with you. Again, Romans 8. When we can’t pray anymore. The Holy Spirit prays for you in ways that we cannot imagine.
Sayings become clichés because they are so often true, but in the repeating they can lose their power. I want you to hear fresh and new the words of Franklin Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Time and again the Bible tells us “Fear Not!” Time and again Jesus cries out in so many situations, “Fear Not!”
One thing that disappoints me about some translations of the Scriptures is they translate, “Fear Not!” as “Don’t be afraid.” Do you feel the difference? Don’t be afraid reminds me of Sheldon on Big Bang Theory patting someone’s arm while saying in a deadpan, “There. There.” It lacks strength and conviction.
Jesus demands and is fierce about it! Fear Not! In John 14 he cries out, My peace I give you. My peace I leave you. I do not give as the world gives. Let not your heart be troubled- FEAR NOT!
In our Gospel reading today three times Jesus yells at us: Fear Not!
Verse 26: Fear Not! Jesus speaks the Truth in Love! No mixed messages here. When he says I am with you always until the end of the age! It is the Truth! Jesus is with us forever and ever. Amen.
Verse 28: Fear Not! We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Yes, our bodies will die. There are those who can and will kill the body.
Fear Not! Nothing, no one, no how can kill the Spirit of God that we carry inside us. You know it. The Apostle Paul affirms it with the rhetorical question: Do you not know that your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit? Not even death. Not even fear can touch the Almighty and Everlasting God – the Holy Spirit we carry inside of ourselves.
Verse 31, Fear Not! Two sparrows are sold for a penny at the Temple to be used in religious rituals. Two for a penny, a sum a price so small it is nearly impossible to imagine. Yet our God loves them and is with them.
Our God loves all of the nature God created. In Genesis 1, God called all of nature GOOD! After creation of humanity, God looked around and said, “All of nature and humanity is VERY GOOD!”
Fear Not! God has even counted the hairs on your head. Nothing can separate from the Love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Not our limited imaginations, not only our own paralyzing fear.
Also, before I learned to read, I have been hearing about how people of faith are hypocrites. Honestly, I am tired of that noise. We are not hypocrites, but human. Yes, we profess faith, but that doesn’t make us practically perfect in every way.
Today, though, I have a little hypocrisy nagging at me.
Like Jesus I am fierce as I urge you with all my heart and ability to Fear Not! But, I have already said it. My archenemy has always been and will always be fear.
You know what I do when fear stifles me and feels overwhelming? I don’t put on a super-suit. Don’t own one.
You know what I do? I fear. I let fear nag me. I let fear try to paralyze me. I fear! Then, then I turn to my Bible. I turn to my Jesus. I turn to the power of the Holy Spirit.
I pray. Not formal on my knees with my eyes closed and hands folded. I cry out:
- “I fear no evil. For thou art with me.”
- “Of whom shall I be afraid? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
- “Peace. Be Still.”
- “Be Still and Know that I am God.”
I start singing:
- With Lauren Daigle, “Peace, be still.” “I will send out an army in the middle of the hardest. I will rescue you.”
- “Blessed Assurance Jesus is Mine.”
- With MercyMe: “My hope is you alone.” “Give me the strength to be able to sing, ‘It is Well with My Soul.’”
I hang out with people of faith.
- I borrow your courage.
- I borrow bravery, your guts.
We have a lot of friends here and out there. Including the Psalmist:
You are my God; and ARE gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.
You gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
I know I can FEAR NOT — for you, O Lord hear all my prayers,
You listen when I cry out.
You are with me always.
And nothing can separate us from your perfect love.
For I shall and already do dwell in the Shelter of the Lord: FOREVER! AMEN!
ABOUT REV. STEVE NOFEL: Steve was originally ordained in another denomination 32 years ago. He has been a PCUSA pastor for 28 plus years. His wife, Kim, is also a PCUSA pastor. Right after they were married, they moved to her first call in southeast Nebraska. Steve fell into interim / transitional ministry and found his calling. He served as an interim minister for 11 years. Then Kim and Steve became co-pastors for 12 years in Cortez, Colorado. After leaving Cortez, he once again found his niche in transitional ministry. Steve has been serving congregations in Baltimore Presbytery as “Staff Interim” for the last year.