In his sermon on 15 January 1933, Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached
on Matthew 8:23-27, saying:
“…the Bible, the gospel, Christ, the church, the faith-
all are one great battle cry against fear in the lives
of human beings….Learn to recognize and understand
the hour of the storm, when you are perishing. This is the
time when God is incredibly close to you….God wants to
be our only support.”
Fifteen days later, Adolf Hitler assumed ultimate power.
Fear is nothing new. But it feels as if fear is rising in America and throughout the world. The causes? Are many and varied. Depending on who’s speaking, the audience is persuaded to fear ISIL (Daesh), immigrants from Mexico, Syrians, Al Qaeda, African Americans wearing “hoodies”, Muslims, anyone non-white, unemployment, trade deals that ship jobs overseas, the Federal Government, President Obama, lead-filled water, police, and the list goes on.
How do we respond? Some buy guns—semi-automatics and automatics, pistols for our night stands. Some live in gated communities. Some attempt to limit voting rights to insure that only Caucasians can vote. Some want to build walls to keep the poor out.
Our nation seems to have conflicting priorities and often turns a blind eye to ugly truths. Collectively, we protect police actions in spite of evidence that some officers cause the unjust deaths of many each year. America incarcerates an increasing number of people for non-violent crimes. And, although our military spending is more than some countries in the world combined, there are frequent calls for our government to spend even more on the military,
We fight to ban gay marriage. We discriminate against Muslims, calling them names and isolating them from regular social events. We damage their mosques or businesses. We burn down predominately Black churches. Our fears ultimately create urban ghettos. We find ways to exclude those different from white Christians.
In the face of fears, how does the church respond? I think too often our theology focuses primarily on personal edification, forgiveness of sins, and easy love. Today, church sermons may often focus on feel good, success-focused, and protective messages. Too often our church walls are fortresses for the so-called right people, like Medieval castles surrounded by moats. Amos’ words fall on deaf ears: “I take no delight in the noise of your solemn assemblies.”
Thankfully, however, Bonhoeffer has it right. The Holy Bible is God’s victory over fear. As we determine our responses to fear, look to the Bible for answers.
“Fear not for I bring you news of great joy! For to you this day is born….”
Psalm 91:5 says “You will not fear the terror of the night.”
Christ said to one whose daughter was dead, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.”
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear” says 1 John 4:18.
Giving encouragement to early Christians, the writer of Revelation writes: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” (2:10).
And, in Holy Baptism we are held by God, cleansed by God, graced by God, forgiven by God, and welcomed into God’s fellowship of faith. No fear.
In the Lord’s Supper, ALL are welcome. Come, receive the forgiveness of sin. Be in fellowship.
I hope that together we can conquer our fears by turning toward the church and each other. In Church we eat and drink together. We study together. We worship together. We retreat together. We serve together. We live and work for others together. We are not alone. In Church, we have conversations about all of life. We debate, we pray, we argue, we seek the truth, we decide for life. We are justified by grace through faith. “…for we walk by faith, not by sight.”(2 Cor. 5:7). “…you are all children of God through faith.” (Gal. 3:26)
Christ has triumphed!
A bulwark never failing!
The Church’s one foundation….
Have no fear, little flock!