Let Go of Fear
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
Today is the first Sunday of Lent--the 40 day period (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Traditionally, it is a time for fasting and repentance and sacrifice. I was talking with a teenager about Lent and she asked if it has to be so serious and somber and sad.
I don’t think it does. In Lent, we tell the story of Jesus dying on the cross, but it ends with him being raised from the dead in glory. Along the way, even as we give up things, we discover joy.
And so today, I have a few riddles for you: I have hands but I don’t clap.
I'm not clothes but I cover your body; The more I'm used, the thinner I grow. What am I? Soap.
Never resting, never still. Moving silently from hill to hill. It does not walk, run or trot, All is cool where it is not. What is it? Sunshine. (I know, this winter we have forgotten what it looks like).
And now for a different kind of riddle: I make you weak at the worst of all times. I make your hands sweat and your heart grow cold. I visit the weak, but seldom the bold. Who am I? Fear.
Fear: We all know what that is. We’re all afraid of something. So, what are you afraid of? What makes you run and hide? Spiders. Snakes. Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my.
What makes your heart beat faster? Driving on the highway in the dark, in the rain, in the snow. Boarding an airplane. Speaking in front of people. Going to the dentist.
What keeps you up at night? Not having enough money for kids’ college, or for retirement. Upcoming surgery or tests. The national news.
What makes your hands sweat? Eating alone. Being alone. Dying alone.
What are you afraid of when no one is looking? That you will disappoint people, that people will see the demons you hide within, that you are not good enough, and will not make it to heaven. What are you afraid of?
Today’s Gospel reading is full of things we are afraid of.
It takes place in the wilderness--a place that is desolate, dark and where the devil dwells.
We read that Jesus has been in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights and he has not eaten.
The devil knew Jesus was hungry and vulnerable, fearful he would die of starvation.
And so the devil tempted him: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Whether or not you believe in a devil with a pointy tail and pitchfork,
he is alive and well in the world today, as a spirit who lives and thrives wherever there is fear.
The devil comes to us when we are most vulnerable and afraid.
When we are vulnerable it is easier to be afraid, and it is harder to resist temptation.
We are all afraid of something. We are afraid we won’t have enough--enough food, enough shoes, enough education, enough room in our house, enough cars, enough money. And so we accumulate more and more and more. We have so much stuff that many houses can’t use their garage for the car; and many Americans have their houses plus rented storage spaces to hold their stuff. We have become enslaved to our stuff, and it’s all based on our fear of not having enough.
In the book Satisfied we are reading in small groups this Lent, author Jeff Manion says, “Contentment is not about getting more or even simply living with less, but being satisfied with what you have.”
Jesus is not afraid of being hungry because he knows that what we are most hungry for cannot be bought or sold or stored in a shed.
Being satisfied as close to the heart of God, Jesus can say, “One does not live by bread alone.”
Jesus invites us to let go of our fear of not having enough stuff and let God fill us.
The devil thought that Jesus was feeling weak and weary and worried he would lose it all.
And so the devil tempted him with the promise of glory and authority, a name for himself, above all others.
All this and more…”I give it to anyone I please, if you then will worship me, it will all be yours.”
The devil plays on human fears of not being enough.
We are all afraid of not being in charge of something--a class, a company, a car, a house, a relationship, okay, even if it is just a remote for the tv. We want to have responsibility and be recognized and remembered.
In Satisfied, Jeff Manion shares the story of a married couple who were happy with their small house until they compared it with their neighbor; then their joy turned to jealousy. They wanted more. They wanted to be recognized as important and successful. Manion says comparison is a thief, stealing gratitude and joy.
Jesus is not afraid of being less than the best because he knows that our true identity comes not from the world and its titles, but from God and God’s promises. Truth is, We are all beloved by God, honored and loved just because of who we are, not what we do or what we accomplish.
Being satisfied as close to the heart of God, Jesus can say, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Jesus invites us to let go of our fear of not being enough and let God fill us.
Two strikes. But the devil was not going to strike out. When the going gets tough, the devil gets tougher. And so he pulled out his biggest temptation: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for God will command his angels to protect you.”
The devil tempted Jesus with throwing himself off a cliff to see if God would save him.
The devil plays on human fears. And this is our biggest fear. Although we won’t admit it.
The fear that God is not all knowing and all mighty and all powerful. The fear that God cannot or will not save us. The fear that God cannot answer our hardest questions of why.
In Satisfied, Jeff Manion writes, “Discomfort can easily boil over into “Why is this happening to me? Why do we struggle when others have it easy?” And we can add: What if we believe, but still our loved one dies? Why did the tornado in Alabama take two little children and leave the father? Why does God not seem to protect the innocent children from abuse, even at the hands of priests? Why do bad things happen to good people? “A wave of complaint and questioning can sweep over us, polluting our spirit and poisoning our attitude.” And weakening our faith. And making us vulnerable and afraid.
Jesus is not afraid of not having all the answers, because he trusts God and God’s promises.
And ultimately, Jesus is not afraid of death, because he knows God is eternal life.
Being satisfied as close to the heart of God, Jesus can say, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Jesus invites us to let go of our fear of not having enough answers and to let God fill us.
And so in the end, Jesus defeats the devil, and the devil departs--until an opportune time.
The devil will continue to thrive on our fears...and wait until we are weak and vulnerable to tempt us.
Another riddle: He doesn’t want your money. He doesn’t want your diamonds. He doesn’t want your cars.
He wants something far more precious. He wants your peace of mind--your joy. His name? Fear.
His task is to take your courage and leave you timid. His way is to manipulate you with the mysterious,
to taunt you with the unknown. Fear of death, fear of failure, fear of God, fear of tomorrow--his arsenal is vast.
His goal? To create cowardly, joyless souls. (Max Lucado, Fear Not)
This is sounding like serious, somber Lent….so here’s some Lenten levity:
A lady went to a psychiatrist complaining of a terrible phobia. “Every time I lay down on my bed I get this terrible fear that there is something underneath. “Wow” responded the psychiatrist “I’ve never heard of such a phobia, but like all phobias it can be treated, but it will likely take around 20 sessions.” “OK” responded the lady “how much is each session?” “Oh it’s just $80 a session, but trust me it’s well worth it.” When the lady didn’t come back to the psychiatrist he gave the lady a call. “How come I didn’t hear from you? He asked.” “Well” responded the lady “when I came home and told my husband about the cost he thought he would save some money, he just cut the legs off the bed!”
Jesus teaches us that the only way to defeat the devil at his own game is to not be afraid.
However you have to overcome your fears--cutting them off at the knees, facing them, discussing them, dismissing them, defeating them, offering them to God in prayer.
There’s a stampede of fear out there in the world. There’s doom on Wall Street and gloom in the newspaper.
Let’s not get caught in it. Let others breathe the polluted air of anxiety, not us.
Let’s be among those who stay calm.
Let’s follow Jesus’ example to let go of our fear of not having enough, not being enough, not having enough answers, and let God fill us.
Let’s let God fill us with the Holy Spirit, who takes away our fear and replaces it with faith.
Let’s be numbered among those who hear a different voice, God’s voice.
Let’s remember the first words the angels in the Bible speak whenever they deliver a message from God are:
Do not be afraid.
May it be so.