Sunday, 23 June 2013

Sermon 23rd June: The Power of Fear

1 Kings 19: 8-15 Elijah on the mountaintop
Luke 8: 26-39 
All the people... asked Jesus to leave them because they were overcome with fear (v.37)

Scary movies; roller coasters; spiders; heights; birds; closed spaces; open spaces; cows...
Fear is a great motivator
It can also paralyse

Fear can lead to depression and introspection
But it can also energise and inspire

And fear, often, is very difficult to explain or rationalise:
I can pick up a moth to help it out my kitchen – but I couldn’t pick up a spider
I can easily go up to a horse, but wouldn’t approach a cow
I can look out at an amazing mountaintop vista, and sit in a cable car, but I couldn’t actually look over a precipice...
I will not watch a scary movie, but I probably would go on a roller coaster

And I’m sure you all could give me other suggestions of things which are similar, but not the same because of your own particular sensibilities
Because fear is many things, but rational is rarely one of its descriptors!

A lot of the time I think it depends on how we deal
What we do
What our mood is when the fear finds us....
There are some things that I really dislike.... and I guess there are some that I am really fearful of.
There is a book (that I never actually got round to reading) very popular a few years ago:

“Feel the fear ... do it anyway”

The book’s basic premise is that your aim should not be to get rid of your fears. You should feel your fear, but not let it stop you from doing things you really want to do, that the best way to handle your fear, isn't to make your life safer - it's to increase your abilities, or your faith in your abilities. The more you know you can handle, the less reason there is to fear...

This is my final “The power of...”, sermon, we have covered in the past five weeks:
The Power of Three (trinity)
The Power of Faith
The Power of Prayer
The Power of Forgiveness
And this week, The Power of Fear, and in today’s readings we have two very different, and similar, fearful situations.

Elijah has every reason to be afraid – Jezebel is after his blood, she wants to hunt him down and punish him – because she is a bully; because she doesn’t want to have any voice challenging her authority. She is wrong; Elijah is righteous – but that doesn’t stop his very genuine, and reasonable, fears.

So Elijah runs: it is a classic fight or flight situation, and he chooses flight – he cannot take on a whole army.
Elijah runs, and runs, and runs.... (40 days!!) and finds a nice little cave away from the danger; away from the turmoil
A cave
A place of solitude
A place to recover
Except, he isn’t trying to recover – his fear and the running and being tired and hungry has sent him into a downward spiral
And he moans!!
Oh how he moans

"I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." – that answer to God’s question is a long, long moan...

I did what you asked
I followed your commands
And now everyone’s got it in for me – he is petulant; he is miserable and he feels really sorry for himself.... in today’s language he’d be moaning
“It’s not fair!!” – in a really whiney voice.

See – fear can do that to you
It can turn you from who you are into something else all together
And often it isn’t pretty!

In the gospel, we hear of a very different sort of fear; I have preached on this story many times; and I always feel sorry for the farmers who just lost their entire flock of pigs for a start.... but when I was looking at this a couple of weeks ago, the thing that stood out was right near the end of the passage: All the people... asked Jesus to leave them because they were overcome with fear (v.37)
Fear here is a motivator not an inhibitor – but the motivation is all connected to the flight or fight response.

They suddenly saw such power; such clearly mysterious, other-worldly, magical, miraculous power that it terrified them.
And they could no longer stand to listen or learn from Jesus – it was all too much.

Fear can do that
It can stop us dead in our tracks
It can build up barriers and prevent us from being who we can be; it can stop us from reaching our potential.
But fear, with a different attitude can also inspire, lead, move and energise us: the feeling of triumph when you face a fear; when you recognise it and just get on with things is exhilarating.
You did it!
You managed – the world did not stop – and you feel amazing!
Elijah realised, what those people had forgotten – that when God is with you, you can do anything.

Elijah’s fears threatened to overcome him; the people of the Gerasenes allowed the fear to overwhelm them
Elijah turned to God
The people rejected God (whether they realised or not)

God is there – not in the earthquake; nor in the violent storm; nor in the fiercest fires.... God is there in the silence.... “The inspiration you seek is already inside you – be silent & listen” (Rumi 13th C mystic)

“One summer night during a severe thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small son into bed. She was about to turn the light off when he asked in a trembling voice, "Mommy, will you stay with me all night?" Smiling, the mother gave him a warm, reassuring hug and said tenderly, "I can't dear. I have to sleep in Daddy's room." A long silence followed. At last it was broken by a shaky voice saying, "The big sissy!"

Fear is powerful
Fear used to harness God’s strengthening, God’s resilience, God’s sustaining will move us forward to greater, better, stronger and more inspired ways of engaging with the world.

The Power of Fear: don’t fight it – embrace it!

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