RELEASED FROM FEARS
MICAH 4:1-4 1 JOHN 4:3-21
CHILMARK COMMUNITY CHURCH
MAY 8, 2016
REV. ARMEN HANJIAN
Recently someone said, “Almost everyone I know is either lonely or afraid.” “Fear,” said Gilbert J. Chesterton, “is the greatest plague of mankind.” Medical dictionaries list more than 3,000 fears or phobias. Common fears in our day include the fear of pain, sickness, failure, poverty, being dependent in old age, losing status, the fear of being unloved and the fear of death. And probably all of us are controlled somewhat by fears of which we are not conscious. Wherever we hesitate, hold back, get shy and often behind anger we find fear.
The American Medical Association concluded about half of our illnesses are rooted in wrong attitudes of mind and spirit. One doctor said that 85% of the patients that come to see him don’t need medicine – they need to change their mental and spiritual attitudes.
Throughout life, fear is one of our chief enemies. The writers of our Bible were aware of this and had good news to speak to our situation. Recall Adam’s first excuse for hiding from God after he disobeyed? “I was afraid,” said Adam. The great prophet of the 8th century BCE, Micah, dreamed of a world ruled by God and dedicated to God’s will. It shall be a time when “everyone shall sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree and none shall make them afraid.”
And it is significant that, according to Matthew, the first words the resurrected Christ spoke to the women were, “Do not be afraid.” In fact the words “fear not” are one of the most common in the classical Christian documents.
I would like, now, to help make vivid what fears can do for us and to us. Then, for your benefit and for those to whom you minister, I shall suggest some specific steps to overcome your fears.
Most people appreciate some of the values of fear. Fear, like pain is a sentinel which warns of danger. Starbuck, in Moby Dick said it well, “I will have no man on my boat who is not afraid of a whale.” We need caution in the face of real dangers.
The truth is most of our fears are not based on real dangers, but on imaginary dangers. There are only two fears we are born with: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. (not a good time to slam the pulpit.) Awhile back some psychologists studied 500 people and who named 7,000 various fears; all but two were acquired. 500 people loaded down with 6,998 unnatural, useless fears.
We might do well to do what one woman did when she realized her fears were ruining her life. She made a ‘worry table”. Here is what she discovered:
40% – will never happen
30% – were worries about old decisions she could not alter
12% – were other’s criticism of me, most untrue, made by people who feel inferior
10% – were worries about my health, which gets worse as I worry
8% – “legitimate” fears since life has some real problems to meet
Remember Jesus spoke about the man buried the one talent entrusted to him and gave it back to its owner saying, “I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the earth.” His life work turned out to be a hole in the ground. Fear of failure did that. Fear robbed him of any adventure in life. Safety meant stay at home and don’t budge.
Joseph of Arimathea was described as a “secret disciple for fear of the Jews.” Fear has a way of driving people under ground. You know people who are afraid —- Fear saps their strength. It paralizes their initiative.
People are not only afraid of life and it’s demands; they also fear death. Emma Carleton writes:
The road winds up the hill to meet the height,
Beyond the locust hedge it curves from sight-
And yet no man would foolishly contend
That where he sees it not, it makes an end.
So much points to life beyond death, yet countless numbers go through life with the single aim to avert death. Why? Are they afraid of the unknown, or that they have not lived a life they are proud to present to their Maker, or do they see death as equivalent to extinction? If you keep your eye pealed for that day, you will miss life in its fullness in the here and the now.
Let us turn now to ways means to achieve victory over our fears. It seems to me there are two techniques which we can practice in order to be released from our fears. One is substitution. I mean by that the process of deliberately thinking positive and loving thoughts and in so doing crowding out the negative and fearful thoughts.
There are two ways of getting rid of weeds in your lawn short of poisons I’m told. One way is to get down on your hands and knees and pull out each weed one by one. The other way is to keep planting an abundance of good grass seed and letting the grass crowd out the weeds. That’s substitution. That is not the same as saying forget your worries; the more you do that, the deeper you will drive them into your awareness. Crowd out your fears. As St. Paul writes, “whatever is true, honest, pure, lovely, and of good report, think on these things.”
A striking woodcut by M.C. Escher, a Dutch artist, is called “Day and Night.” It seems to be a flock of white birds, flying in formation in the same direction. A second look, however, shows that the spaces between the birds in formation are shaped like birds also. These phantom birds are all black and are all flying in the opposite direction. The two sets of birds are so cleverly blended that it is impossible to keep the eye focused on both flocks at the same time. That is, we can see white birds flying of black birds flying. It all depends on the way we look at it.
Fear is the most self-centered of all emotions. Fear is the heightened awareness of the self occasioned by what is thought to be threats to the self. “The cure for fear lies partly in eliminating external threats to the security of the self; but it lies more in eliminating excessive consciousness of the self. Love supremely does this.” Interpreter’s Bible 12:286 Our scripture lesson today reads “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” “Love casts out fear because it casts out unhealthy self-consciousness….Indeed, the principle may be laid down that the presence of fear in human personality denotes ethical and religious maladjustment somewhere” in John’s words, “he who fears is not perfected in love.”
Plan substitutions for those fears; with such a plan you will be on the offensive. I first learned this works in the dentist chair; in focusing on Christ’s pain on the Cross, mine diminished.
Briefly, the other technique to deal with our fears may be called the way of appropriation. (terms suggested by Harold Ruopp) Let me illustrate. Two women are engaged in prayer. One says, “O Lord, help me. Take away my fears. Give me peace, trust and hope.” The other prays: “O Lord, I rest in you. I take peace. I belong to you. You are my dwelling place and underneath are the everlasting arms. I give myself to you. I open myself to your strength.” I hope you see what I mean by appropriation. Learn the art of prayer for fears dissolve in the atmosphere of prayer.
Talk over your fears with another person, bring them to the surface and then leave them with God. Surrender them and yourself to God. Keep fears on the margins of life and God central. The God we see in Jesus Christ is one who takes us as we are, with our misplaced loyalties and senseless fears, God takes us and makes us like God is. God takes us as we are and we do not fear exposure, for exposure means judgment, but judgment is the very thing a Christian has learned to accept as a gateway to new life. Christianity does not promise your life will always be safe and rosy, but that if the worst comes, there is nothing to be afraid of. I end with these words of Jesus: “In the world, you shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Holy One, these fears of mine I have held within my heart and now I am turning them over to you. I will keep open to your inner guidance as I walk Christ’s way. Amen