Philippians 4: 4-9 & Psalm 27
Listening for and Responding to the Word of God
A Scripture Reading from Psalm 27 (portions)
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?
3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.
4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life. . . .
I will sing and make music to the Lord. . . . .
13 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
“There is nothing to be afraid of!” A Still Speaking Daily Devotional by Richard L. Floyd
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” – Psalm 27:1
When my daughter, Rebecca, was a little girl she went through a fearful period and frequently arrived at the edge of our bed in the wee hours, usually at my wife’s side where there was considerably more sympathy to be had. She would say in a small voice, “I’m scared!” And I would say in a big Dad voice, “There is nothing to be afraid of. Go back to bed.” And while it was true that she had nothing to fear in our big old parsonage, on another level it was one of those little white lies parents tell small children to protect them. Because, in fact, there is always plenty to be afraid of, and not long after that there was both an arsonist in our neighborhood and a serial child killer in the area, who was later caught very near the front of our church. Years later grown-up Rebecca said to me, “Dad, no wonder I was scared—there was some really scary stuff going on.” She is now a fearless UCC minister, but during her first week at seminary we received an e-mail from the dean alerting us that a woman on campus had just been murdered, and the killer hadn’t been apprehended. That night Rebecca called and said, in that same little girl voice from long ago, “I’m scared.” And I, of course, said, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” And we both started laughing, and then I said, “I’m scared, too.” If you read all of Psalm 27 you’ll notice that the Psalmist, let’s call him David, declares his confidence and trust in God, even though powerful enemies surround him. Which is to say that faith lives in the midst of our fears. And our fears can take on real power to stunt and stymie us if we let them. The good news is that the real power in the universe is neither the things that we are afraid of nor our fears themselves, but the power of the living God we are called to live out day by day, even in those fearful times when we can’t see it or feel it.
Anthem “Must Jesus Bear the Cross?”
A Reading “Fear” Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM on March 13th 2020
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
– Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM March 13th 2020
*Hymn 476: “My Life Flows on in Endless Song” NCH
A Scripture Reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 4
Philippians 4:4-9 New International Version (NIV)
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard [from me], or seen [in me]—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
In this confusing time, I worry about people making choices out of fear. Fear distorts our view of the world, fear distorts our perceptions of one another. Fear alternately paralyzes us or makes us frantic. Fear of the Corona Virus, fear of economic collapse, fear of overwhelmed hospitals, are all real fears, I can’t say to you “there is nothing to be afraid of”. And yet, faith can live in the midst of our fears. Faith must live in the midst of our fears. My hope, my prayer for all of us is to let our faith be bigger than our fear.
Imagine what it was like for our ancestors in faith, who sat in these pews, during the Civil War. A terrifying time when the future of this country was torn by contrasting visions of how to live into our Constitution. And here we are 160 years later, not perfect, not back to normal, but still figuring it out, here we are. Or during the First World War – what people truly believed was the war to end all wars, when it seemed that the entire world was at war. And here we are. Or during the Spanish Flu that swept through this community in 1918 – there are many stones out in that cemetery that stand a silent witness to the deep grief and loss during that pandemic. And here we are. Or during the Great Depression when the market crashed and farms were lost and there were no jobs. And here we are. OR the social upheaval and violence of the 1960s. The people who sat in these very pews – some of you who are still here – all suffered under the burden of anxiety and fear for the nation’s survival.
Through all anxious times, the people in these pews, our ancestors in faith, gathered together, and prayed in the face of tremendous fear and worshipped God together. In deep faith, the people who have gone before us figured out how to live into the future, how to embrace the problems of the present and how to address those challenges. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always pretty. And the world was different and lives were changed. In the coming weeks, we are going to have to figure out how to worship together without being together. We are going to have to figure out how to gather together and be in community without actually gathering together.
Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic wrote “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” She lived in England in the 14th C DURING THE TIME OF THE PLAGUES that swept through Europe. When thousands of people died. When whole families, whole villages, whole communities died. Yet, Julian of Norwich’s most famous words are “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” She could say that because she believed in a God of love. She believed that no matter what wearied this world, God’s love as revealed in Jesus Christ would prevail.
And when Jesus, our savior, died on the cross, his disciples scattered. Everything they had believed, everything they thought was going to happen, all of their hopes died with Jesus. They fled or hid in fear. The disciples allowed fear to define their faith. Fear to determine their future. And it was a bleak looking future in those first days after the crucifixion. But, we know a different story don’t we? We know a story of triumph. We know a story of hope. We know a story that changed the world. Those very disciples went forth to witness to the love and healing of Jesus, to the miracles and teachings that we still proclaim today.
And if you go back further in time, when the First Temple in Jerusalem fell, the Jewish people believed it was the end of their faith, the end of their people, the end of their God. YET, they continued to pray and worship and live – even in exile – as God’s chosen people. Here we are, 2500 years later, and Judiasm continues.
In the midst of anxiety and fear and constant news updates of “presumptive cases”, let us proclaim to this weary world “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”
PLEASE NOTE: This is not to suggest complacency right now. Hardly. Rather a reminder that we should not be ruled by fear, we should not make decisions in fear, but in faith. William Sloane Coffin once wrote, “As I see it, the primary religious task these days is to try to think straight….You can’t think straight with a heart full of fear, for fear seeks safety, not truth.”
You and I can’t think straight with a heart full of fear and are we seeing a lot of fear right now!!
Let your faith be bigger than your fear.
We are a progressive church, we believe in science and in facts. We believe in facts and truth over fear. The news is real, the virus is not a hoax, we need to follow CDC and Vt Dept of Health guidelines. And we need to care for one another – pray for one another, be gentle and generous and compassionate with one another. We in the church need to be the people of light, love and hope. We need to be the people of faith who are working for justice for all God’s people. We need to be the church in the midst of this pandemic. And we need to figure out how to do that in a new way – not as a community physically gathered together, but from a distance perhaps.
We are a community – we gather, we worship, we study, we care in community. Being in community is a hallmark of Christianity. So, perhaps our biggest challenge is how to be the church without being together in community? Because we won’t be gathering for the next few weeks, all bible study and meetings will be cancelled. We can show love for one another – and follow the new protocols. That means a lot of phone calls and emails and letter writing, not hugging or holding hands. That means leaving food on people’s doorsteps, not gathering around the table for a meal together. These simple gestures are lifelines for people who are frightened and isolated, especially for those who don’t have access to technology. I will be communicating with email, and via our church website as we figure out together how to be the church now.
“Faith lives in the midst of our fears. And our fears can take on real power to stunt and stymie us if we let them.” [Richard L. Floyd] So Let your faith be bigger than your fear.
”The good news is that the real power in the universe is neither the things that we are afraid of nor our fears themselves, but the power of the living God we are called to live out day by day, even in those fearful times when we can’t see it or feel it.” [Richard L. Floyd]
So, Let your faith be bigger than your fear.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”
In the greatest of hope, thanks be to God. Amen.
– A Still Speaking Daily Devotional by Richard L. Floyd
– “Fear” by Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM on March 13th 2020
– William Sloane Coffin
– Julian of Norwich
*Hymn 286 : “Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness” New Century Hymnal