Sermon from 27th Mar 2022 (Lent 4)

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (EHV)

1 All the tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus to hear him. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

He told them this parable: 

11b “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all that he had and traveled to a distant country. There he wasted his wealth with reckless living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 He went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He would have liked to fill his stomach with the carob pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, and I am dying from hunger! 18 I will get up, go to my father, and tell him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’

20 “He got up and went to his father. While he was still far away, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, hugged his son, and kissed him. 21 The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick, bring out the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let us eat and celebrate, 24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found.’ Then they began to celebrate.

25 “His older son was in the field. As he approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. 27 The servant told him, ‘Your brother is here! Your father killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 The older brother was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.

29 “He answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I’ve been serving you, and I never disobeyed your command, but you never gave me even a young goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours arrived after wasting your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

31 “The father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 But it was fitting to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found.’”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may not only realise the depths of our lostness, but also believe how we’ve been found and forgiven by the undeserving grace and mercy of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Imagine you’re at a boxing match as the two main contestants are introduced…

In the left corner are the sinners and tax-collectors who were eating and drinking with Jesus. They’re the type of people who have given into to their own fleshly desires and have sinned against God and their fellow humans, and therefore most people would consider them to be…the unrighteous!

In the right corner are the Pharisees and Scribes who were grumbling about the fact Jesus was welcoming these unrighteous sinners and tax-collectors. He was even eating and drinking with them as a sign he accepted them! The Pharisees and Scribes have tried to keep all the religious laws, regulations, and traditions (which means they’d never associate with such sinful ‘deviants’). Most people would consider these faithful and obedient people to be…the righteous!

These contestants gather in their separate corners. Two groups of people who always frown on, complain about, and critically judge the other: the unrighteous versus the self-righteous. And as the battle lines are drawn between these two groups of people who are gathered around Jesus, he tells a parable about a man who had two sons.

Now, when Jesus tells a parable, he invites you to consider who you are in the story. Therefore, as Jesus tells the parable of these two sons, which one do you relate to the most?

For example, are you a bit like the younger, unrighteous, son? For example:

  • Do you like to question or reject the way things are normally done and want to do things your own way?
  • Do you often attempt to get your own way, no matter what it costs?
  • Are you tempted to live like everyone else in the world just so that you can fit in, such as: getting drunk, swearing, taking advantage of others, sleeping around, telling dirty jokes, and so on?

Even though you worship here among your brothers and sisters in Christ, do you act like the younger brother when you:

  • Question or challenge the old traditions or reject the heritage you’ve been brought up with?
  • Gather for worship irregularly because there are so many other things you’d like to do on Sundays?
  • Feel the need to stimulate your senses and satisfy your emotions, even in worship?

In the parable, the younger son insults the father by wishing his father was dead so he could get his inheritance right now. He then wastes everything his father gave him in order to live the way he wanted to. But by getting everything he wanted, he ended up losing everything.

When he finally realises the mistakes he’s made, he tries to make up for it. He tries to work his way out of trouble. He’s the typical example of a rebellious and recalcitrant person who struggles to live with what’s expected of him.

Like it or not, some of you might relate to the younger, unrighteous, and rebellious, son.

However, if you don’t relate to the younger son, it must mean you’re more like the elder, self-righteous, son. In this case:

  • You might consider yourself as dutiful, conscientious, and faithful.
  • You always try to do the right thing and stay out of trouble.
  • In fact, you’ve sacrificed many things for the sake of others, and you might be tempted to remind them how much you’ve done for them.
  • You try to live a good life and so don’t live like everyone else, that is: you don’t get drunk, you don’t swear, you try not to take advantage of others, you don’t tell dirty jokes or put people down, and you don’t sleep around, etc.

Even here in in this Christian congregation among your brothers and sisters in Christ, you might act more like the elder brother when you:

  • Try to keep and defend the traditions of the past, after all, this is the way we’ve always done it, and this is the way we’re always going to do it!
  • See yourself as a kind of moral, ethical, or even biblical ‘policeman’ and make sure you tell all those other ‘younger sons’ off when they’ve done the wrong thing.
  • Expect people to give you the respect and admiration you deserve for being such a good person.

Of course, the dutiful and faithful elder son never left the father. He was always there doing the ‘right thing’. But you can see in his responses that he was also distancing himself from his father through his self-righteous attitude as he expected to be rewarded for his good behaviour.

He thought he deserved to be treated better because he lived a better life, was more dutiful, more conscientious, and more faithful than the ‘other’ type of son. Shouldn’t he be the one rewarded for his behaviour, rather than the reckless and rebellious son? Because he alone was right and faithful and dutiful, he wanted nothing to do with his rebellious brother.

Like it or not, some of you are like the elder son.

One way or another, we’re all in one of the two corners (although some of us can swap corners at different times of our life). We’re either like the younger son or we’re like the elder son. We’re either like the unrighteous sinners and tax collectors, or we’re like the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees.

In reality, both sons left their father – one by leaving home so he could live the way he wanted, and the other one by staying home and expecting a reward for it. Both sons ended up shaming their father. Both sons sinned.

You see, both tried to become their own gods as they attempted to manipulate their father to get what they wanted – one through obvious rebellion and waste, but the other through the subtle rebellion of expecting to gain good things for himself through his diligence and good behaviour.

What’s so surprising in this parable (and what upset the Pharisees and Scribes so much) is Jesus was pointing out to every self-righteous elder brother that their hearts were just as far away from God as the younger brother’s!

The good news is that, amazingly and undeservedly, the father went out to both sons and invited both of them into his celebration banquet. Both were wrong, but both were still loved. Both received the welcome of the father. The father didn’t wait for either of his beloved children to come in by their own efforts, but he went out of his house in order to restore and reconcile both of them.

The startling difference between both sons is, at long last, one of them realised his need for his father’s love. One realised his sin and sought forgiveness from his father. One wanted to be welcomed back to eat and drink on his father’s property. Unexpectedly, the younger rebellious brother received forgiveness from his father through a warm and loving embrace even before he expressed his heartfelt confession.

Unfortunately, the other brother was still stuck in his self-righteous attitude, as they often are. He not only rejected his sinful brother but, despite the fact he thought he’s always done the right thing his whole life, it’s now revealed how much he’s rejected his father’s love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Joy wasn’t going to be his while he sat outside enraged by the gross injustice and unconscionable mercy of his father.

The parable ends with the elder son still fuming outside of the father’s fellowship banquet waiting for his form of justice to be done, but this doesn’t mean the parable has to end there!

In a sense the parable remains unfinished, which means we’re left with questions such as: Will the elder son enter the house or not? Will he put aside his self-righteous anger and be restored in his relationship with his father and his younger brother? Will he humble himself by recognising his own sin, and accept his father’s invitation to feast at the banquet table?

You could also ask yourselves such questions as:

How will all the younger brothers and sisters be willing to forgive those who have judged and criticised their choices? How will they welcome the self-righteous elder brothers into their fellowship and share the love of Christ with them?

On the other hand, how will the elder brothers act more graciously toward those they judge or criticise? How will they proclaim the forgiveness of Christ to them and make them feel welcome within their own fellowship?

In the case of both brothers, how will we love the lost and found, no matter which brother we are? How will we receive, and pass on, the love of the Father? How will we encourage those around us to repent, forgive, and be reconciled so we may gather in peace and joy around the feasting table of the Lord?

Thankfully it’s not up to any of us to make the first move, because Jesus made the first move. He came to save unrighteous sinners as well as self-righteous sinners. He’s the Father who runs out of his comfortable home in heaven and comes into our sinful and troubled world to welcome us, embrace us, forgive us, and invite us into his thanksgiving banquet.

He’s the one who clothes us with his own perfect righteousness and gives himself as the prized calf to feast on. He’s the one who reconciles you and me to our heavenly Father. He’s the one through whom we are now reconciled to each other.

God’s mercy in Jesus Christ is extended to all of us. Even before any of us could say ‘sorry’, seek to make up for our wrongs through our attempts at self-righteousness, or even realise the folly of our rebellious sinfulness, Jesus said from the cross ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.’

He says that for criminals, prostitutes, murderers, but also for Pharisees and faithful church goers. He pleads with his own Father for our forgiveness, and through faith in his suffering, death, and resurrection, we’re forgiven.

The good news is, Jesus paid the full price to forgive you all, freely. None of you can earn it or deserve it, no matter whether you’re an elder brother or a younger brother. You’re all offered forgiveness and are invited to celebrate a meal of reconciliation.

You’re invited to share in his celebration together with all those sinners who have once been lost but have now been found. You’re invited to come and celebrate with all those who were once dead in their sin but have now been made alive through the blood of Jesus.

Whether you identify yourself as an elder brother or a younger brother, Jesus invites all sinners to come into his fellowship and celebrate.

Therefore, whether you relate to the unrighteous younger brother or the self-righteous elder brother:

  • Come and receive the body and blood of Jesus, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
  • Come and celebrate the lost have now been found.
  • Come and celebrate the dead are now alive again.
  • Come and celebrate your reconciliation with God the Father.
  • Come and eat and drink together – younger and elder brothers and sisters coming together to feast at the one table.
  • Come and learn to love your fellow lost and found brothers and sisters through faith in our gracious loving and forgiving Christ, so that…

the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 20th Mar 2022 (Lent 3)

Luke 13:1-9 (EHV)

1 At that time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. He answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered these things? I tell you, no. But unless you repent, you will all perish too. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse sinners than all the people living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no. But unless you repent, you will all perish too.”

He told them this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it, but he did not find any. So he said to the gardener, ‘Look, for three years now I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and I have found none. Cut it down. Why even let it use up the soil?’ But the gardener replied to him, ‘Sir, leave it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put fertilizer on it. If it produces fruit next year, fine. But if not, then cut it down.’”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may repent of our sin and believe your promise of forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

As I preached this sermon I asked the congregation: “If you reckon you’re the worst sinner in this church building right now, please stand up!”

Some people stood up. Some people didn’t. I then continued:

The point of this exercise is to identify who of you won’t stand up because you might reckon you don’t sin as much as others do. Jesus is talking to such self-righteous thinking people today in the Gospel reading as they came to him to gossip about others who had something bad happen to them. They assumed bad things usually happen to people because of their sin. But they also assumed the greater the tragedy, then the greater their sins must have been.

And don’t we do the same sometimes?

Don’t we wonder what people have done for them to deserve any misfortune happening to them, as if it was sent as punishment for their terrible sins? Don’t we wonder if our own little catastrophes are punishments sent by God for something we did? And, if we’ve ever escaped such tragedies, don’t we often figure God has blessed us because we’re not as bad as others?

But how quickly we forget we live in a sinful and corrupted world where bad things happen, often without any purpose or meaning behind these events. But just because somethings happen without any purpose behind them doesn’t mean God can’t use our personal or national disasters to lead us to repentance or to strengthen our faith!

Jesus’ response to these self-righteous people coming to him to gossip about other people’s misfortune was to use these local tragedies as examples of the way we’re often tempted to grade other people’s sin and assume we’re better than they are.

He asked the people in front of him if they reckoned those who were affected by such tragedies were worse sinners than they were.

But before we hear their answer, Jesus answered for them. He told them plainly that, even though these people died, they weren’t worse sinners than anyone else. Bad things happen, and it’s not always because they’re being punished for their sins.

Even more importantly, after each example, he called the people in front of him (who may have thought they weren’t as bad as those who had died), to repent.

In other words, Jesus used this opportunity to teach them that it’s not about how good or bad we reckon we are (especially in relation to others), but he calls everyone, including you and me, to repent.

Part of our human problem is that, while we have a tendency to acknowledge all of us have fallen short of the glory of God (as we’re taught in Scripture), we might come to Confession on Sunday morning racking our brains to remember many particular sins.

Most of us are simply not aware of how much we hurt people or how much we hurt God by what we do or say or think. But God knows how much we’ve sinned against him and those around us. He knows the secret desires of our heart and knows we need to repent.

Another issue is, even if we were to recall how we’ve sinned through careless words, selfish actions, reluctance to serve others, or laziness toward God and his Word, we don’t often know what it means to repent.

In this case, repentance isn’t just feeling sorry for what we’ve done or even feeling sorry for being caught. That’s called remorse. Feeling sorry or remorseful about what we’re said or done isn’t repentance. It’s much deeper than that.

Instead, repentance (which literally means to do an about face) seeks to discover the reason we’re doing the wrong thing in the first place so we can truly do an about face and, with God’s help, resist the temptation to do it again.

In other words, repentance isn’t just about turning away from what we’ve done (which would treat only the symptoms of our sin). Repentance seeks to turn from the reason why we did it in the first place (which would be treating the cause of our sin).

Once we know the why of our actions, which are usually because we don’t fear, love, or trust God as we should because our hearts are fearing, desiring, or trusting in someone or something else, we can then look for Christ to create within us a good and clean heart so that we can be transformed and renewed from the centre of our being.

For example, if we were to use a fruit tree as an analogy (as Jesus did), I think we can all agree that the purpose of any ‘Christian fruit tree’ is to bear fruit, right?

St Paul even describes some of the ‘fruit’ we Christians are expected to bear in his letter to the Galatians saying, the ‘fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Gal 5:22-23).

Now, if a fruit tree is looking good and lush to the passer-by but not bearing fruit, where’s the first place you’d need to work on so the tree could bear good fruit?

You’d work on the roots, right?

Perhaps you’d dig around a bit, check the ground to see if there’s any mineral imbalances, perhaps fertilise it some more, and make sure it gets the right amount of water. Usually, with the right amount of effort at a tree’s roots, you’d hope to see some fruit next season.

It’s the same with us.

Repentance involves looking at the root cause of your sinful words and actions or looking to identify why you didn’t speak those words of encouragement and mercy in the first place.

For instance, one symptom of your sickness could be that you’re critical and judgmental toward others. If you’re only seeking to treat the symptoms, your ‘repentance’ might involve just trying to hold your tongue, but your hearts would still harbour those sinful thoughts and critical attitudes toward others.

However, if you were look deeper at the roots of what you do and say, you might discover the cause of your critical and judgmental thoughts and words is because you’re proud of yourself and reckon you’re better than them. It could also be because you’ve jumped to the wrong conclusions about them based on your own presumptions or misunderstandings. In either case you haven’t sought to understand or love them, but you’ve simply judged them as worse than yourself.

But what’s even worse about such a critical attitude is that you’ve become the judge and jury of people made in the image of God, when God should be the only Judge. Therefore, when you judge and criticise others, you not only sin against those you’re critical about (in your words and actions), but you attempt to shift God from his Judgment seat and replace him with yourself!

This means you not only need to repent of your critical words and actions which have hurt others, but you also need to repent of your proud and arrogant heart which has attempted to enthrone yourself as judge and jury in the place of God!

If you only repent of the symptoms of your arrogance and pride by holding your tongue, you’d never repent of your idolatrous and arrogant heart which is the cause of your sins against both God and the people around you.

When your repentance goes all the way to the root cause of your sinful words and actions, which is your proud and idolatrous hearts which don’t fear, love, or trust God as you should, you may finally despair of yourself and your own abilities, and rightly receive the nourishment of the gospel of Jesus Christ who creates clean hearts and a renewed spirit within you.

This is because Jesus is the patient and merciful gardener who understands your temptations, who speaks for you, defends you, and loves you enough to ask for another chance to work away at your hearts so that you may produce the fruits of faith.

He digs away at your sin-infected hearts through his word of the Law to expose the sinful attitudes, self-centred fears, and selfish desires of your hearts, in order to lead you to repentance. He patiently and persistently calls you to repent how you haven’t truly feared, loved, or trusted God above all things. By digging at the roots of your sinful natures, the grace of Christ is able to work deeper into your hearts.

Then, like some gardeners who speak to their plants, Jesus continues to speak to you. He tells you the good news of the Gospel that you’re forgiven because he paid the full price for your disobedience and your rebellious attitude. He forgives you for what you’ve said or done which hurt others and hurt God. He forgives you for what you didn’t say or do when you should have. He forgives you for the sinful attitudes of your arrogant heart and creates a new heart within you so that you may bear the good fruit of the Gospel.

Like blood and bone being placed on the ground to nourish it, he gives you his own body and blood to reassure you of his forgiveness and strengthen your faith. Despite your sinfulness, you’re still welcome at his table so you can receive his grace and mercy and peace.

The Gardener doesn’t want to just prune a few words and actions out of your life, but he purposely comes to disturb your roots where those words and actions came from. But he also tenderly treats you with his Gospel of grace, love, forgiveness, and peace.

Through repentance and faith, and with the Holy Spirit’s help, we’ll all go from this place willing to live as in God’s presence, and lead a holy life, even as Christ has made us holy, and produce the fruits of faith, including love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

So, one more exercise, and hopefully this won’t be uncomfortable for you.

Stand if you believe you need a Lord and Saviour who’ll speak for you, forgive you, and give you another chance to bear the fruits of repentance and faith…

Well then, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, patiently and lovingly guard and renew your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 13th Mar 2022 (Lent 2)

Psalm 27

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?
When evildoers advance against me to eat my flesh, when my foes and my enemies come against me,
it is they who will stumble and fall.
If an army lines up against me, my heart will not fear.
If war rises against me, even then I will keep trusting.

One thing I ask from the Lord. This is what I seek:
that I live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
    to gaze on the beauty of the Lord, and to seek him in his temple.
Yes, he will hide me in his shelter on the day of trouble.
He will hide me in his tent. He will set me high on a rock.
Then my head will be lifted up above the enemies who surround me.
I will offer sacrifices at his tent with a joyful shout. I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear me, O Lord. With my voice I call.
Be merciful to me and answer me.
When you say, “Seek my face,” my heart says to you,
    “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”
Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger.
You have been my help. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God who saves me.
10 If my father and my mother abandoned me, the Lord would take me in.

11 Lord, teach me your way, and lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.
12 Do not give me up to the desire of my foes,
because false witnesses rise up against me, and so do those who breathe out violence.

13 Unless I was confident to 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!

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that when we’re afraid, we may look to our Lord Jesus Christ who is our light, our salvation, and our stronghold. Amen.

Most of us don’t like to admit it, but everyone’s afraid of something, someone, or some situation.

For example, you might be afraid of:

  • Getting hurt – physically, mentally, or emotionally.
  • Getting in trouble with friends, family, church members, and authorities.
  • Getting old, with all its complications, debilitations, and inevitable end.
  • Getting sick with viruses, diseases, cancers, heart problems, and dementias.
  • Losing your reputation among people you love or respect, which might threaten whether they’ll love and respect you.
  • Losing your mind, your health, your family, your friends, your hopes and dreams for the future, or your life.

Even our fears of little things like itsy bitsy spiders, or mice, or needles, or missing an appointment, become enormous and terrifying in our minds as our imaginations blow our fears out of all proportion and threaten to overcome us. The conversations and pictures in our heads snowball into overwhelming situations as we fear what might happen, even though they haven’t (and probably won’t) become a reality.

Like it or not, we’re all afraid of something, someone, or some situation.

But what do we do when we’re afraid?

Well, we’re likely to respond in one of four possible ways:

  • Fight
  • Flight
  • Freeze, or
  • Flop

Examples of fighting in the face of our fears is when we attempt to overcome our adversaries with force. We do this when we attack people physically as we hit out at them, or by threatening them verbally through our abusive words, name-calling, or threats. Even when we seek the support of others, we attempt to damage someone else’s reputation through our gossips. We slander people by telling others about someone’s evil motives.

As Christians, we might also threaten people with God’s laws or with some other threats of biblical justice, which never correlates with God’s nature of grace and mercy. Because fighting is a natural response to fears, this means the biggest bullies might also be those who are most afraid. Unfortunately, fighting never gets rid of our fears. Vengeance isn’t the answer.

Examples of flight are when we attempt to deny or avoid certain people, certain situations, or certain things. We quit jobs, end relationships, change churches, or file for divorce as ways to flee the people, situations, or places which scare us.

Those who are most afraid and devoid of all hope might despair of their future and avoid the rest of their life through suicide or assisted dying. Unfortunately, running away from whatever terrifies us never eliminates what we’re afraid of. Lacking courage to face our fears, we keep running whenever we’re reminded of whatever we’re afraid of in every new situation or new relationship.

Examples of freezing is where we just don’t know what to do, so we do nothing. It’s the ‘deer, or rabbit, in the headlights’ response where we seem incapable of any response. We don’t know what to do. We feel helpless. But what makes it worse is we feel incapable of seeking help or even receiving help. We’re frozen in the fear that nothing and no-one can do anything about what we’re afraid of, and so we remain trapped and frozen as our fear continues to incapacitate us.

Examples of flopping includes those times we give up in the face of fear. We become numb and unresponsive to whatever scares us, but also numb, and empty, and unresponsive to any help or hope. We’re apathetic and indifferent, hoping we’ll become numb to whatever and whomever we’re afraid of, but the fears continue to make us insensitive and unresponsive.

We usually respond in one of these ways, or in a combination of responses. They’re all natural human responses. Even many Christians respond with fighting, or flighting, or freezing, or flopping.

Now, you could argue fighting or fleeing is actually an act of faith, but it’s a faith in oneself and one’s own power, or strength, or influence, or ability to flee from whatever we’re afraid of. It’s a misplaced faith in oneself, which is a form of idolatry, and idols will always lead us down the path toward destruction and despair.

You could also argue freezing or flopping are examples of unfaith, where we’ve decided no-one is able to help us. This rejection of help or comfort or support also leads to despair or destruction.

However, King David, who wrote this psalm, has a different response to fear and anxiety.

In this case, his faith, his hope, and his confidence, isn’t in his own might, or strength, or cleverness, or influence, or army, or running speed, or musical abilities. His faith, his hope, and his confidence during those times when he’s afraid, is in the Lord – the maker of heaven and earth.

In fact, he describes God as his light, his salvation, and his stronghold.

For him, there’s no need to fight, or flee, because he trusts God is his stronghold who provides him with security. God is the one who fights for you. God is the one who defends you. Within God’s stronghold, you’re safe, free, and at peace. Nothing and no-one can truly harm you when you take refuge in the Lord, who is bigger and mightier and more powerful than whatever and whomever you’re afraid of.

God is also his light. Like turning on a light in a dark place, God’s light helps you see clearly. Where once the dark and all your fears of the unknown grew out of all proportion, God’s light exposes where the true danger is, but he also provides a lamp for your feet and a light for your path. You’re no longer helpless and hopeless to freeze or flop, because God is your Saviour who comes to rescue you from everything, and everyone, you’re afraid of. The darkness and despair of sin, evil, death, and the devil have all been defeated.

Therefore, when you trust the Lord is your stronghold, your light, and your salvation, even if an army of enemies is bearing down on you, seeking to destroy your life, your heart won’t fear because you know with Almighty God on your side, who on earth could prevail against him?

Even when you’re facing the most terrifying war or flood or virus which threatens to shatter your life, you’re confident you’ll endure in strength and courage knowing the Lord himself is your everlasting stronghold.

But then King David leads us to an unexpected place during those times when we’re afraid. He doesn’t lead us to a bunker or a defendable mountain. He leads us to worship!

When you’re afraid, there’s no call to fight or flee or freeze or flop. King David calls you to receive God’s mercy and blessing in the place God promises to be present. He calls you to sit in the presence of God and gaze on God’s beauty.

But the problem is we can’t see God, and neither could King David. So, what’s he looking at? What is King David gazing at which gives him joy and peace and security whenever he’s afraid?

Well, since God is always present in his Word, we’re to look at God through our ears.

You’re to actively listen to him speaking to you through his Word so that you ‘see’, recognise, and trust God’s good, gracious, and glorious character. The more you listen to him (instead of your own scary thoughts), you hear, see, and experience God, not as a terrifying or vengeful God, but a God who loves to lavish you with the gospel of his forgiveness, love, mercy, protection, comfort, and peace.

God isn’t unresponsive and uncaring about whatever or whomever you’re facing, but he promises to be with you and accompany you as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He’s near you as your stronghold, light, and salvation.

So, what does King David do as he hides in God’s stronghold and is reassured by the Lord’s gracious and loving presence and protection?

He sings!

Now, this may seem a strange thing to do when you’re afraid, but he sings praises to the God who is attentive to his cries and who surrounds him with security and refuge. The songs he sings aren’t focussed on himself and his own feelings, but they praise God and his awesome character. The songs praise who God is and what God does for him.

And what does God do for him?

Well, God listens to his cries and his prayers, and he listens to your cries and your prayers.

Whenever you attempt to fight your enemies or tell others of their evil, people may listen to you, but they don’t always answer your cries the way you need. Whenever you flee from the people or places you’re afraid of, people won’t always hear your cries. When you freeze or flop, prayer is often far from your lips.

But God listens to your cries. Even if your own parents, the ones you love, or the ones you look up to and respect were to abandon you or treat you less than you think you deserve, God will take you in.

God will listen to you, gather you like a hen under his protective and secure wings, and attend to your needs. God won’t give you up to your adversaries who spread lies and false witness against you. God has already defeated your greatest enemies, so the people and places you’re so scared of don’t stand a chance against him. God remains your security and provides compassion.

Since he’s already promised you citizenship in heaven and you’ve been promised eternal life through faith in your Lord Jesus Christ, you know you’ll live forever in his care.

While you wait for that day to come when he takes you from this scary world to his eternal home, you gather every Sunday with those who live eternally – both those you see in the flesh, but also those who already gather around the Lord’s altar who have gone before you.

You don’t have to look very far to see things which might scare you. A virus still threatens the elderly and the fragile. Heart attacks and other ailments take the young. Floods wash away lives and livelihoods. Wars and conflicts continue to terrorise people around the world. Bullies continue to try to have their way with the vulnerable. Not only this, but your own minds will continue to terrorise you with your own fears which only God can truly know and understand.

But again I ask: “What will you do when you’re afraid?”

Will you continue to fight, or flee, or freeze, or flop?

Or will you look to your Lord in faith and confidence knowing that with the Lord on your side as your stronghold, your light, and your salvation, whatever or whomever you’re afraid of can take a running jump in the lake!

You don’t have to face your fears alone. God himself is your fortress of safety and security. God will bring all things into the light. God himself is your Saviour. God is your help and he’s promised you that you’re already citizens of heaven. God will protect you like a hen protects its chicks under her wing.

So then, may…

…the peace and security of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.