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.