Pastor Lynn Rubier-Capron’s Sermon
March 17, 2019
On Monday I indulged in a long slow walk around Montclair. As I walked past the “Montlair Manor,” a young man waved to me from the front porch. He got up and met me at the end of the driveway.
He had a huge ring in his nose and a big smile on his face and he said “do you ever see fairies?” I mean it, and he wasn’t joking or trying to be rude. He really wanted to know.
The only thing I could do was laugh and get very curious about this guy. He said “where are you going?” Wo, now the fear antenna went up a little further. I smiled bigger and said “I’m going to an appointment in the area.” He tilted his head and said “,’Walk with you to the corner?” I said yes, because he got my attention with the fairies.
Then, he explained his question by saying that someone my size would naturally have a respect and special honor for the fairies and gnomes, and he felt certain I would have seen them.
Now, I have been on the receiving end of passive aggressive short humor my whole life, and I know it when I see it. This guy, I suddenly realized, had very dilated pupils. He himself believed in fairies and thought he had found a soul mate.
By the grace of God I was able to keep my humor, so I asked if he had ever seen fairies. He said yes, one time when he was high. Ok, theory confirmed.
We kept talking until we reached the corner, then he politely went back to the front porch of the Manor and I went to my appointment.
I felt fascination, joy, excitement, curiosity and fear. And now, I will admit that the biggest of those feelings was fear.
I wasn’t afraid for my safety, I was on a very busy road in broad daylight. I felt afraid because this is the world Jesus Christ has called us to serve. Do any of you know, personally, people like this young man? Do we have access to people like him so that we can serve him? How will we tell him about God’s love for him, and show it to him, if we separate ourselves from him?
Fear, my fear was larger than my love, my curiosity and my delight in this human being. And my favorite place to go when I’m feeling afraid is Ps 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?
I might as well tell you now, this is going to be an interactive sermon. At this time, I invite you to turn to someone sitting near by and tell them a word or phrase or very short story about something that elicits fear in you. If you prefer, you may pick something that is not terribly personal.
Now, take your bulletin and write on it a word or phrase that is very personal, something you can hardly mention in your prayers. It can simply be a letter that represents a word. No one else is going to see this.
The psalmist had fears too. He had physical enemies, including the king who reigned before him, chasing him around in caves trying to kill him. Our enemies can be human, they can be diseases, they can be systems that are constructed to protect someone else’s interests and so trample on ours. Sometimes, our worst enemy can be some aspect of our self. We can become so embedded in fear that we self sabotage and self medicate with substances that numb us and give us relief, but that also destroy us. So the word “wicked” can can be a force in all of our lives, in some way:
When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.
Waking up on Monday morning, wouldn’t you just love for your dominant mood to be confidence? Some people are naturally confident. If that is you, God bless you!
We all have moments of confidence especially when things go well. But when I feel afraid, there is one thing I want to do, and that is to hide. I want to hide and be with a few trusted people so I am not alone. I want us to do interesting things together and focus on each other. That’s my natural comfort place when I feel afraid. What about you?
I’m not going to ask you to share your comfort place with your neighbors, but would you take a second and write something down?
My grandmother’s comfort place was her favorite hymns. She would walk around her house and hum them. I wonder if some of you wrote that down.
My grandmother didn’t come by her comfort place naturally. She grew into it after a lifetime of worship, prayer and Bible study.
The psalmist had his comfort place, and it wasn’t his natural first reaction to fear. It too was cultivated in a lifetime of faithfulness:
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, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
When I was growing up, this never made any sense to me. Church was boring and smelled funny. But the psalmist wrote this while he was hiding for his life in caves from the king, and the house of the Lord was the center of his countries’ civilization, filled with beauty, food, and order. He kept this vision in his mind and it gave him the confidence to keep going.
So far, this sermon sounds like “the power of positive thinking.” Keep your mind set on God and don’t focus on your fear. And, there is a certain value to that sometimes. But God doesn’t need us to deny our fears. God is far more powerful than that.
What God wants us to do is bring our fears, every single one of them, right here into the house of the Lord, and hand them over to God. It isn’t that we need to overcome our fears to gain confidence. We don’t even need to stop feeling fear.
We need to let God meet us in the beauty of God’s temple so God can do what only God can do. The psalmist has experienced it like this:
For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent….
And set me high upon a rock.
Wait, which is it? Am I curled up in a beautiful blanket surrounded by people I know and love, hiding in God’s temple? Or, am I standing up very high on a rock, with the wind blowing around me and firmly ready to meet the world around me? And how did I get to the top of that mountain if I am hiding in God’s house?
I got to the top of the rock because it isn’t just any house we hide in when we are afraid. God meets us here and transforms us with God’s love, healing and wholeness. We don’t have to do it, God does it.
The response looks different, depending on the thing God blessed us with in response to our fears. Was your fear pushing you to self medicate, then maybe your mission is in Chamberlain Hall on Tuesday nights, declaring that your higher power has given you the confidence to embrace all of life without numbing one more minute of one more day. Or, that you didn’t yet but are ready to start now.
Or, maybe your life will never be the same because you have lost something or someone who was knit to your soul. My grandfather passed away in his ‘50’s and that is when my Grandmother began to hum hymns as she walked around her house. When our fears are so deeply intimate, we need to know that God meets us long and slow in a process of healing. It takes as long as it takes. One day we can get to the caregiver’s group or the grand parents group or the thrift shop, another day we can’t.
That’s why we continue to practice prayer, and gather in God’s house and worship week after week. That’s why we practice Lenten disciplines, so that hiding in God’s house becomes a habit. So that God’s transformation from fear into confidence becomes a regular occurrence in our body, mind and spirit.
I have learned from others that the more we practice this kind of hiding, the easier it becomes to stand on that rock.
And what about that other fear, the one that isn’t quite so personal and vulnerable? Remember the young man who asked me about fairies and my failure to share God’s love with him? It’s connected to my fears about our culture.
I can take my fears for our society into God’s house for transformation, and God will give me that rock to stand on. But I have a vision for us that we will bring this kind of fear into God’s house together, and that God will show us the rock to stand on. It’s a transformation of our fears into confidence. It’s not exactly the same thing as “3,2,1.” But I bet you can sense the similarities.
I was going to end the sermon here with one more paragraph. But, last night I attended an impromptu gathering of town leaders at the Verona Islamic Center. We all felt the need to respond, together, to the shootings in New Zealand.
I told them that I knew they had prayed about their sisters and brothers in New Zealand during their morning prayers, and promised them that we would pray for them as well. So we will do that.
The mayor spoke about gun control, I spoke about the fact that we no longer have a full time social worker at a time when mental health doesn’t seem to be improving. But we all agreed that the deeply damaged person who perpetrated those shootings was going to create the opposite effect from the one he wanted to achieve. All over the world people of different faiths are gathering this weekend to proclaim that love is stronger than fear.
Not that love keeps us from suffering. But that it is stronger than fear. In this house, we have seen the lengths God has gone to to give us the path way from hiding in fear to standing tall on the rock. Of course, he is the man who faced every fear we could throw at him, and who responded by loving God the Father and by loving us. And then, the only begotten Sun of God rose from the dead and we have seen for ourselves the power that God’s love has over death.
I wonder about the connection between these mass shootings and a young man walking down the street, high off of mind numbing drugs begging a stranger for attention. Did that mass shooter ever go up to a middle aged short woman and beg her to look at him and share a conversation? If he did, and if she had, maybe we wouldn’t be responding to another news story about mass shootings.