From Fear to Faith

From Fear to Faith




In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Have you done the awkward dance on the sidewalk as someone coming in the opposite direction approaches and you both try to figure out how you’re going to pass, six feet apart? Have you turned the corner into the next aisle at the grocery store and there’s a cart and a person headed your way and have you noticed the fear and hints of suspicion in that other person’s eyes as they size you up, try to determine if you’re a threat, if you’ll be the vector that carries COVID-19 to them?


Different scenario. Get a message from your boss. She’d like to meet with you. On Google Hangouts, of course. The writing’s on the wall, the question is whether it’ll be pay cut, furlough, or outright termination. No matter what, your stomach’s churning. It’s not unexpected, but being deemed non-essential hurts and losing your source of income brings with it a host of worries.


One more. Without social obligations and without all the distractions you’re used to, you find yourself tuning in more and more to the angry voices of the internet where the agenda for each day is to pit one against another, to view others as the problem and as fools. Criticize, label, and dismiss? Yes, please. That’s bread-and-butter for the sinful nature. It gobbles it up and asks for seconds.


Hmm. We all know we have to weather this storm and I’m assuming you want to weather the storm with grace. But moments of fear, worry, and anger? It seems to me we’re not weathering the storm as gracefully as we’d wish.


And I’m not pointing fingers. I’ve listened inside my own heart and found there not all the fears or all the anger that’s out there, but enough. Enough to tell me that if you are anything like me, any day of this coronavirus crisis has the potential to lead our hearts down the path to fear and anger and selfishness and worry. 


Let’s be real. Some days, the gnawing voices win out and wear down my soul and cloud my eyes, turning God’s green earth, with bright blue sky, shining sun and singing birds into a hazy, murky gloom where all I see is misery and nothing’s right. Sometimes the biting voices twist a world filled with loved ones who care about me, even if I can only see and visit with them remotely, into a war zone where I’m convinced I’m on my own and behind every bush are hostiles and fools to be on guard against.


Graceful weathering of this storm? Not all the time. But we don’t want it to be that way. And perhaps the most frustrating thing of all is when we decide to do something about it, but it doesn’t seem to work.


Turn to the still waters of God’s Word? Sure, you dust off your Bible and start reading…for a few moments, before your kids demand your attention or your phone dings and you need to check the notification or the allure of the latest headlines draws you away from those green pastures, still waters, and paths of righteousness back to the nutritionless food and poisoned air and every-man-for-himself place you were hoping, for a few moments, to escape from.


Have you felt the pull of a distracted soul as you hit your knees to pray but found you just couldn’t really get much out? Have you found yourself wanting to reach out to a friend but you can’t do it, you’re too afraid of what they’ll think or say? 


Did you know that the meaning of the word “apocalypse” is “to reveal”? If we’re in an apocalyptic moment—and I mean that in the sense that Jesus said plagues and pestilence were signs of the end—what does this moment reveal? Doesn’t it reveal where we’ve really put our trust?


I think the frustration of trying to claw our way back into the light and never quite seeming to make it reveals the greatest idol of all. The biggest fear, the one that’s lurking behind everything else, is finding out that you aren’t really in control after all. 


And if anything’s been revealed and unmasked by this moment, it’s just that. We’re not in control.


Let me remind you of a man who, by every human standard, possessed almost unlimited control. Power and authority? He was a king, an absolute monarch, a ruler whose word was law. Money? He was wealthy beyond belief, enough cash to buy himself out of any problem. Health? He was ruddy and strong.


I’m talking about King David, of course, and if you know his story you might think of him as an ideal, a man who weathered a lot of storms by his courage, by his strength, and by his wits. But David himself knew better. Only in his worst moments would he think something like that. But at his best moments, David realized what we need to realize as well: we’re not really in control. And that isn’t just ok, it’s ideal.


So this man who had tended sheep and fought of lions and who had shepherded a nation and conquered his foes, he wrote a poem in which he confessed that he was happiest, most serene when it dawned on him that he was just a sheep. He said, in famous words, “The Lord is my shepherd.” David, this great man! None of us would call him a weakling. But David understood he was just a man, not God. And in that confession, David would invites us to join him on the sheep-path that leads from fear to faith.


See how David’s Psalm, Psalm 23, so neatly addresses our fears? Let me break it down into three chunks and see what it means to have the Lord as your shepherd.


Have you lost income or your job? Are you worried about how you’re going to make ends meet? What does a shepherd do? He feeds his sheep. He leads them to green pastures and still waters. You know how many times in Holy Scripture God has promised that he knows the food, clothing, and shelter that we need and that we can count on him to provide. Fall in behind your Shepherd, and trust him—he will provide. See your Shepherd’s hand in an unemployment claim or a stimulus check or an unexpected and gracious gift. In fact, if you’re not pinched right now, ask yourself if there is someone you know whom you could help and so answer another’s prayer for daily bread.


Look at the middle of the psalm, the place where we sheep arrive in a gloomy and scary place: the valley of the shadow of death. If you find your mind revolving in scary thoughts about your bodily health or about accidentally spreading the illness to someone else, then listen up. You’re not alone in this frightening place. Your Shepherd is with you, his rod and staff the comforting reminders that he will never leave you nor forsake. He will be with you through every day, in health, in sickness, when finally you close your eyes and breathe your last. Fear evil? I will not, not with my Shepherd at my side.


Consider the closing verses of the psalm. Is anger rising in the heart? Let your Good Shepherd lead you out of the binary view where we’re constantly dividing into us-versus-them and into a place where you needn’t have any anger at all. You have a Shepherd who can set a table even in the presence of those who hate you and you can count on it; he will have you eat undisturbed.


He promises you that goodness and mercy will follow you. He doesn’t say precede or that every time and circumstance in this life is going to be all good as in, exactly how I’d like it to be. But he promises his goodness and mercy are never far away. And if that’s not enough, the psalm closes with the greatest hope of all, the goal of faith: I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


And to assure us that this isn’t just a big scam, a delusion that might be helpful in warding off the dark demons of fear and worry and anger, God sent his own Son into this world as the opposite of King David. Born into weakness, never owning much of anything, not wealthy but poor, mocked, betrayed, put on trial without putting up a fight, crucified in shame. And yet this man of sorrows and weakness, who was led like a sheep to the slaughter said not, as David did, “I am a sheep” but, “I am the Shepherd. I am the Good Shepherd. Watch me in action and see. I lay down my life for you. I take it back up again. Don’t you think if I’ve gone through death into life that I have the power and authority to shepherd you throughout your entire life?”


“So follow me,” Jesus says, “follow me out of fear and into faith.” Amen.