For the upcoming Sundays of Lent, we will be thinking about eight different fears that we all face from time to time. These fears are related to how we handle temptations that come our way, the doubts we face, our willingness to be fruitful in our faith, our need to be forgiven, the willingness to become more generous, having self-confidence, and being open to serving others. And then on Easter Sunday, we will look at probably one of the biggest fears that people have, the fear of death.
Oh, yes, almost forgot. On April 15th, we’ll focus on our fear of Tax Day. Just kidding about that last one.
It’s going to be quite a journey as we face some of these fears head on. Interestingly enough, Jesus himself had to work through all of these fears. We believe that Jesus was fully God, but he was also fully human and we often forget about this. And so, each year, the journey of Lent begins with Jesus in the wilderness where he faced temptation and it concludes with him facing his own death on the cross.
Out of curiosity, I looked up how many times the word, “fear” appears in the Bible, and it was a shocking 423 times. Fear is part of our struggle as human beings. Being afraid isn’t a sin. It’s in what we do with those fears that is important. There are healthy ways and unhealthy ways in dealing with our fears. Our goal in this season of the church year like it is every year for Lent is to walk with Jesus not simply as observers, but as his faithful followers and disciples.
So it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that our very first scripture reading to begin this season of Lent is a scripture about fear. The Prophet Joel uses words like, darkness, gloom, and trembling.
And when I think of fear, sometimes those words come to mind. Maybe you have thought of those words in the middle of the night.
I’ve shared this story with you before about a mother who was tucking her small son into bed one night during a severe summer thunderstorm. She was about to turn the light off and shut his bedroom door when he asked her in a trembling voice, “Mommy, will you stay with me all night?” Smiling, the mother gave him a warm, reassuring hug and said tenderly, “I can’t dear. I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.”
A long silence followed. At last it was broken by a shaky voice saying, “The big sissy!”
Well, I’m here to tell you that if you ever feel afraid, that does not mean that you are a sissy. It just means that you are human. As we go through this series on fear, my prayer is that we not only have this opportunity to name our fears but to also claim God’s presence in the midst of our fears.
As Jesus faced his fears throughout his ministry, we will see how he consistently turned to his Heavenly Father in facing those fears, even when he was hanging on the cross. We are not alone in facing our fears. We have each other. We have God.
That’s why we have ashes imposed on our foreheads each year on Ash Wednesday. It is a humbling reminder of our mortality and of our complete dependence upon God.
Last fall, I attended the funeral of my 96 year old Aunt. Aunt Dot represented the last surviving family member of my parents’ generation. I was asked to help lead the funeral service. On that cold and windy day, we made our way to the cemetery.
Her pastor invited me to offer a closing prayer there at the cemetery and so I stood next to him near the casket. He began by offering a prayer and a scripture reading. He then pulled out a tiny capsule of dirt, opened the lid, and shook the capsule toward the casket while reminding us of those ancient words of faith, “remember we are dust and to dust we shall return.”
As the pastor tossed the dirt out into the wind toward the casket, I don’t think he realized that most of that dirt would be blown right back at me. It was like I was experiencing my own personal Ash Wednesday service in that moment.
As those small flakes of dirt were being sprayed back into my face, it was a powerful reminder of the reality of death. I couldn’t avoid getting hit by that dusty and powdery symbol of my own mortality. It’s moments like this that help us to keep our life and our faith in perspective.
One of the things that I will always remember about Aunt Dot was I how she loved to tell the story of when I was really young, like four or five years old, I was over at her house.
My uncle was sick and in bed that day. My aunt told me that it was OK for me to go into the room and say hi to him but for whatever reason I was afraid. I loved my Uncle, so I’m not sure why I would have been afraid to go in to see him. Maybe it was because I knew he was sick and wasn’t sure what that meant.
My aunt, knowing that I was afraid to go into the room to see him, gave me a glass of water to give to him thinking that this would help me overcome my fear. And what came next is her favorite part of the story.
I guess that when I walked over to my uncle’s bedroom door, I just froze like a statue holding that glass of water and didn’t go in. And Aunt Dot said, “Go ahead, Robert. Go in and give him the glass of water.”
And I still didn’t go in so she asked me again. “Don’t be afraid, Robert. Go in. You can do it.”
And according to my Aunt Dot, I looked over at her and said, “I can’t. My legs won’t let me.”
There’s part of me that doesn’t want to follow Jesus during this Season of Lent because I know it will involve spending time with Jesus in the arid wilderness of temptation. It will involve facing my fears of doubts, fruitfulness, forgiveness, generosity, confidence, serving, and death.
And so I stand frozen not wanting to begin the journey. My legs won’t let me. I don’t like to face my fears. I don’t like to think about the areas of my life that need transformation. And I know that this journey of faith will lead us all back to the cross as it does every year and that’s not a comfortable place to be.
Our Joel scripture reading might begin with scary words of darkness and gloom but it also promises that if we make this journey, we will discover a God who is gracious and merciful, and abounding in steadfast love. God is calling us to not be afraid and to take that first step of faith in this Season of Lent.
And so I invite each one of us to become even more intentional during these next several weeks in practicing the spiritual disciplines of our faith like fasting, the reading of scripture, prayer, serving, and attending worship. Join us each Sunday as we face our fears together.
The Season of Lent is a great time to join one of our small groups that meet at different times throughout the week to discuss the past Sunday’s sermon and worship theme. Those small group opportunities are printed in your bulletin.
We have eight small groups that meet throughout the week in various locations and they are led by a trained facilitator who guides the discussion. I’m so glad to announce that we have added three new small groups, one of which is a college student small group that will be meeting on Tuesday night.
In addition to participating in a small group, you may also want to use a more personal approach to our church’s Season of Lent focus on facing our fears. It was developed by Jenaye Hill, our Director of Discipleship Ministries. It provides ways to reflect on our fears and how God can guide us through those fears. That’s available on our church website by going to our small groups link under loving faith ministries.
By following Christ during this forty day period, may our fears be relieved.