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Crippling Fear April 12, 2015

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John 20:19-31

Second Sunday of Easter

April 12, 2015

 

Focus:  God took a risk in sending us His Son.

Function:  That the hearers step outside their comfort zone for the sake of the gospel.

Structure:  This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel.

 

Crippling Fear

 

All of us, at some point, wrestle with doubt.  We doubt while we sit at the bed of our dying spouse.  We doubt when we come home from work with a pink slip in hand.  We doubt when the to-do list and the calendar start piling up to the point where we just can’t possibly do it all.  We doubt when things are going so well in our lives because we believe we’ve achieved it on our own.

On the Sunday of the year that’s probably better known as Doubting Thomas Sunday, that’s often our main focus.  We focus on the emotion of doubt and we look at how he struggled to believe and how we still struggle to believe.

But we often leave out the other emotion in the text, an emotion that’s caused by doubt, and is even more crippling.  We tend to leave out fear.  Think about those doubts from before.  We fear death.  We fear losing out on the ability to provide for ourselves and our loved ones.  We fear failure and that that would mean letting someone down, even if it’s ourself.  We fear being dependent on someone else for our livelihood.

Crippling fear.  Fear is crippling.  It stops us from doing the things we want to do and it leads us to doing the things we don’t want to do.  We see it in the disciples.  Here they are, the good news of a resurrected Jesus has reached their ears.  And yet, they’re doubting.  They’re doubting that Christ, despite defeating death, can help them overcome their enemies.

It’s a fear, a fear of the unknown, a fear of what life will be like now that Christ is no longer walking among them.  A fear that they will be persecuted by the Jewish leaders and perhaps, even put to death as Jesus was.

The fear was so great, they had gathered together in a house and sealed themselves in.  Crippling fear.

Now, I can’t honestly stand up here and tell you that I have it all figured out.  I can’t honestly stand up here and tell you that I have mastered fear.  But I can share with you my struggle.

It didn’t seem to matter where I went this week, fear was everywhere.  In preparing one of our milestones, the speaker was talking about how parents tend to react as their children grow up.  As a baby, we can control everything.  What they eat, what germs they come into contact with, who gets to touch them.  But as they grow, so does their world, and we can’t control it all anymore.  And so the mind of parent can quickly come up with the worst-case possible scenario, and we drive ourselves nuts.  Parents go crazy and do really weird things.  And while the speaker says it as a joke to break the ice, there’s a lot of truth in what he says.  Crippling fear.

Another struggle this week was the ongoing news stories reminding me of the explosive atmosphere in my hometown right now.  Growing up in St. Louis, you simply knew there were neighborhoods you don’t go.  To this day, there are parts of that city I’ve never seen.  It’s engrained.  And the racial tension right now is only a reminder of how bad things can be.

The other day on Facebook, a friend posted another thing that reminded me of fear.  It was a picture of some words on the side of a building near the corner.  It said, “There’s no way in the world you’d take a young, homeless person in for the night.  Because let’s face it, anything might happen.  You could be robbed, beaten up or even worse.  The thought of it makes you shiver.  They’re having a tough time, but it’s not really your problem.”

Fear of the unknown.  If I were to invite a stranger in need into my house, will they steal from me?  Will they bring drugs or alcohol into my home and the life of my child?  Will they hurt my child?  Will they hurt my wife? Crippling fear.

And then Pastor Fritsch and I had our circuit meeting this week.  And our guest speaker was Pastor Mark Moss, a retired military chaplain who showed us some of the incredible pictures of his time working overseas in Africa, Germany, and elsewhere.  Pictures of terribly poor neighborhoods, but also pictures of some of the damage that was done while he was there, and some of the mortar shells he found nearby.

And before Pastor Moss left us, he shared a story of a navy vessel named the Dorchester, and how after suffering severe damage, it was lost at sea.  You can only imagine what it would feel like to be in the midst of that kind of situation.  Whether it’s in the combat zone or on a sinking ship, crippling fear.

And yet, just after writing about the disciples’ fear, John shares with us these words: “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”  While that may sound safe, hiding behind a quill and parchment, like we do a keyboard, it was anything but.

Many of the writers of Scripture were killed for what they believed.  John, being one of the twelve disciples, saw his friends killed for preaching Christ.  In fact, all eleven of them.  We can’t say he was there, but he saw the persecution, he knew the risks.  Had John allowed fear to cripple him, he would’ve lived a quiet life in hiding for the rest of his days.  And our Bibles would be short five books.

But he didn’t.  “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”  John took the risk, he stepped outside his comfort zone so that you would know about Jesus’ life and about His death and resurrection.

And he wasn’t alone.  The apostles eventually overcame their fear, at least enough to open the door and step outside.  Over the course of the next three hundred years, the Christian faith was illegal.  By sharing it, even just by believing it, you were risking your life.  And yet, it flourished.  We see Peter preach, and baptize three thousand in one day.  We see a court official from Ethiopia believe and take the good news to his queen, to another continent.

And it seems, even today, that where Christianity is persecuted, it continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  We have more Lutheran brothers and sisters in Africa, where they’re being slaughtered by Islamic forces, there are more Lutheran brothers and sisters in Africa than right here in the Unites States.

Parents often step outside their comfort zones and take risks for their children.  Those men and women on the streets of St. Louis need a Savior just as much as we do.  And there are Christians who are taking that step and sharing that good news through acts of service and starting urban churches.

That box from Facebook, when turned just 45 degrees, tells a very different story: “There’s no way in the world you’d turn someone in need away.  Take a young homeless person for example.  You could bring them in for the night, because let’s face it, out on the street absolutely anything might happen.  You could be helping to stop someone being robbed, beaten up or even worse, abused.  It’s cold and lonely out there.  The thought of it makes you shiver.  Young people need a helping hand.  They’re having a tough time, but a safe, secure place would help.  It’s not really your problem, but you could still make a difference.”

Pastor Moss’ photos were full of men and women in uniform taking risks for our safety.  His message to us was full of chaplains, missionaries, being there for them, standing side by side.  And he told us of some of the opportunities and doors that were opened, of Atheists who would come and talk with him because he shared the uniform.  And now, he’s going back overseas.

And the story of the sinking ship, of the Dorchester, is true as well.  As it went down, the four chaplains posted on the crew made sure to safely escort everyone they could and passed out life jackets along the way.  As the ship ran out of life jackets, they handed their own to others.  And when the ship finally began to sink, these four men were seen locking arms together, singing hymns, aboard the Dorchester.

I can’t honestly stand up here and promise you that if you take a risk, God will keep you perfectly safe, that would be too prosperity gospel and simply not true.  I can’t honestly stand up here and tell you I have figured out the perfect balance between comfort and risk.

But I can share with you my Savior.  The Son of God and Son of Man.  Jesus Christ, who, despite being God, came to help us anyway.  He went out of His way, He stepped out of His comfort zone, He took a risk.  Instead of using His powers to crush Rome, He did what was best for everyone else.  In the Garden of Gethsemane that Thursday night, He made the choice I don’t think any of us could, to die for the sins of the world.

And in that blood shed upon the cross, your sins are forgiven.  Those times when you are weak, when you doubt in the Lord, those doubts are forgiven.  In those moments where fear seems to have you overwhelmed to the point of being frozen, Jesus forgives us for being afraid.

But it’s even greater than that.  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ cripples fear!  He conquers our doubts and resting in His promises, we have nothing to fear.  He has promised us many things.  He has promised us a Savior.  He has promised us that He will always be with us.  He has promised us that He will provide for our daily needs.  And in the power of the resurrection, He has promised us victory over death.  Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!

 

Children’s Message:

What are some things you’re afraid of?

Even grownups are afraid.  Your parents.  Me.

But God tells us in the Bible to fear only one thing: God Himself.

Some things require being cautious and safe, but other times, maybe we need to take the risk, do something that feels embarrassing or maybe even scary.  You guys tell me (Safe/Risk):

 

  • Talking to an adult who’s a stranger.
  • Talking to the kid everyone else makes fun of. Making a new friend.  Loving them like Jesus does.
  • Giving our friend our extra sweater when it’s cold outside and they forgot their coat.
  • Running out into the street to pick up the ball someone kicked.
  • Delivering toys to a home you’ve never been to before.
  • Giving a stray cat a home…
  • Buying lunch for a homeless person.

 

Good job!  Sometimes in life, we’ll have tough choices to make.  And sometimes, we’ll choose not to help someone who really needed it because we were afraid.

 

Thankfully, God forgives us!

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