Fear vs Faith, Genesis 15:1–6, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14), August 11, 2019
Faith seems to be the key word to describe the theme for this Sunday. In our Old Testament lesson, Abram believes God’s promise that he would have an heir. In our Epistle lesson, the nature of abiding faith is defined as being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus begins with the same words given to Abram, “Do not be afraid.” The gift of faith enables us to receive the kingdom of God and to watch for the Lord’s return without fear.
You see, the opposite of faith is fear. What are you afraid of? Everyone is afraid of something. Whether these fears are rational or a product of some long buried trauma can vary from person to person. Whatever the root cause, many people all over the world experience the same fear. I really want to know what people are afraid of, so I did what any good preacher would do, I googled it. I found the top ten things people fear most. Year-to-year, list to list, the exact percentages can fluctuate, but what people are afraid of rarely changes.
Public Speaking: Most of us are self-conscious enough when we leave the house, often perceiving that people are watching us, judging us for a fashion faux-pas or some extra holiday weight we have around the middle. So I guess there is real apprehension if all eyes really are on us?
Heights: Everyone has experienced a case of vertigo now and then, but only those who suffer from a legitimate fear of heights can truly understand exactly how unsettling it can be. Worst vacation ideas for those that suffer a fear of heights would include tours of the Grand Canyon, Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, or taking Ellen on a jeep ride in the mountains.
Going to the dentist: People just do not like going to the dentist. A lot of these people may have been traumatized by some dental experience in their past. Some are really afraid of needles. Two small boys walked into a dentist’s office. One of them said bravely, “I want a tooth taken out, and I don’t want any anesthetic, because we’re in a hurry!” The dentist replied, “You sure are brave, which tooth is it?” The boy turned to his smaller friend and said, “Show him your tooth, Tommy!”
Snakes. Probably a good rule of thumb to follow is if it scares Indiana Jones, it scares us too. And so, we find ourselves terrified of the reptiles we perceive to be slimy and sinister. In reality, most snakes are neither, but ever since one talked Eve into taking a bite of that apple, snakes have gotten a bad rap. It’s difficult to overcome Biblical prejudice, and Harrison Ford!
Flying: Millions of dollars are spent in prescription drugs, self-help books and behavior modification CDs. These are just a few of the coping mechanisms employed by those who are terrified of flying on an airplane.
Spiders and insects: Arachnophobia is the irrational fear of spiders. Millions of people suffer from it. There’s a very good reason why big Hollywood horror movies often feature scenes stuffed to the gills with creepy crawlies. Most people are freaked out by things that have twice as many limbs as they do. Even harmless insects can give you a full body shiver.
Enclosed spaces: Fear of enclosed spaces, or claustrophobia, plagues most people, even those that would not readily list it as their greatest fear. Simple, every day experiences like riding the elevator can leave many feeling both shaken and stirred. The extreme end of the claustrophobic spectrum leads to vivid nightmares of being buried alive, which is disturbing enough to scare anyone.
Mice: Ironic, isn’t it, that one of the most beloved characters of all time is Mickey Mouse, but shrink him down to life size and he represents a rodent that invokes irrational, mind numbing terror to many.
Dogs: They may be man’s best friend, but dogs also embody a certain amount of fear. Usually linked to traumas surrounding an attack in childhood of some kind, fear of dogs can plague people well into adulthood. Unfortunately, a dog that is prone to attack will only be encouraged to do so by your panic, making this particular fear one of the most legitimate.
Thunder and Lightning: Many small children are afraid of storms; surprisingly, this is not something everyone grows out of. While the explanation or thunder and lightning is perfectly rational, the fear remains ingrained in many adults. The idea that “God must be bowling” is of little comfort to those who are currently cowering beneath their blankets, praying for daylight.
The very first thing the Lord says to Abram in Genesis 15:1 is “Do not be afraid”. It is repeated by Jesus in our Gospel lesson. It is quite clear in Scripture; the opposite of fear is faith. We see fear in even the greatest of God’s people.
“I am your shield” is the answer the Lord gives to assure Abram of His promises and chase away his fears. A shield is used mainly for defense, to ward off incoming arrows or spears. The Lord can be trusted to protect us from Satan’s fiery darts. We are not left to fend for ourselves in this dark and sinful world. “I am your shield” reminds us that God is all-sufficient for all our needs. Most of all, He forgives our sins and gives us salvation through His Son.
Abram’s faith was not without elements of uncertainty, reservations, and questions. How could he reconcile God’s promise of the blessing of a great family with his present childlessness? Yet the Lord assures him of His promises and protection.
Faith is the confident trust in the unseen realities of God. Only by faith are we in a right relationship with God. What we hope for are not wistful longings or selfish desires, but things God promises in His Word. And God’s promises are the basis for our conviction.
Faith is not an imaginary product of the mind fabricated by its own philosophical needs or rationalistic dreams. It is a God-given guarantee that we shall receive what He promises. Scripture abundantly demonstrates the reliability of God’s promises. God always is able to fulfill them.
You have heard all these words before: “Do not be afraid! Believe. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. He will provide for you.” But a reality check reminds us that we too do not yet see all that God has promised, and we may think we have good reason to fear.
When someone tells us not to be afraid, we may feel like Tommy going to the dentist. In every stage of life we are forced to face our fears. In childhood, maybe it’s the dark. Yet we adults fear for our children too, or worry about retirement. Finally, death itself causes great fear.
How can we strengthen our faith? The God of Abram comes to you today in His Word and says, “Do not be afraid, for I have established a relationship with you that enables you to face your greatest fears.”
Just like God renewed the covenant throughout Abram’s life. When Abram had doubts, the Lord assured him, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward”. The all-sufficient and all-powerful Creator of the universe, who called Abram to leave his country and travel to the Promised Land, also promised to provide for him, and to protect him.
Abram believed the Lord. As a further assurance, God changed his name to Abraham. Just as God established a relationship with Abraham; He establishes a New Covenant with us. God adopts us into His family in Baptism, gives us faith through which we, like Abraham, are deemed righteous and He establishes peace forever in our hearts. God forgives our sins and grants us everlasting life with Him. We can count on Him to sustain us.
God’s action moves us to trust Him completely. Since God made good on His promise to save us in Christ, we trust Him to provide for us and protect us. He moves us from fear to faith. The Lord does this because He is the all-sufficient God of the universe, who is our shield and very help in time of trouble.
God gives to us a faith to face our fears. Because God has established a relationship with us through His only Son, Jesus Christ, we now have a faith which is sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.
It does not have to be seen to be believed. None of us were around when God created the world by His spoken word. Nor did any of us see God’s incarnate Word be born, suffer, and die on the cross, and then rise again. Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 21:29). As God strengthens our faith through His Word and Sacraments, we learn to trust Him, even though we often can’t always see the fulfillment of His promises.
So we have a faith that believes the incredible. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation and that his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky. Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90, way beyond her child-bearing years. God’s promise was contrary to every human reason and experience, yet He caused it to come true.
God calls us to trust Him for our future and to believe His promises, even though they may seem incredible. It seems incredible that God would love us, knowing the way we are. It seems incredible that God would give up His only Son for you and me, that we might be forgiven and live forever with Him. It seems incredible that no matter how bad things are, the Lord is our shield and our very great reward. In spite of our fears and apprehensions, He fills us with His mercy and gives us faith to believe.
Do you see incredible hurdles before you? Do you have impossible problems? Do you have fears that just won’t go away? God grant you the faith to trust Him in every circumstance. God’s mercy in Christ enable you to receive His assurance and courage, even in those situations which seem incredibly impossible. Amen