Acceptance of Fear
St. Paul's Episcopal Church | Louisburg, NC | June 24, 2018
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Lord, our strength, and our redeemer.
Let’s take another look at parts of that reading from 1st Samuel.
“On David’s return from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with the head of the Philistine still in his hand…Saul took him that day and would not let David return to his father’s house…. David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul approved… Yet the next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand and Saul threw the spear, for he thought, I will pin David to the wall, but David eluded him. Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him, but had departed from Saul…”
The text asks us to see this fearful world through David’s eyes. He arrives in the story with Goliath’s head in his hands and you would think he certainly would have earned his worth in the eyes of his host Saul for many years for exhibiting such bravery. Yet the very next day, an “evil spirit from God” rushed upon Saul in a jealous rage and he was throwing spears against the teenage giant slayer, trying to pin him against the wall. David had just faced his fear in the dusty leather sandals of the sweaty behemoth Philistine, and the next day the fear he has to dodge the arrogantly perfumed opulence of Saul’s sharpened judgment.
Fear can shape itself into many odd forms. I have felt it when I have been driving too fast and blue lights surround my car at night. I have seen it take up residence in my eyes before I step onto the bathroom scales, or sit down on that crinkly white paper in the Dr.’s office and the nurse wraps that BP monitor tight around my arm. We all have had fear wrap us up like cellophane and choke us when our phone rings in the middle of the night at some ungodly hour. I reckon fear is always in us to some degree and different events act as a trigger. And once that trigger is pulled, there is no calm to be found.
Like the young brave David, we have to come to terms with fear in our lives. Some are Giants which we see front and center. Some are emotionally jealous back stabbers like Saul. Fears and Sorrows will always be with us, and from Shakespeare’s words in Hamlet, we know that when these troubles come, “they will not come as single spies, but in battalions.”
At times our fears take on the form of power, or prestige, perhaps lust or alcohol have some hold on us. Other times the Giant in front of us may be greed and self-centeredness which can take on the form of self-pity, jealousy, anger, or pride. This sounds a lot like the seven deadly sins doesn’t it? Do ya’ll remember them?
When we are tired and disconnected, lonely and vulnerable we are most susceptible to these seven demons: PRIDE, LUST, ENVY, GREED, SLOTH, ANGER, and GLUTTONY. We can see them all, monsters standing in the dust in front of us blocking the sun, or we can feel them in the dark and narrow judgment of ourselves and others, others that should be thankful for our deeds like Saul. Yet these sins, these doubts, these unrealistic expectations, fed by our fears can quickly turn on us, or they can erode at us over time causing the foundation of our faith to shift, to settle unevenly.
We need to build a Faith that we can trust to conquer our fears. Like David we have to nurture a resiliency. Before Goliath he had gone after the lion which had taken one of his father’s sheep. And he would certainly have other battles which spoke to his seduction of power. Most of the time we only partially listen to what God is asking of us. Much too often the reality of our lives is that God’s presence in our lives only surfaces in moments of great tragedy.
Oh outwardly we can put on our Sunday best and look like believers, but if you are like me, we can negotiate living with a little sin in our lives here and there. Most of the time we work our way up to conquering the big fears we have by addressing the smaller ones which are more easily corrected and don’t cost us as much. We each negotiate how much sin and fear we can live with daily. I’m afraid I am always looking to make a deal, but when your kid doesn’t return your call, or when your momma has a stroke, there ain’t no deal to be made. There’s nowhere to run to. There is no rock large enough to hide behind.
Thinking we can co-exist with sin and fear is just a just a story we try to talk ourselves in to. We build up courage to face the larger fears in our lives by conquering the small gossipy ones we face each day.
On the other hand, David’s Faith was God’s Faith working through him. That is what it means when we say, Let not my will, but thy will be done. We underestimate our potential. Here is how the French priest Teilhard de Chardin described our situation in the early 20th century. “We must come to understand that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience. But instead we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
We are so much stronger in mind, body, and spirit than we give ourselves credit for. This is what the Old Testament reading in 1st Samuel is all about.
In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth he speaks to the faithful, encouraging them to have great endurance, through all of the trials and tribulations in life. God is listening and hears our calls and on our day of salvation, we will face some difficult questions. When our life’s passage of time saddles up to eternity we will see with a yet unknown clarity.
Did you stand or did you run?
Did you fight, or did you flee?
Did you hurt or did you heal?
God will be waiting to receive us in spite of our doubts and fear. God will be there offering us a constant hand up out of our despair.
The Gospel reading from Mark crashes us against the sides of a small sailboat crossing the eight miles of the Sea of Galilee. A storm has twisted up around the Twelve without warning and there is no safe port in sight. Paint this image in your mind. Taste the salt water. Grab the rails and get slapped in the face by that soaking wet sail. It is a potent image of fear, much like what the young David saw lurking in front of him. And just then a sudden calm comes across the water. Where did this spirit come from and where did it depart to, and why does our faith seem so small? That is a question we each must ask ourselves. And the best time to ask it is before we get in the boat.
The best way this question has ever been framed to me came from a friend, oddly enough a giant of a man, a man named Tom, a friendly giant, not the one which David faced. Some of you gathered this morning know Tom. Before he became an Episcopal priest, he played in the National Football League with the Baltimore Colts. He stands 6’8” and just turned 90 years old. He taught me a lot of things 25 years ago and probably the most important lesson was that prayer was not something that just existed from 11 am to noon on Sundays. This lesson dealt with the very same fear and acceptance which are central to today’s readings. I have come to refer to this tale as The Trailways Bus Prayer.
Here’s his story:
One morning over coffee Tom said, “Will, Just imagine for a moment that Pat and Camilla, (you see Zoe had not been born yet) were driving back from New Jersey (where Pat is from) and that old car ya’ll have broke down outside of Philadelphia. The cost of repairs was more than what the car was worth. Pat calls to tell you the bad news, and then gets tickets on a Trailways bus which will arrive in Raleigh later that evening. That afternoon you’re watching a basketball game or something on TV and you see there has been a horrible accident on interstate 95 around Richmond and a Trailways Bus, bound for Raleigh, North Carolina, was in the middle of it all. Half of the riders on the bus have been killed. Well, what do you pray for Will?
It was a perplexing question. First, I was confronted with the selfishness of my first thoughts, which were either to hope that it was a different bus, or to hope that my family members were in the half of the riders that survived. Was this a trick question? Over several days I would come to understand that the only prayer I could really offer was to pray to realize I had the strength to deal with whatever had happened. Events were out of my control. Simply put, this was a prayer of acceptance.
This is the ground that has shaped much of my adult life. It is a prayer which has guided me through many storms. It has buttressed me through my doubts and fears. It has let me face giants who sought to blanket me with ill will and strengths much greater than mine. It has carried me through storms of cold shoulders which have come upon me without warning. Each day is a gift my friends, another day of opportunities to share the love and graceful acceptance of our Faith with those have not yet fully realized that they too have been created in the image of God. In the words of St. Paul, we walk by faith, not by sight.
The Peace of God, it is no Peace, but strife closed in the sod, yet let us pray but for one thing – the marvelous peace of God.