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faith over fear” 

The Sanctuary Sermon for

1/9/22

The Sanctuary Sermon for 1/9/22

“Faith Over Fear” Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

 

Frank Herbert wrote in his sci-fi novel, Dune, “Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death...” Indeed, fear is the more dangerous virus infecting us almost any day.   

 

13 When they had gone (Magi), an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

 

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

 

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

 

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

 

So, we’re just over a week into the new year and how are things working out for you? What are you thinking about 2022 this morning? Will it be different from and better than last year? I don’t know, but I suspect that’s a question many of us are asking and wondering about according to personal and collective circumstances. We joked about New Year resolutions last Sunday—that in order to avoid breaking them we’re better off not making them. That carried over into a word about ‘resolve’. Anyway, my guess is that we’re all hoping and praying for this year to be different from and better than 2021, just as we’ve hoped and prayed that same way at the beginning of every new year. 

 

That got me to thinking, which I do on occasion, believe it or not. Maybe those hopes and prayers, though sincere and well-intentioned, are misdirected. Maybe asking if this year will be different from and better than last isn’t the question we ought to be asking. Here’s why I say that. It externalizes our focus and places it on other people and circumstances. It seeks information instead of transformation. It lets us off the hook and lets us avoid ourselves. 

 

Maybe the question we should be asking, the prayer we should be praying, and the thing for which we should be hoping, isn’t about 2022 but about ourselves. It’s not about whether this year will be different from and better than last, but whether we will. Will you and I in 2022 be different from and better than we were in 2021?

 

I think the question is less about events and more about our fears. I think the answer to that question depends on whether and how we deal with our fear;  

 

Fear of the future. 

 

Fear of the virus.

 

Fear of being called a racist.

 

Fear of defending beliefs.

 

Fear that we don’t have as much control or power as we want.

 

Fear of saying the truth.

 

Fear of change and losing what we have.

 

Fear of our mortality and the frailty of life. 

 

Those are just a few. What are your fears today? What leftover fears have you brought with you from 2021? Where are you stuck? Identify the places where your life is stuck, and you’ll find not only fear, but also the kind of life that really isn’t living at all.

 

If we want to live the life that wants to enter the world through us, then we must deal with our fear. That’s the challenge facing Herod and Joseph and it’s the challenge facing us in 2022.

 

Fear is a thread that runs through our passage, both Herod and Joseph are afraid.

 

Herod “was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him,” when “wise men from the East” ask about “the child who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2-3). 

 

And how could Joseph not be afraid? Herod wants to kill Jesus, and Joseph has been given responsibility for protecting the lives of Jesus and Mary while getting them safely to Egypt. Matthew says that Joseph ‘was afraid’ to return to the land of Israel when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod.

 

There’s a lot of fear in today’s world. It’s not hard to imagine what Herod and Joseph might be afraid of, we need only look at our own lives, yet I find it interesting in what they did with their fear. They handle themselves in two very different ways and help us see the ways by which we handle our fear. Herod and Joseph live in each of us. 

 

The thing that strikes me about Joseph is his dreams. He has three dreams inspired by God upon which he acts. Here’s what I think is significant about that. They show that Joseph was connected to his innermost world and that he trusted God. He understood that there is something bigger than the tangible sensory world, something larger than he could imagine. Joseph had a link to the Immortal. He experienced God’s spiritual call within himself and responded to it. And that changes how we deal with our outer world.

 

Often times, I don’t think our spiritual instruction, whether we experience it through prayer, a spoken word, or scripture study, necessarily gives us a distinct road map to follow. Instead, it enlarges our life, our world and our faith in God. It opens us to see, hear, and consider more as we are led by the Spirit of God. It raises new questions and offers additional information to be pondered. 

 

It’s interesting to me that Joseph never says a word. Instead, he is receptive and listening. He seeks his guidance by faith and trusting that God is directing his steps. 

 

In contrast to Joseph, however, Herod seeks his guidance from outside, from “wise men.” He believes they have his answers. He is not silent nor listening. He asks questions and gives orders. He tells the wise men, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me.” His world is only as big as that which he can control. He’s disconnected from any power greater than himself, and that’s a scary place to be. 

 

Herod, unlike Joseph, refuses to do his own ‘inner work’. He sends the wise men to do it for him, but nobody else can do our spiritual work for us, and it leaves Herod feeling tricked and infuriated to the point of violence. Fear is what caused Herod to search for Jesus and fear is what caused him to kill all the infants two and under. It all began with fear. Herod rules by fear and is ruled by fear.

 

As long as we are unwilling to face ourselves and the fears that live within each of us, we will be possessed by that fear, and we will continue Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. Fear not dealt with always diminishes life—our own or someone else’s. That’s not how I want to live and that’s not the legacy I want to either leave or perpetuate, and I don’t think you want to either. I want to be different from and better than that, don’t you?

 

As we close, let’s consider some ways in which fear intersects our lives in asking a few questions.

 

What is the life you want for yourself or others in? Is that life being disrupted or hijacked by fear today?

 

Do you feel that your life is stuck? What are the patterns in your life by which you do the same old stupid thing again and again? What are you avoiding, ignoring, or hiding from? In what ways do you overcompensate? And what’s the fear behind all those things?

 

There is nothing wrong with being fearful; that’s human and some fear can be healthy; but it’s wrong to live a life governed by fear. That’s the difference between Herod and Joseph. Herod’s life is possessed by fear, Joseph’s life is motivated and energized by fear. The Apostle Paul reminds us that God has not given us a spirit of fear but one of power, love and self-discipline. 

 

How might you deal with your fear differently in 2022? What do you need to change or let go of? 

 

The issue isn’t whether we will at times be fearful. That’s a given, we will. The issue is what we do with that fear and what we allow it to do with us. And it seems there are two basic responses. 

 

Herod’s fear caused him to take life, Joseph’s fear caused him to protect life. 

 

Both happen in a thousand different ways. Look at any place where fear is present, and you’ll see life takers and life protectors. Sometimes I’ve been Herod and sometimes I’ve been Joseph. I’ll bet that’s true for you as well. It’s the choice that stands before us every time we face our fear. 

 

You’re probably tired of hearing me say this by now but live your best life. Choose faith over fear. As you wade into this new year ask God for wisdom and discernment. Trust that He is leading you on the right path for his name’s sake, for he is the Way-maker.

 

Herod or Joseph? That choice just might determine whether this year is different from and better than 2021 for you.

 

This is the Word of the Lord for the day.

 

Amen.