Message from Our Pastor
Excerpted from Pastor Hoffman's June 23rd homily. Relevant text: Isaiah 65:1-9, Galatians 3:23-29 & Luke 8:26-39.
The first rule of scary is to turn off the lights. I don’t intend to scare you, but I’d like to set the mood for talking about scary things.
Consider those things that scare you – those things about which you are afraid. Fear is defined as a feeling of anxiety or agitation caused by the presence of things, such as danger, evil, or pain.
But there are several levels of fear:
Simple fear is an uneasiness or apprehension about something.
Dread is a fear in anticipation of something.
Fright is a sudden, usually momentary fear.
Alarm is fright in the presence of danger.
Terror is an overwhelming, paralyzing fear.
Panic is a frantic, unreasoning fear.
And phobia is an irrational, persistent fear of a particular thing or situation.
Full-blown phobias are uncommon, but most of us have those things of which we are afraid.
Some people think I’m afraid of spiders, but I am not, I just don’t like them.
What I am afraid of is being locked into an enclosed space, clithrophobia. I trace this fear back to the night the babysitter’s sons locked me in their shed.
Just thinking about being trapped constricts my throat and provokes a feeling of panic.
There are many things about which we are afraid, and each of us is afraid of something. Sometimes, life, itself, is what we fear most.
I remember the fear of waiting for the pathologists report.
I remember the fear that rose up when I first moved away from home.
I remember the fear of the last time I moved away from home, to a town 300 miles away where I knew absolutely no one.
I remember the fear that filled my body and soul the first time I led worship with a stole around my neck, and the reality of my call sank in.
I remember, and some days still live, the fear of being on my own after Dick’s death.
Life is full of scary bumps in the road.
It doesn’t matter that God saw us through the valley of the shadow of death yesterday; today we are sure he will abandon us.
It doesn’t matter that we know that the sun will rise in the morning when we are certain that the darkness will swallow us tonight.
I doesn’t matter that so far God has always provided for our needs because this time we are out on a limb way too far.
It doesn’t matter that God has always answered our prayers, because this time we are too afraid to pray.
A new job, a medical diagnosis, a change in relationship, financial concerns, the death of a loved one, the sending of a child to college? What situations in life cause fear to well up for a moment, or a minute, or a month?
Adam was the first to ever be afraid. Adam and Eve had just eaten the forbidden fruit when God came strolling into the Garden. Adam and Even hide among the trees.
“Where are you?” calls God.
Adam responds, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked.”
Fear is not a major theme in the Bible, but it does weave its way in and out.
Moses is afraid of the burning bush.
The psalmist is afraid of his enemies.
The shepherds are afraid of the angels on Christmas Eve.
The disciples are afraid and lock themselves into the upper room after the crucifixion.
And right before today’s gospel lesson the disciples are afraid of the sudden storm that swamps their boat while Jesus is asleep.
Fear also plays a role in today’s gospel reading
The demons possessing the man in today’s gospel seem to be afraid, but not of Jesus. They come right up to him and shout, “What do you want with me Jesus?”
Then after identifying themselves as a legion of demons they BEG Jesus not to send them back into the bottomless pit. The demonic abyss is not the same as the fiery lake we call hell, but it must be just as frightening because the demons plead for another option.
We have our own scary abysses from which we flee.
Some may make the life of a pig look glamorous. Debt that has made it hard to keep our head above water; chronic mental and physical health concerns that darken our outlook on life; the loneliness and despair that overwhelms us when those closest to us leave or die; the grief that accompanies the change in quality of life as we get older.
Yes, we can understand the fear of the demons.
And then, there is the odd fear of the townspeople after the demonic is healed.
They found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And, they were afraid. The Gerasenes had lived with insanity for so long that they no longer knew how to live with true sanity.
But we know this fear too, don’t we? It’s really not a fear of sanity or insanity, but a fear of change, a fear of something different, a fear of the unknown.
We know the fear that follows illness and being made well. Are you sure you got it all? For how long will the wellness last? Is it really OK to return to normal activity?
We know the fear of starting a new job, a new school, a new phase in life.
We know the fear involved with having to let go and let God.
Like it or not, fear is a part of life.
God seems to understand this.
Remember Adam and Eve hiding in the garden afraid of being naked before the Lord?
God had more than a few choice words about the eating of the forbidden fruit, but do you remember how God responded to that fear of being naked?
“Then the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”
And the disciples when they were so afraid that they locked themselves into the upper room, how did Jesus greet them?
“Peace, be with you.”
God even recognized the fear of the demons, allowing them to enter pigs instead of sending them back to the abyss they so feared.
Then there are the townspeople in today’s gospel who were so afraid of complete sanity that they asked Jesus to leave. When you hear about their fear you almost expect Jesus to send them into the lake after the pigs. But instead, he gives them what they ask for – he goes away but, not completely.
In his wake he leaves behind the healed demoniac with the instructions to declare how much God has done for him. One day, some day, after coming face to face with their greatest fear each day, they would learn to be afraid no more.
You may know by now that I firmly believe with all my heart that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This means God continues to understand and accept our fears to be real – even when they are irrational. This also means that God continues to give light to the fearful situations at hand.
Yes, fear is a part of life, but remember that God is also a part of your life. God is the light of your life.
So the next time you are afraid, don’t whistle a happy tune and pretend you are not afraid. No, when fear enters your life, know that God is there to turn on the lights and illumine the darkness, so that you need no longer be afraid. Amen.