Sermon starts at the 3:30 mark after the music
Lay Reader = Isaiah 41:8-16
8But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; 9you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. 11Yes, all who are incensed against you shall be ashamed and disgraced; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. 12You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. 13For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.” 14Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you insect Israel! I will help you, says the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. 15Now, I will make of you a threshing sledge, sharp, new, and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff. 16You shall winnow them and the wind shall carry them away, and the tempest shall scatter them. Then you shall rejoice in the Lord; in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.
With Advent approaching, we’re almost done with our series looking at the Words to Remember – the Bible verses that are worth memorizing or otherwise writing on your heart. When life goes sideways on you, these Bible verses can provide you with the hope, the encouragement, the direction to keep going.
Last week we heard how Jesus calls us friends, and the best way for us to be good friends with Jesus is to stay in regular contact. That left me with a good problem – all the devotional journals are gone! Hopefully those who took me up on that offer are actually using them! And if they disappeared before you could get one, I have another shipment arriving this week. Remember if you need some guidance on that journaling practice, check out fpcl.org/bible.
This week we are wondering what our faith is supposed to look like when we’re afraid – when we’re shaking in our boots. Our main text today is from Peter’s letter to a series of small churches scattered around Asia Minor in modern-day Turkey. Peter was probably in Rome during the reign of the emperor Nero. Nero’s reign was the first to intentionally persecute Christians because of their faith.
So the faithful Christians in these scattered cities had some major questions. Is God allowing this persecution because we’ve done something wrong? Is our faith worth this suffering? What will happen next? Can I continue living with this overwhelming fear?
If any of those questions resonate with you right now, I encourage you to go read the other four chapters in 1 Peter. Peter offers deep insight and encouragement for those times. We’re going to focus on the end of his letter, where Peter kind of wraps it up and summarizes what he’s been saying. Listen to what he says to these Christians who were shaking in their boots.
1 Peter 5:1-11
Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you 2to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. 3Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. 4And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.
5In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 6Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
8Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.
10And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
Well this is a very short sermon. Our first text from Isaiah 41 says it pretty clearly. It’s written on the cover of your bulletin. “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be afraid, for I am your God.” There you have it. God is good. Don’t be afraid. Ready to move on? No?
Anyone ever feel afraid even though you know God is good and trustworthy? Anxiety is one of the defining traits of like half of my extended family, so I’ve had plenty of time to think about this particular question of faith.
The Greek word Peter uses here for “anxiety” means “worried to the point of distraction.” Not just a little bit worried. Worried to the point of distraction. When you are so worried that it interferes with what you need to do or what Jesus says you’re supposed to do – that’s the kind of anxiety Peter is talking about.
One of my former students has a long history of anxiety and self-doubt. When she was going to share her story at youth group, she was sure that everyone would hate it and hate her. When I trained her to be a small group leader on the mission trip, she was afraid everyone would be disappointed to be in her group. As an adult now, when she was going to job interviews at schools she texted me that it wasn’t worth going because they wouldn’t like her. Maybe you can identify.
But she also has a long history of moving forward even with the fear. Despite much hand-wringing, she did share her story at youth group. Despite paralyzing fear, she did lead a small group on the mission trip. Despite her fear that she wouldn’t measure up, she did go to the job interviews. And so I told her that bravery isn’t “not feeling fear.” Bravery is doing what you need or want to do even though you’re afraid. So from that perspective she’s very brave.
That’s kind of what it looks like to cast our anxieties on the Lord, as Peter recommends in our text today. Before you can cast your anxiety on the Lord, first you have to be feeling anxiety, right? So our faith isn’t about avoiding fear. No, we’re to be faithful and trusting even though we’re afraid and anxious.
Many of the Psalms show this tension. Psalm 44, for instance, has this wonderful statement of faith: “I do not trust in my bow; I do not count on my sword to save me. You are the one who gives us victory over our enemies; you disgrace those who hate us. O God, we give glory to you all day long and constantly praise your name.” That’s nice, right?
But it also has this anxiety-filled plea as well: “Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Do not reject us forever…Rise up! Help us! Ransom us because of your unfailing love.”
Telling God to get out of bed is pretty gutsy, if you ask me. So the next time you wonder if you should pray what you’re really thinking or feeling, go read Psalm 44. If God can handle that prayer, he can take your prayer, too.
So the first thing we should know about fear, about anxiety, about those times when we’re shaking in our boots – it’s OK to feel anxiety, but we are supposed to remain faithful through that fear. Give it to God in prayer. Like Psalm 44, tell him you want him to get out of bed. He can take it. Just don’t let your fear prevent you from doing something God has placed before you.
But Peter gives us some other advice for being faithful when we are shaking in our boots. He spends several verses talking about humility and humbling ourselves. In fact, he says “clothe yourselves with humility.” Choose to put it on as frequently as you put on your clothes.
But we should probably acknowledge what a wise person said about this concept. “If we were all clothed in our humility, many of us would be scantily clad.”
So why does Peter talk about humility when we’re afraid? Well, when I was a freshman in college I would show up five or ten minutes before the class on a big test day, and I would do what everyone else was doing: cramming! But I noticed something. Two somethings, actually. First, many times my brain would get stuck on something I had just read in that final cramming session and I couldn’t get past it to something deeper in my memory. And second, I couldn’t point to a single time that I got a question right because I had spent five more minutes reviewing my notes. So after my first year, I decided to just sit there with my notes closed and trust my prior preparation. If I wasn’t ready by now, five more minutes wasn’t going to make me ready. By that point, the test result would be whatever it would be.
I also received a great gift in a backwards way in college. I took contemporary moral problems in the philosophy department. Interesting class. We studied abortion. Capital punishment. You know, the easy stuff. But the professor hated God and every form of religion, so she told us we would fail if we used faith or religion on any of our papers. I had a difficult time separating morality and faith, so I got a C for the first time in my life. But that was a gift, because it meant I didn’t have to pressure myself to get perfect grades. That ship had sailed. It’s like getting a ding on a new car – it’s never going to be perfect again so it takes a little pressure off.
So those two doses of humility helped me be less anxious. I had to humbly admit that five or ten more minutes of studying wouldn’t change my eventual grade. And I had to humbly admit that the difference between an A-minus and a B-minus was rather negligible in the scheme of life. It’s not like Becca wouldn’t have married me if I had a slightly lower GPA.
So there’s this tension in our faith. Peter has both sides of this coin right next to each other in verses six and seven. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.” So we’re supposed to be humble because God’s got things in hand even if we get a bad grade or lose a job or whatever goes wrong. The universe doesn’t cease to exist because something bad happens to us.
But on the other hand, Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” So we’re supposed to trust God because he cares about us. So we matter to God, but the universe doesn’t hinge on our wellbeing. That’s an interesting tension.
I lead a men’s Bible study here at the church, and we’ve been meeting for several years. We have some deep conversations. We have some not-so-deep conversations. We study the Bible. We share about our lives. It’s good. Jesus cares about that group. I care about that group.
But would anyone lose their faith and start worshiping Dagon, the god of the Philistines, if the group stopped meeting? Not likely.
Would the church shut down if the men’s Bible study stopped meeting? Not likely.
Or many of you remember when the gas station across the street had an underground leak and made a potentially explosive situation underneath our church. Did that disrupt ministry and worship? Yeah, of course. But we’re still here. I’m sure a lot of plans were drastically impacted by that development. But here we are. It wasn’t the end of the church.
So in humility, Peter encourages us to realize that the things that we think are essential might not be quite as important as we think they are. Perhaps we are deifying our preferences rather than keeping God’s plan in mind. But, Peter reminds us, God cares about us and wants us to cast those same anxieties on him.
When you’re feeling anxiety, tell God about it. Ask for the Holy Spirit to show up. Ask for Jesus to do something. Cast your anxieties on him. But also remember in humility that you don’t have the same perspective or priorities that God has. Even if it goes as badly as you fear, the universe probably won’t end.
But let’s rewind to that first college story I told. Instead of cramming for the last five or ten minutes, I said I trusted my prior preparation. I’m quite sure that many of my fellow students were cramming precisely because they had not done any prior preparation.
And our texts from Isaiah and Peter encourage that kind of preparation. We can actually prepare our hearts before we’re filled with anxiety. It’s a lot easier to trust God in fearful times when you’ve trained your heart to trust God already.
In our Isaiah passage, God says, “I will make of you a threshing sledge, sharp, new, and having teeth.” When we seek God during the normal times in life, we sharpen our faith for the times we’re afraid. Peter says the same thing as well. “Discipline yourselves, keep alert,” he says.
So when you are trusting Jesus with your time with your devotional journal, you’re actually preparing your heart for difficult times.
When you are trusting Jesus with your decisions throughout your daily life, you’re preparing your heart for difficult decisions later on.
When you are trusting Jesus by sharing your prayer requests with others, you’re preparing your heart to depend on the community of faith when you really need it.
Sisters and brothers, it’s OK to feel afraid. If the psalmist can accuse God of sleeping on the job, we can tell God how we’re actually feeling, too. Cast all your anxieties on the Lord, for he cares for you.
But in humility, also remember that the universe won’t end even if our fear comes true. God still has the world in his hands.
And we can prepare our hearts and souls to trust God when we’re shaking in our boots by investing in our relationship with Jesus on a daily basis. That’s what makes us ready to stand firm in our shaking boots.
How ready are you to trust God in the midst of your fear? Amen.