November 8, 2020

                                                                              Rev. John Watts

                                                                              Nampa First UMC

 

FROM HOW TO WOW

Psalm 46:1-7, 10

 

I have a book I’d like to recommend.  It won’t take you long to read it.  Maybe three minutes.  But you’ve probably already read it.  Or had it read to you.  It’s called Chicken Little.   Maybe you know it as Chicken Licken or Henny Penny.  Same story.

We have it in our church library.  It’s well used.  You know the story.  Chicken Little is hit on the head by an acorn falling from a tree and concludes that the sky must be falling.  This is big news.  The king has to be told.  On her way to tell the king she meets Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey, and finally Foxy Loxy.

There’s a happy ending and a not so happy ending, depending on the version of the story you read.  But the moral is the same.  Don’t get caught up in mass hysteria.  Just because other people are afraid, you don’t need to be.

Psalm 46 begins:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the sky should fall.

Isn’t that what it says?  Actually, it’s close.

          Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains   

          tremble with its tumult.

And I don’t think we are stretching things too far to interpret it like this:

Therefore we will not fear though everyone else is running around like Chicken Little telling people that all these terrible things are about to happen.

It occurs to me that the old playground taunt that someone is “chicken” may have originated with this story.  So don’t be a chicken.  That’s basically what I have to say to you this morning.

Chapman University in Orange, California holds a special place in my family’s heart.  Our daughter, Kelsey is a Chapman alum.  Chapman has become known for their annual “Survey of American Fears”.  They’ve been doing this since 2014.  They released their 2019 findings earlier this year.  Kind of interesting.

It was a random sample of adults across the United States.  They were given a long list of things they might fear.  This was before anyone had heard of the novel coronavirus.  Topping the list was “Corruption of Government Officials”.  77.2% of the respondents said they were either afraid or very afraid of that.

Rounding out the top five were “Pollution of Oceans, Rivers, and Lakes” 68.0%, “People I Love Becoming Seriously Ill” 66.7%, “Pollution of Drinking Water” 64.6%, and “People I Love Dying” 62.9%.

This is quite a contrast to the top five fears in 2014, the first year they did this.  Topping the list that year was “Walking Alone at Night”.  Then “Identify Theft”, “Safety on the Internet”, “Mass Random Shootings”, and “Public Speaking”.

So, why did “government corruption” go to the top of the list last year?  You can probably guess.  Democrats and Republicans were saying then (and they still are saying now) that the other side is corrupt, dishonest, immoral, dangerous, and criminal.  People on both the left and the right are afraid, and with both barrels that fear came out loud and clear when Chapman University did their survey.

So how about another survey?  The Gallup organization is always doing surveys on how satisfied people are with the direction of our country.  In February, this poll reached a 15-year high.  Not since 2005 had Americans been as satisfied with the direction of our country.  Then came the coronavirus and the bottom fell out.  In four months, satisfaction dropped from 45% to 20%.

It probably won’t surprise you that out of that 20%, Democrats were more dissatisfied than Republicans.  6% of Democrats were satisfied with the direction of the country and 39% of Republicans.  It would be interesting if they took their poll right now.  Although we probably wouldn’t believe it because confidence in pollsters has now reached an all-time low.

Gallup also asks people how satisfied they are with their personal lives. This reached a record 90% in February of this year. I can’t find a survey that has been taken since then, but look at this chart:

Since they have been asking the question, no matter who is president or what is happening in the country, a vast majority of people consistently say they are satisfied with their own personal lives.

Are you satisfied with yours?  That’s kind of a personal question.  So I’ll go first.  I am really satisfied with my personal life.  Even as this election week comes to an end and we have a declared winner but not a declared loser.  Even as emotions are all over the map about the election, even as we dread what might happen in the next few weeks, even as everyone around us seems convinced that the sky is either falling right now or will very soon – still we’re doing pretty well in our own lives, for the most part.  We’re fine.  Especially when we get away from the news and get our minds on something else.

Remember, just because everyone else is afraid, you don’t have to join in.  Let Chicken Little rant and rave all she wants; you don’t have to listen.  You don’t have to be a chicken.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear.” 

One thing I love about Psalm 46 is its refrain.  We find the same words in verses 7 and 11:  “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

Years ago I heard Eugene Peterson give a talk.  He’s the guy who is famous for The Message Bible.  He was talking about Psalm 46 and he pointed out something interesting.

“Lord of hosts” literally means “Lord of armies”.  This is God who fights battles and wins wars for Israel.  It’s an image of God that stresses God’s power, not God’s love.

“God of Jacob” reminds us of the story of Jacob.  Remember that story?  In one part, Jacob is running scared.  His brother Esau has sworn to kill him.  Jacob knows he deserves to be killed for the way he cheated his brother.  At night he is attacked.  He assumes it is Esau attacking him, but it isn’t Esau.  It is God.  God wrestles with him.   All night long the wresting continues.

The next morning, he does meet Esau, and Esau, surprisingly forgives him.  Embraces him.   Weeps with him.  Jacob says to his brother, “To see your face is like seeing the face of God” (Genesis 33:10).  So when the Bible speaks of the “God of Jacob”, it’s God’s love, not God’s power, that is being emphasized.

Here’s what’s interesting in Psalm 46.  You would expect it to say that the powerful God, the Lord of hosts, is our refuge.  A refuge is a place where you are safe and protected.  God keeps us safe.  God is strong enough to protect us.  And you would expect it to say that the loving God, the God of Jacob, is with us.  Because God also holds us and cares for us as he did for Jacob.

But it doesn’t say that.  Here’s what it does say, and it says it twice:  “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”  This is not what we expect.  So it gets our attention.  And it reminds us of something important.  The strong God is the loving God.  And the loving God is the strong God.  It’s one and the same God.  God is all-powerful and all-loving.  “Therefore, we will not fear.”  Because, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

When we are in trouble, or when we just think we are in trouble, whether we really are or not, our fear kicks in.  That fear-detecting part of our brain, the amygdala, gets triggered.  The fear can morph into panic.  Before we know it, we are running around with Chicken Little and Goosey Loosey and all the rest.

Our prayers become more prayers of panic than of faith.  We’re not really praying; we’re just worrying out loud to God.  Because in our own minds, our fears have become bigger than our God.

So when that is where you find yourself, how about trying this?  Instead of telling God about your troubles, tell your troubles about your God.  Because, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”  And this all-loving, all-powerful God is “a very present help in trouble.”

When we are afraid, we tend to be self-absorbed.  Fear turns us inward.  All we can do is think about how awful this is, how much more awful this could become, how awful we feel about this whole awful, scary situation.

I’ve been in meetings dominated by fear.  Everyone there, myself included is afraid.  The future does not look promising.  We don’t like the trends.  We don’t like what we are seeing and hearing and feeling.  The handwriting is on the wall.

And even if it’s a church meeting, we seldom talk about God at a moment like that.  It’s all about us.  What we can do.  What we can change.  How are we going to do things differently?  How are we going to get ourselves out of this mess?  How can this possibly work?  How?  How?  How?

You know what I think?  “How?” is a fear word.  “How?” is the word frightened people use when they think they are problem solving but they are really just grasping at straws.  They are really just trying to convince themselves that they have the answer, they are the answer, and they are trying real hard to believe that.

But what if we flip that?  Instead of believing in ourselves, we believe in God.  Instead of trusting in ourselves, we trust in God.  Instead of being impressed with ourselves, we are impressed with God.  Instead of asking “How?”, what if we say “Wow!”

I’ve been saving this video for Veteran’s Day Sunday.  One of you sent it to me awhile back.   I think it’s perfect for today, for several reasons.  It’s a great tribute to our veterans.  It’s also a great reminder of our love for our country, that we all share despite our differences.  It’s going to make you feel better about America, on this Sunday when fear and pessimism are running rampant.  And it’s also simply a “Wow!” if ever there was one.  You’ve heard the National Anthem before, but you’ve never heard it like this.

(YouTube: Seven-Year-Old Crushes the National Anthem)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HU0SZXcNNbY

Wow!  It’s the only word that fits.  It’s a faith word.  It’s a praise word.  It’s a God word.  You can’t say “Wow!” while you’re obsessed with yourself.  It’s impossible.  If it’s all about your fears, your troubles, your pessimism, your anxiety you won’t be able to say the word.  “Wow!” is a word that lifts you out of all that awfulness and into the very presence of God.

When we find ourselves afraid of the future; when we don’t like the direction our country is going; when we don’t like the direction our lives are going; when we don’t like the direction the life of someone we really care about is going; when we sit down to watch the news and have to change the channel because the news is so scary, so depressing, so upsetting.  “How?” are we ever going get through this?

The answer to the “How?” is the “Wow!”

If all you can see is how scary and hopeless things are, you will feed your fear and your hopelessness.  But if you can manage to get your eyes off your troubles long enough to get your eyes on God, the cycle of panic and despair will be broken.  The “how?” becomes a “wow!”

Because God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  God is doing good things, great things.  See that.  Be more impressed with that than you are with what is going wrong.

And God needs you to partner with him to build a better future.  Respond to that call.  Ignore the Chicken Little hysteria all around.  Don’t be a chicken!

Fear feeds on fear.  Faith feeds on faith.  Both are contagious.  Only one will take us on God’s path into the future.

 

Dear God, we praise you!  We are so often so preoccupied with ourselves and our problems, with our country and its problems, that we forget all about you.  We turn to you out of desperation rather than lifting your name in praise.  Forgive us.  Fear makes us selfish.  Praise reminds us that you are bigger than whatever makes us afraid.  Bigger, better, infinite in both power and love.  So when we find ourselves in a tough spot and we ask, “How?   How do we get out of this?”, remind us of that other word.  “Wow!”  In Jesus’ name,  Amen.