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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Let It All Out

The sermon today is the product of a collaboration between Caroline Owen and myself.
We've been working on this off and on throughout the past months.
She chose a song that's very meaningful to her, one that I hadn't heard of, because it's contemporary.
It's by a Contemporary Christian group called, Relient K.
They call themselves Relient K because "Edsel" was already taken.
The song is, "Let It All Out," and the lyrics are printed on the insert page in your bulletins.
We've made a video to go along with it.
We'll get to the video in a minute.

Today's Old Testament reading is another song.
It's an oldie. It's Psalm 147, and it says,

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
 make melody to our God on the lyre.
It says,

His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
 nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner; 
but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
 in those who hope in his steadfast love.

"the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him"

Is that really what the Bible means?
Is it right to fear God?
Is it right to fear Jesus?

People water down the word, "fear," because we're not supposed to be afraid of Jesus.
Sweet Baby Jesus, Jesus meek and mild, Jesus who never said a mumblin' word.
What a friend we have in Jesus.
That's what our songs say.
Jesus is our friend, and you don't fear your friends.
Fear is the opposite of friendship.
So we water it down to mean, "respect."
Respect God.
The Lord takes pleasure in those who respect him.
How's that work for you?
Sorry, but "respect" just doesn't cut it.

According to the Psalm, God, "Determines the number of the stars," and "gives them all their names."
God, "covers the heavens with clouds," and "gives to the animals their food."
That's worthy of a little more than "respect."
We can respect Warren Buffett.
We might respect Steve Jobs.
But God - Father, Son, and Holy Ghost - God - Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of all there is and ever will be?
I think a little fear is in order.
"Great is our Lord, and abundant in power, his understanding is beyond measure."
It's OK to have fear for a power so great and so immeasurable.

But what kind of fear?
What's there to fear about God?

A lot of people fear that God's going to bring some kind of Armageddon, and wipe the table clean.
They fear God because God's angry, God's mad at us, and we have to pay the price.
Given the evil that people do to each other on a daily basis, I can see how God would at the very least be kind of disappointed.
But when you think about Jesus and how he died for our sins, the threat of mass destruction doesn't make sense.
Besides, we've already got our own weapons of mass destruction, thank you very much.
And then we read, "The Lord takes pleasure - pleasure - in those who fear him."
Sounds sadistic.
Again, it makes no sense when you think of Jesus and what he preached about love and compassion.
Religion based on fear is a cruel parody of the gospel.

Think, for a minute.
Think about the times when you've really, really cried out for God.
Probably not the times you've won the PowerBall.
"Oh, Jesus, help me spend this pile of money!"
When good things fall into your lap, you're pretty fine on your own.
Think of the times when God, and only God can help you.
Think of the times when you know you can't possibly climb out of whatever hole you've fallen into.
Remember the fear that the only way left is further down.

Maybe you can't remember such a time.
Maybe you've never been in that much personal darkness.
If not, good.
May blessings of light and life always be upon you.

But a lot of us come to church because we're afraid.
We're afraid.
We're afraid that we don't know which way is up.
We're afraid that the up-ness we do have is hanging by a string, and it could all be taken away in the blink of an eye.
We're afraid we don't deserve what we have.
We're afraid we'll be revealed as frauds.
We're afraid. But we're taught being afraid is wrong.
So we're afraid of being afraid.
We're embarrassed by our fear.
We hide our fear.
We lie about our fear.
But hiding it, lying about it, covering it up never makes the fear go away.

We separate God from our circumstances.
Something good happens, and it must be sent from God.
It's not God; but it's a gift from God.
Or something bad happens, and we ask why did God do this?
Why did God let this happen?
Maybe the Psalmist would tell us to pull God down from the clouds.
Maybe God doesn't just send the circumstances.
Maybe God is in the circumstances.
Maybe the situations when we look for God are intertwined with God.

In the Psalm, God is the one who builds up the broken rubble of the city.
In the Psalm, God is the one who gathers up the outcasts.
God is the one who heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.
God is not in the strength of the strong or the speed of the fast.
Instead, the Bible tells us, God is in those who hope - those who have to hope in his steadfast love.
God is in the trodding down, in the outcasting, in the heart-breaking.
God is in the downtrodden, the outcasts, the heartbroken.
They have nowhere to go but up.

God is not a god of fear.
God does not delight in our fear.
The Bible never says God delights in our fear.
It says God delights in those who fear him.
It's a fine distinction, but it's crucial.
God does not delight in our fear, but God comes to us when we're honest about our fears.
When we have the courage to accept defeat - as Jesus accepted defeat - when we have the courage to accept defeat, God finds us.
Or rather, that's when we let God find us.
When we accept the fear, when we stop fighting the fear, when we accept our weakness, we accept God.

No one ever needs to pray for more frightening situations.
There's more than enough of those to go around.
We pray we don't find them.
But someday we may well find ourselves face to face with our fears.
Our prayer can be that we respect the situation, that we don't run away from it, that we don't withdraw to the point of spiritual, mental, or even physical death.
Giving in does NOT mean giving up.
Giving in means facing your fear, and seeing its weakness.

In times of trouble, we pray for the courage to know and accept defeat, knowing that God who named and numbered the stars is with us, even in the darkness.
Especially in the darkness of our fears.

The Bible tells us that it's in our weakness that the Spirit prays for us.
In our weakness.
In our weakness that very Spirit intercedes for us in sighs too deep for words.
In our weakness.
In our weakness, all things work together for good. In our weakness.
The weakness and God become one.
We become one with our weakness.
We become one with God.

We let it all out, and We let God in.

[lights down, show video]