Giving Up – Sermon #2 I Am the Light of the World • March 8, 2020 • Vannae Savig

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. As a church we partner with the liberating presence of God to cultivate joy, hope &  belonging as Jesus invites us into freedom, keeps us free, and helps us to free others. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. We would love to be your church home.

We are in the second week of our Lent sermon series.  This is the 40 days before Easter, which is often observed as a time of preparation and repentance leading up to a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. 

So there are quite a few church traditions here in this congregation, so there will also be lots of ways to observe this season. You’re invited to try out whatever you feel the Holy Spirit nudging you towards, whether it’s familiar or new to you. We want to be a community that cheers each other on and holds each other up as we all take that next step toward Jesus, even when that step might look different from our own. Here’s a summary of our suggested Lent practices you can try this season: (pause)

Your Bold Request – Identify one thing you’d like to ask God to do for you and then ask daily. Isaiah 62 instructs us to “remind” the Lord, and to “give him no rest” as we bring our longings to him. Jesus tells us the story of a persistent widow who receives justice from an unjust judge simply because she will not stop asking. And Jesus says to us, “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?” So we are inviting each of us to make one bold, deeply personal request this Lent. Take some time to prayerfully choose a deep need, a powerful longing that has been gripping your heart.

The Answered Prayer Wall – If you receive an answer to prayer during Lent, we invite you to write it on a sticky-note and stick it on the ANSWERED PRAYER WALL in the sanctuary. This is both a tangible reminder to us all that our prayers are heard by a powerful and active God and an act of worshipful gratitude. We can watch together as we visibly see the Holy Spirit at work in our midst.

Identify and Pray for Your Six- Prayerfully select six people in your world to pray for each day through the six weeks of Lent.  I suggest people just beyond your primary relationship circle. Maybe not family and friends, but people around you—neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances— whoever you bump up against regularly in your day to day life. Especially those who might benefit from more experience of the Good God. It can be helpful to reflect on the ways you have been impacted by the prayers of others for your life.

Bless One of Your Six – This moves us to our next Lenten practice. Consider some extravagant care for one of your six. We not only wish to pray for God’s love and goodness in their lives, but we also want to become for those around us a reflection of the good God we serve. Ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to highlight a way that you can tangibly bless one of the people you’re praying for, a way that you can become for them a tangible encounter with God’s goodness. Now do it. Really. Even if it feels awkward or challenging. Ask God not only to meet the other person with love and care, but also to transform your heart through the act of sacrificial giving. To deepen this practice, consider engaging this act privately. When you give, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3). Intentionally avoid recognition or praise for your act. Pray through how it feels to do this. 

Experiment with a Daily Devotional – We have a daily devotional to experiment available on the church website as a PDF that you can download and print out yourself and experiment with.

Get Baptized on Easter Sunday – If you’re interested in getting baptized on Easter, tell one of the pastoral staff, as well as join us for our upcoming baptism class in April. 

For our Lent sermon series we’re talking about Giving Up. Lent is traditionally a time when folks give up sugar or social media or alcohol, but we’ve got a different kind of giving up in mind. We want you to think about things that could be keeping you from getting closer to God, or things that are keeping us from the freedom that Jesus is offering.. But if you’re just focusing on what not to do, you’ll end up focusing on it a lot. As Pastor Marissa said last week, the secret is replacing that thing you’re giving up with something positive. So this is what we’re going to work on together during Lent. As a church we have already set some intentions for ourselves. is. This is our chance to give up those things we already want to be free from, and receive in its place what Jesus wants to give us. 

(Pause) Today we’re going to talk about giving up fear, and replacing it with “The Light of The World”, which is who Jesus says he is.

I listened to a podcast recently about irrational childhood fears. I don’t know what you were like when you were a kid. But I feel like I could pick up fear of something by someone else just describing their own fears. So I found this podcast pretty relatable. Some highlights I thought you might enjoy: One woman said when she was little she thought that Shamu (yes the orca whale), would come to her house, up her stairs, into her room, and would nibble on her toes. So to this day she tucks her toes under her covers. Another person said that after seeing Jurassic Park, she thought there were velociraptors under her bathroom sink. She said the pipes sounded like they were screeching. At any rate, she would use the shower rod to turn on the sink for the hallway, and let her parents think she was brushing her teeth…just so she wouldn’t have to go into the bathroom. I know I was personally terrified of our basement, growing up, after watching Home Alone, the furnace scene!

       Fear, not just when you’re a child, can be very consuming. Sometimes we still have those childhood fears, but usually our fears shift to things like: (go slow)fear of losing, fear of failure, fear of making an important decision, fear of being rejected, or fear of losing control. These are fears that can be a result of a lie that was told to us, or a lie we tell to ourselves, and sometimes these fears can be learned or fears we’ve witnessed and taken on. These are the fears that can keep us from walking in the freedom and light that Jesus has provided. In the midst of every situation where we fear there is no way out, where we fear nothing is clear, where we fear it is our fault, we know that there is hope, there is a Light, Jesus.

In John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Christ is the Light of the world. God is light, and Christ is the image of the invisible God. Christ’s light fills in and shines in the places of fear.  Essentially Christ’s life was about bringing life to people. John 1:4 describes Jesus this way, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” He brought life. This means he brought hope and restoration to a world of hopelessness and brokenness. Jesus also brought hope and restoration to places where our fear lives.

As one who struggles with fear often, I have read a lot of books, blogs, articles, about fear. I’ve been given advice on how to get rid of my fears. And to be honest, not everything out there is helpful. However, I’ve been given enough bad advice that I have put a list of fear myths together for you.         

Myth 1: Fear is a sin

 Truth: Fear is, first and foremost, a survival mechanism. When your senses detect a source of stress that might pose a threat, your brain activates a cascade of reactions that prime us to either fight for our lives or to escape as quickly as possible,  a reaction in mammals that is known as the fight or flight response.

Fear is regulated by a part of the brain within the temporal lobes known as the amygdala. When stress activates the amygdala, it temporarily overrides conscious thought so that the body can divert all of its energy to facing the threat — whatever that might be.The release of neurochemicals and hormones causes an increase in heart rate and breathing, shunts blood away from the intestines and sends more to the muscles, for running or fighting, It puts all the brain’s attention into ‘fight-or-flight. So basically this is natural, and fear in the right context can protect you.  This type of fear has helped keep our species alive. There are also emotional fears. We all also have the basic need to feel lovable, worthy of love and of value in the world in order to have healthy relationships with others – and with ourselves. Shame can be an excruciating feeling – something many of us will go great lengths to avoid. Not only can it leave us feeling physically sick, make our skin crawl or flush or in extremes give us stabbing pains, we want to crawl into a hole and disappear. When we are shamed, rejected, or humiliated it can threaten or destroy our belief in our worth, our lovability and our value in the world. And this can lead to us believing lies and creating emotional fears. 

Look, God  doesn’t want us to be afraid, but knows it’s inevitable. If you view fear as sinful, this can add a dose of guilt on top of your fears that won’t help at all. God knows us. He knows we’re vulnerable. He knows the struggle is real. And He loves us anyway. And He wants us to trust Him.

Myth 2:  Have faith  and you’ll never fear again

Truth: God does want us to have faith and to trust in Him.  But fear is something that can sneak back in and you have to give it up on a regular basis. And there’s no shame in that. When you struggle with something, it’s ok that you can’t just snap your fingers and everything is ok. Change takes time.  You have to remind yourself of who Christ is, and what he’s done, and will do! Jesus is more powerful than your fear, more powerful than the lies that are told to you. I know that in the moment when you’re on your knees in the dark, paralyzed by fear, it’s hard to remember Christ’s power, love and light. In Isaiah 41:10, it reads, 

“fear not, for I am with you;

    be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

So I’ve pulled out the 5 truths from this verse: 

  1. God is with me 
  2. God is my God 
  3. God will strengthen me
  4. God will help me
  5. God will uphold me

There is power when you remind yourselves of truths when you’re afraid, and a peace that can overcome you. When you’re fearful, standing on these pillars of truth can help you get through some hard times.

After 9/11 happened, stories flooded in of people’s bravery and courage throughout that fateful day. One story in particular comes to mind. A man named John Mahoney worked in the north tower  on the 19th floor. Mahony directed his co-workers to a stairway, checked the area for anyone else, and headed down through a haze of smoke and dust.

This was when his daily habit of saying the Lord’s Prayer bobbed to the surface of his mind, providing a grillwork of stability in the midst of the writhing building. He started to stay aloud as he ran down the stairs. And some of the people joined in with him. You could hear people’s prayers echoing throughout the stairwell. Mahoney was quoted later saying, “As I walked down that stairwell, somewhere between the 12th floor and the 10th, somewhere between ’Our Father’ and Thy will be done,’ that same feeling came over me. Suddenly, I was wrapped in warmth, love, and comfort. In that smoky, wet stairway, in a burning building, surrounded by a thousand frightened people; I felt wonder. I felt God’s peace, and I knew that regardless of the physical outcome, everything would be all right.”

John remembered who God was. He remembered Christ’s power and light amidst the darkness that fear can bring. He reminded himself that, “God was with him, God was his God, God would strengthen him, God would help him, and God would uphold him.” 

    Myth 3: Your fear isn’t real

 Truth: Acknowledge your fears and bring them to Christ.

It’s really easy to try to play down our fears, and tell ourselves they’re irrational or unreal. Granted, some fears can be unfounded, you know like dinosaures under our sink. But that doesn’t mean that those fears aren’t real to you, and God cares. When we pray God hears us. Our doubts, our fears, our cries for help. Our gratitude. And our songs of praise. And even in our most inaudible, inarticulate of prayers, he hears. And never once does Jesus say there is no room for your doubts and fears. 

In Luke 22:39 -44 “39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.[c]

Jesus was fearful but he brought his fears and doubt to God. He didn’t try to hide his fears, or feel ashamed, or tell himself they weren’t real. He was honest with God, and God listened. That doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t still have to face what was next, but God acknowledged his fears, sent an angel to strengthen him and help him to continue what God had called him to do. Part of God loving us is the fact that he wants to hear from us. Even though he knows what you’re going through, he wants to hear it from you. He wants you to tell him about your fears. Saying your fears aloud takes fears power away. God is right there with you, which leads me to my final myth we are often told about fear:

            Myth 4: You’re alone

      Truth:  Jesus is in the boat with you. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is this one from Luke. Luke 8:22-25 22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”

I love this story, because it’s such a human story. Here they are traveling with you know, God, and a storm comes they clearly forget who they are riding along with. They get scared, and Jesus reminds them of his power by calming the storm. I always imagine when he says, “where is your faith?” This translates to, “really guys? Really?” Jesus could let them stay in a panic. Let them feel alone in a scary moment. But he doesn’t. He acknowledges their fears and calms the storm. I’m not saying that everytime you’re afraid the storm will calm, but I am saying Jesus is riding along with you in the boat. 

Giving up on fear, actively and consciously letting it go and instead reminding yourself of who God is. The Light of the World is like having a headlamp. 

Christ lights our paths. It’s kind of like when you’re walking in the woods in the dark with your headlamp on. The darkness is all around you only your headlight is lighting the way. It doesn’t light up everything all around you, just lights up what’s in front of you. You still have to keep walking through the dark, but not blindly. Jesus is the headlamp, lighting your way through your fears. And just like the dark, fear is there, but God is more powerful, and there with you in midst of it all.

But giving up fear, is a little harder than giving up cheese or chocolate. When you’re giving up fear, I’d say the following is helpful: Identify the fear (figure out where it’s actually coming from), acknowledge the fear with God, and then allow God to tell you the truth . Whether you have a fear of rejection, failure, or losing loved ones, God can use truth to light the way.

 So lets say I have a fear of rejection. First I identify the fear. I know that most like it comes from my desire of wanting true community and wanting to belong. But perhaps that real and good desire shifted to a fear of not being accepted by any community. Or I’ve had bad past experiences of being rejected by people. I bring it to God. I tell him how I’m feeling. I tell him why I’m struggling and how hard it is. And that I’m scared. Then I ask God to remind/teach me the truth. The truth is: It’s ok that I’m nervous about it, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve community. God made me who I am and I belong.  I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God is bigger than my fears. God knows me and loves me. And God will bring me through this. And I find peace in these truths. Sometimes I have to repeat the truths. Sometimes I have to keep asking for peace. But I keep trusting that the Light of the World is in the boat with me, navigating with me through my fears. 

Prayer Senses:

Psalm 136 – His steadfast love endures forever. 

Psalm 34:18 – The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Matthew 6:25-34, with special emphasis on verses 31-32. 

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things