News & Events
Pastor Rich musings
March 18, 2020
Fear. It isn’t necessarily bad. Sometimes being afraid is a good thing. It keeps us from doing things which are foolish or dangerous. It sets limits on our lives that provide safety and security. On the other hand, fear can also disable us. It prevents us from doing what is necessary. It robs us of joy and diminishes the quality of our living. Being in a constant state of fear distorts our sense of reality. Turned inward, it leads to anxiety, suspicion, despair and a sense of hopelessness. Turned outward, it often results in anger, violence and destructive behaviors.
The 91st Psalm speaks directly into fear. “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’” The 91st Psalm reminds us that, in a world besieged by the Coronavirus, God is there to help us navigate the way through. Like the eagle that wraps its wings around its young, so will God surround us with God’s strong and abiding presence. In the words of the 91st Psalm we find the assurance that “in times of trouble, joy, sickness, health, vibrancy, sadness, loneliness, and death, we have a divine friend who walks with us, cries with us, loves us with a continuing, deep, and abiding love.” (Katherine Amos, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 2, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), Bartlett and Brown Taylor, eds., p. 34)
There is a dangerous pitfall in the interpretation of this Psalm. Some can read into these verses a guarantee that invoking God’s name will make us immune from harm. Some have used this Psalm as a promise that, if we have enough faith, God will do whatever we ask.
I am reminded of the story of a woman who was at work when she received a phone call that her daughter was very sick with a fever. She left her workplace and stopped by the pharmacy to pick up the medicine prescribed by the doctor. She got back to her car and found that she had locked her keys in the car.
She didn't know what to do, so she called home and told the babysitter what had happened. The babysitter suggested, “You might find a coat hanger and use that to open the door. But hurry, because the fever is getting worse.”
The woman looked around and found an old rusty coat hanger that had been thrown down on the ground. But she had no idea what to do with it. So, she bowed her head and asked God to send her some help. Within five minutes an old rusty car pulled up. As the car wheezed to a stop, a dirty, greasy, bearded man wearing an old biker skull rag on his head emerged. The woman silently shot another prayer to God, “This is the best you could do?”
The man got out of his car and asked her if he could help. She said, “Yes, my daughter is very sick. I stopped to get her some medicine and I locked my keys in my car. I must get home to her. Please, can you use this hanger to unlock my car?”
He said, “Sure.” He walked over to the car, and in less than a minute the door was open.
The woman hugged the man and through her tears she said, “Thank you so much! You are a very nice man.”
The man replied, “Lady, I am not a nice man. I just got out of prison today. I was in prison for car theft and have only been out for about an hour.”
The woman hugged the man again and with sobbing tears cried out loud, “Oh, Thank you God! You even sent me a professional!” (Various internet sources)
The psalmist does not offer us a magic formula: if only you turn to God, nothing bad will befall you. When Jesus was in the wilderness, he understood what the devil suggested was a test of God, and not trust. Real trust does not put God to the test. In fact, the psalmist acknowledges that even those who call upon God are not immune from troubles. When God promises “I will be with them in trouble”, the implication is that there are times when God’s people will find themselves in trouble. What the Psalm does promise is that there is no evil that can ultimately obstruct God’s goodness.
My friends, there is plenty to fear. We know that all too well. However, we do not have to live in fear. No matter what happens, in this life or the next, we trust that God will keep faith with us. That is the hope that keeps us from surrendering to fear. That is the hope that daily continues to empower and encourage us even in the midst of a frightening world.
Eternal God, sustainer, provider, God of all wisdom and knowledge,
Our spirits are weary, our faith quivers, our minds get clouded by news of sickness and death. You know our thoughts before we express them, even the fears we dismiss, you know them.
We cannot hide our feelings and worries from you. So, as we are, we come to You, Oh God, asking for wisdom, for clear minds and open hearts, for calm
and assurance that, through the crisis, You are present. Knowing that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words,”
We ask for wisdom and protection… For medical personnel, scientists, doctors, nurses, and laboratory technicians. For those around the world considering current and other health crises. For health care personnel and caregivers. We lift them up to You.
We ask for clear minds and open hearts as people navigate daily lives…
As closures, cancellations, and quarantines are enacted. As families gather in their homes, some caring for those who are sick. As we encounter neighbors in our neighborhoods, stores, and pharmacies.
We pray for the sick, those who have lost or are at risk of losing jobs in the midst of this crisis, for those whose health or social services will be or have been affected, for those suffering the direct effects of this virus, locally and around the world.
Illumine us, Holy Spirit. Show us in what ways we can be of help as we care for self and others. We ask for calm, assurance, and strength. May we all remember that, in the midst of any crisis, Your grace reaches us, Your hope enlightens us, And Your love surrounds us all.