No fear, God is near

Ghosts, ghouls, goblins. . .

No Fear, God Is Near

given on Sunday, October 19, 2014

 

For some reason I keep thinking that Halloween is this week, but the 19th is closer to the middle of the month and Halloween is still almost two weeks away. I suppose I am being easily influenced by all the advertising and store displays that seem to jump out and try to scare me.

Two different concerns evolve from this issue. Marketing in our world today seems to sway people’s thinking so easily that we cannot seem to keep our own standards. We follow the latest fads without a care. Even the Halloween hype has created a subculture based on people’s fears and fantasies which brings a few questions to mind:

  • Where is God in all the ghosts, ghouls and goblins?
  • Does Halloween grant the freedom to be werewolves, vampires, and Zombies?
  • Is it really just pretend or do the costumes show the true selves?

 

This week’s lectionary begins with the story of Moses and the Israelites struggling to survive in the desert. They are afraid, frustrated, and tired. Moses has left the encampment to talk with God up on Mount Sinai. The people are filled with questions and fears, so Aaron steps in with a plan:

32 When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”

 

In a way, Aaron throws a party, but that party centers around an idol created to shift the focus away from the fears and the frustrations. The Baal culture that surrounded them worshipped gods fashioned after bulls and the people observed them having all the fun. So Aaron channels all that energy into creating the Golden Calf, made from their donated gold, and throws a party:

Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!” The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.

Fear has a way of clouding our judgment and leading us away from God. It is easy to feel lost and alone when things are tough, but God is with us. He knows when we are tired, lonely, or afraid. He does not wish bad things to happen to any one of his children, but things do happen. The manner in which we continue to follow God is the key to managing the worst of times.

As adults it is easy to fall into a pattern of life that follows the marketing techniques or the pressure from work or the whims of our own mind. When we do this, we wander away from God and suddenly trouble shows up. Maybe it is buying too much stuff—like that old drive to keep up with the Joneses—or maybe we start spending too much time and money on recreation and suddenly there is no way to pay the bills. We may be following our own whims disregarding the safety and security of our families, and suddenly the possible loss of a spouse and kids sounds the alarms.

Fear comes with the realization that life has turned away from God and panic sets in. But even when we make our worst mistakes, God is near. We must take an assessment of what we have done wrong and what we need to do, and then ask forgiveness and for guidance. God will hear. We should remember there is no fear when God is near.

Think of how it is when one of your children—whether still in school or whether an adult with children of their own—run into a problem. Maybe it is something like the loss of a friend through moving away or even death. You watch that child experience the pain of loss, the sense of loneliness, and then search for a way to fill that void. There is nothing you can do to fix the problem; but God is near, so teach them to pray and to trust in God.

Living a Christian lifestyle gives us the structure, the guidelines, and the confidence to know that whatever loss or fear we experience, we are never alone. Living with God is living a life that knows the ghosts, ghouls and goblins we meet in our lives do not scare us away from God. The human experience is temporary, but the Christian life continues into eternity.

During the next two weeks, kids are excited to prepare and to go out trick or treating. Parents guide the youngest kids in the choice of the costumes, the houses that they visit, and even the goodies they eat. As kids grow up, the parents’ role shifts. Tweens and teens begin listening to friends about what costumes to pick, where to visit, and what trick or treat means. Parents watch with apprehension, uncertain of their kids’ safety. Becoming angry is evidence of how afraid they are for their wellbeing.

The Old Testament tells story after story of how God gets angry with his children. He uses so many different techniques to manage his chosen children and yet Moses had to plead with him not to turn his anger onto the tribes of Israel:

11 But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? 12 Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people!

 

The Old Testament story is referenced even in Psalm 106, when the psalmist repents from sin. God is reminded how Moses interceded for the people. God listened then and he continues to listen. When we are afraid, God is near. When we cry out for him, he hears us.

Ghosts, ghouls and goblins are surrounding us this time of year. The costumes are cute and sweet for the youngest kiddos but as the kids grow up, the costumes seem to transform them into alter egos filled with evil. The villains, the zombies, the werewolves, and the vampires become more and more evident. Even girls pick costumes that are more alluring and seductive as they test the limits of parental authority.

Parents are fearful as the tweens and teens leave for the Halloween trick or treating, concerned that they are not safe or may not act appropriately. The Christian lifestyle is tested. Will the kids remember what the rules are? Are the kids forgetting to follow the Golden Rule even while they are pretending to be all these alter egos? Will they be frightened and make mistakes?

The kids, no matter the age, need direction. The words Paul shared with the Philippians need to echo in our ears:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Do not fear; God is near! The way to be free from fear is to stay focused on God. See this world, even this Halloween, through the eyes of God. Ask yourself are you following Paul’s advice:

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Fear can lead us to follow the godless, the evil ones, the Devil himself, but with God near we do not have to fear. We can handle the illnesses that hit us, we can find ways to manage our budgets, and we can look ahead in drought-filled years to plentiful years. We can say thank you to God for being near in any and all trials or tribulations we face—even the ghosts, ghouls and goblins of Halloween.

Closing prayer:

Dear Protective Father,

Thank you for being near us at all times.

Thank you for hearing our prayers filled with fears.

Thank you for keeping us safe from harm.

Teach us through the stories of the Old Testament,

Through the sage words of the earliest disciples,

And through the Christian models beside us.

Let us share your grace and love

With our children and our neighbors

So they know there is no fear with you so near.

Amen.

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