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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
if laid for your faith in God’s excellent Word!
What more can be said than to you God hath said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
for I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”

John Rippons’s “How Firm a Foundation”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

“Be not afraid.” I once heard a seminary professor claim those words are some of the most often-repeated words in scripture. They are usually the first words out of angels’ mouths. Our patriarchs and matriarchs in the Old Testament frequently heard this call to set aside fear. The different voices of the psalmists cling to this promise as they openly struggle with faith and despair. The promise that we need not be afraid of God rings loudly throughout the testimony of scripture. We even sing it in this hymn: “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed.” So all of this causes me to wonder why fear can still have such a dramatic hold on our lives.

I will tell you I battle fear on a fairly regular basis. I fear I will somehow fail as a parent or as a wife, even though I try really hard to be a good one. I fear I am not the kind of pastor or preacher you expected to have and that you are disappointed. I fear my parents will become ill and I am too far away. I fear saying the wrong thing about what is going on in the Holy Land or in Ferguson, Missouri, and causing more pain. I fear our culture is becoming too polarized around the realities of politics or sexuality or race and the day is coming when no one will listen to each other anymore. And those are just the fears to which I will admit via a church devotional! Perhaps you can identify with a few of them.

And yet, even as I wrestle with those kinds of fears, I also know—really know, deep down in my bones know—that what the angels say is true; that what we sing in this hymn is true; that what the psalmist cries out is true. We need not be afraid for our God is with us and will still give us aid. God will and does strengthen us, help us, and cause us to stand, upheld by God’s righteous, omnipotent hand. I know this is true because I have experienced it. I have experienced the gift of courage in ways I would never have expected, in ways I know did not come from my own fortitude. I experienced that kind of courage when I went into labor with both of my children. I experienced that kind of courage on the very first Sunday I was with you in worship and you responded with warmth, attention, and joy. I experienced it when your Session made the decision to continue to be a voice for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. I could keep going, but this is supposed to be a devotional and not a sermon.

But when I have paused to pray, even smack dab in the middle of my fear, and remembered the promise of scripture, sung this verse of this hymn, I have found a sense of presence, hope, and courage that can only be gifts from God’s Spirit. And each time I am able to once again remember who and whose I am—a child of God, beloved and claimed, who needs not be afraid. And so are you.

Courage-giving God, we are so grateful for the way you breathe your hope into our bones, even when, especially when, the voices of fear are gaining power. We pray for all those who are afraid this day. We pray for those who legitimately fear violence, pain, and illness. May your “be not afraid” promise unleash itself in their lives and bring peace and wholeness of life. We pray for ourselves, for the times when we have to choose between faith and fear. Direct us towards faith time and time again. And may your “be not afraid” call take root in our hearts, in our church, and in our world. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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