Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
March 15, 2020
“Take a Deep Breath”
2nd Timothy 1: 3-7 – Verses 1-6 from the New Revised Standard Version; verse 7 from the King James Version
(NRSV) 3 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands;
(King James) 7 For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
It’s not like we needed something else to be afraid about. There’s already high blood pressure. Mass shootings. Aging. Climate change. Having enough savings for retirement. Identity theft. Presidential tweets.
There’s rattlesnakes while hiking. Spiders. And roller coasters. I can think of almost nothing else as frightening and terror inducing as getting on another roller coaster ever again. But fear, it seems, is ever present in one way or another. Some real, some imagined, and some thrust upon us.
Newspapers and newscasts have often attempted to spike ratings through fear. I’ll never forget one TV station in Cleveland tried to break through its mediocre place in the ratings by turning its newscast into crime reporting – in the morning, at noon, at 5 and 6 o’clock and again at 11. Every story was about a crime, a criminal, or any possibility for the potential of crimes and criminals, all in order to drive up their ratings.
The worst example was when the city tried to provide employment for people coming out of prison as garbage collectors. Channel 19 used every scare tactic they could – ominous music, big red letters, and every day, reporters stopping people on the street asking, “Do you really want felons walking down your street? Do you really want criminals going through your garbage?” Sufficiently frightened, citizens demanded the city end the employment program.
And of course, we all remember the candidate who descended down an escalator to blame Mexico for sending us rapists and drug dealers and, he assumed, a few good people. From the oval office on Wednesday night, we all hoped for even a sliver of leadership from the president, but in a classic move, he spoke instead of a “foreign” virus and closing borders. And then, after praising himself, ended his address with his favorite xenophobic, white nationalistic, dog whistle, “America First.” Talk about a crime. Calling an emerging public health crisis a hoax is a crime against humanity.
At some point, networks and newspapers realized Covid 19 wasn’t just another story to hype and they began to get serious. I appreciated it when 9News began describing their segments with the tagline, “Facts, not Fear.”
This all became more real for the church when last Sunday all of our UCC churches in Washington state either moved their services online or cancelled worship altogether for the month of March. On Tuesday afternoon, our Rocky Mountain Conference minister and 45 pastors had a Zoom call and agonized about whether this would be wise for us too. We were told to prepare, just in case. Tuesday night our Governance Team wrestled with the question – is this hype or caution. By the next day, our governor made it clear. Anyone over the age of 60 should not go to worship. It seems like this is finally something about which we should genuinely be afraid. This and roller coasters.
But is fear really the appropriate response? If you haven’t yet already yelled at your computer screen, do it now – No! What is the appropriate response?
“For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
I love that. A sound mind. In other words, have common sense. What do we do in the midst of a global pandemic? Be smart. As I wrote to you earlier this week, we should practice an abundance of caution, but not fear. Hoarding at the grocery store like this is the corona-pocalyse is not common sense, but it is an understandable response to a lack of leadership and communication.
But we must remember. “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
That’s how the King James Version puts it. Listen to some of the other translations:
The Common English Bible: “God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid, but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.”
The New Revised Standard Version: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”
But here’s a significant point not to overlook. This isn’t just about what we should do, i.e., have common sense. The text says we already have a sound mind as a gift from God. God already gave you the tools for coping: the power of love along with self-control and self-discipline. Or as Eugene Peterson says, “God gave you a spirit that is bold and loving and sensible.” Wherever and whatever fear and hype may be, it isn’t from God. Being smart about things is from God. Having common sense is from God.
As I wrote during the week, the Bible says “fear not” or “do not fear” 365 times. For example, despite the angel giving Mary some wonderful and absolutely terrifying news about having a baby out of wedlock, the angel told Mary, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.”
The Psalmists talked about fear a lot. Let’s look at some of those:
Psalm 118: “The Lord is on my side! I shall not fear what mortals can do to me.”
Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?”
Some version of that occurs another 362 more times, including a text most of us know from memory. Say it with me, you’ll pick it up: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Psalm 23 can be a handy mantra when we feel our fear temperature rising. That and today’s text: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
In case you’re not sure you have the capacity, just a few verses before, Paul reminded Timothy of the faith of his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois. Fun fact: Lois is the only grandmother named in the Bible. Paul told Timothy to be encouraged because their faith lives in him. And reminds him to rekindle the gift of God already within him. That gift? Not a spirit of fear but a sound mind.
Thank God for those today who are leading us with sound minds. Thank God for those who are helping us to do all the loving and sensible things we can do to protect our mothers and grandmothers and our fathers and grandfathers – the ones most at risk. We are having worship like this today because we love and value the faith of our elders. We pray for those at most risk. And for those who put themselves at risk to care for our most vulnerable members of the community. We offer a special word of gratitude for doctors and nurses and hospital workers and public health officials.
But to keep as many people safe as possible, we have to practice this most unfortunate term – social distancing. The term social distancing makes me gag every time I hear it, as though we need any more social distance. Isolation and self-quarantine are exactly the opposite of what we need when we are frightened and anxious. And yet, it is absolutely necessary.
So what can we do? I beg each of you to reach out to one another. Take the church directory that we emailed everyone this week and call people you know and call people you don’t know. One new member called me yesterday to ask the name of the older couple who lives near her and offered to call that. Yes, exactly. Do that! If you don’t think you have a directory, send us an email.
Randomly send an email to another church friend or member and say you are thinking of them. If we ever thought being a church member was about gathering for worship on Sunday morning, this moment offers a new opportunity to remember we are a community of people who gather for worship on Sunday morning, not individuals. This is the time to act like a community.
Please call Terri and me when you feel the need. And we’ll set up some Zoom meetings during the week so we can see each other face to face. The men’s group is meeting by Zoom on Thursday night. Create a group and we’ll help you move it online. And, of course, reach beyond our church community to neighbors and others who need a lift. Especially when it’s you who need a lift.
Despite our best attempts to say “do not be afraid,” these are indeed scary times. I don’t want to discount our real fears. Or any fears. And anger we may feel about the blaming finger-pointing and self-aggrandizement of the president. But I name all of this because when we name fear and anger, we take away their power to control. Because God gave you and me a spirit of power and of love and a sound mind. We have it already.
Now, to stay of a sound mind, even though we may have a little extra time on our hands, try limiting your time on social media. Limit your time on cable news. After an hour of Rachel Maddow, I need to turn on some reruns of 30 Rock or a good movie. Or read a good book. Go outside and enjoy the sunshine. Come over to the church and walk the labyrinth. Seriously, the labyrinth will help. It’s here 24 hours a day.
And breathe. Take a deep breath. Not on each other! But you get it. In and out. Breathe in the spirit of power. Breathe out fear. Breathe in the spirit of love. And breathe out fear. Breathe in the spirit of a sound mind. And breathe out fear.
Let’s do that together. Take a deep breath.
Power in. Fear out.
Love in. Fear out.
Sound mind in. Fear out.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
I love being the