A sermon by Pastor Michael Pahl on March 17, 2019, the second Sunday of Lent, called “From ‘Fear’ to ‘Holy Fear’ to ‘Fear Not.’” It is part of our Lenten series entitled, “Blessed Hunger, Holy Feast.”
Here is a written excerpt:
There’s a story about fear that gets repeated again and again in the Bible. The basic story goes like this:
So-and-so is afraid of something. There’s an enemy at the gates, or a storm engulfing the boat, something threatening their wellbeing.
So, God comes to them in some way, through an angel or a vision or a burning bush or a man walking on water, and this makes them even more afraid. They’re terrified, now, because the all-powerful, holy God is here. This is actually a positive step, though: suddenly their previous fear seems pretty puny by comparison.
But then God says to them, “Do not be afraid,” or “Peace be with you,” and God gives them something as a sign of God’s faithful love to them: a wooden staff, a pillar of fire, some wine and bread, a breath, a hand, a promise.
To put this story in other words, this repeated biblical story is a movement from “fear” to “holy fear” to “fear not.”
From “fear” to “holy fear” to “fear not.” That’s the story about fear here in Genesis 15. It’s the same story for Israel in Egypt, and then in the wilderness, and then later in the exile. It’s the same story of Jesus coming to the disciples in the storm walking on the water, and Jesus coming to the disciples after his resurrection from the dead.
From “fear” to “holy fear” to “fear not.” This is also, in a way, the entire story of the Bible. Humanity lives in fear of death and dark powers. So, God comes to us in our fears at Mount Sinai, and we are in awe of God’s awesome power and holiness. But God responds to us—in many different ways, but ultimately in Jesus—by saying, “Do not be afraid” and “Peace be with you,” and giving us a sign of God’s faithful love for us: Jesus’ gift of himself.
From “fear” to “holy fear” to “fear not.” This story is reflected in our passage from 1 John 4 also. We live in fear of others, in fear of God, in fear of condemnation and punishment. But God comes to us in Jesus, showing us a God who not only loves us but who is love in God’s very being. And God gives us a sign of that love: when we love each other in the same way as God has loved us in Jesus, we will see God among us.
From “fear” to “holy fear” to “fear not.” This can also be our own story. Our lives are swarming with fears of all kinds; our very wellbeing so often feels threatened, body and soul, present and future, ourselves and those we love. So, God comes to us in our fears, and our first response is a “holy fear”—humbled in the presence of our Creator. But then God says to us, “Do not be afraid, be at peace,” and we receive the very presence of God’s Spirit alongside us, groaning with us in our sufferings, assuring us of God’s ever-present love and faithfulness come what may.
From “fear” to “holy fear” to “fear not.” This is the story about fear that we need to hear. It’s the good-news, gospel story of Jesus.