Summary: As panic and fear grip our hearts in the midst of this global coronavirus health crisis, we are called to be a people of faith, trusting in God to bring us through.
GIVE FAITH, NOT FEAR, THE UPPER HAND
Do you remember the TV show “Monk”? If so, you may recall that the show was built around the main character, Adrian Monk, a former San Francisco detective, who was debilitated by excessive phobias. The word “phobia” comes from the Greek, and means “a fear.” There are all kinds of phobias. Healthline.com, a site dedicated to disseminating health-related information, lists nearly a hundred phobias. Some of the more familiar among them are:
Acrophobia — the fear of heights
Agoraphobia — the fear of open places
Claustraphobia — the fear enclosed places
Aquaphobia — the fear of the water
Astraphobia — the fear of storms
Hollywood has capitalized on some of the phobias too. Perhaps you've been terrorized by them too. Movies about such things as:
Arachnophobia –— fear of spiders (the movie by the same name)
Coulrophobia — fear of clowns (the movie "IT"); and,
Ornithophobia — fear of birds (that great Hitchcock thriller "The Birds").
And then there’s one that some children seem to exhibit every night just before going to bed:
Ablutophobia — the fear of taking a bath.
Or after they've gone to bed:
Nyctophobia — the fear of the dark.
But in the first three months of 2020, a new fear has entered our minds. Maybe we can call it the Coronavirus Phobia. News broke in early January 2020, that a new, highly contagious, rapidly spreading, and potentially deadly virus was discovered in China. At first it was something over there and far away, someone else’s problem, but in just two months, as of this morning’s sermon, there are more than 300,000 confirmed cases worldwide, and over 13,000 deaths. Now we are seeing total lockdowns and quarantines everywhere. In our own state of Ohio, alone, there have been reported 247 confirmed cases, with four deaths. There have been two confirmed cases here in Clermont County.
Needless to say, what once seemed far away and someone else’s problem, has now become very real and very close. As this has become a pandemic, we have experienced fear and panic gripping us. Store shelves have been stripped bare of essential supplies and foods, as panicked buyers try to stock up in the event of a lockdown, only furthering the sense of panic, and frustrating others.
Part of the problem is that this is all new to us. None of us has been through anything of this magnitude and generating so much fear. We don’t know how to handle it.
Nearly 90 years ago, at the height of the Great Depression, another period in which excessive fear and panic gripped the hearts of the people, Franklin Roosevelt, in his inaugural address as President of the United States, said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
What Roosevelt meant was that, while our fears may be real and justified, the bigger problem is the paralyzing influence of fear. Rather than allowing the fear of those days to paralyze the nation, Roosevelt’s administration began implementing social programs providing financial assistance, putting people back to work, replacing fear with hope through constructive activity.
One of the things we need to understand is that our fears in this global health crisis are well-founded and justified. We must not discount the concerns people have, saying “Oh, there’s nothing to worry about.” Nor should we minimize the seriousness of the hour, and pretend we can just ignore what is happening.
But we must also remember that, as Christians especially, we are a people of faith. We are called to trust God, rather than give in to fear and panic.
All through the scriptures Be not afraid is a common theme. Whether it was the Israelites trapped on the shores of the Red Sea with the army of the Egyptians coming up behind them. or facing powerful enemies who were as terrifying giants in their eyes — the word was, “Do not be afraid.” In the New Testament, when the angel came to Mary to tell her she would give birth to the Messiah; when the shepherds in the fields encountered a band of angels proclaiming Messiah’s birth; when the women came to the tomb of Jesus that first Easter morning, and angels appeared announcing that Christ was risen — in each of those cases, the first word was “Do not be afraid.” When Paul was imprisoned — “Do not be afraid.” When the early church faced persecution, even martyrdom — “Do not be afraid. And always with it the assurance: God is with you. God is in charge. God is able.
Our scripture this morning, Psalm 46, calls us to let faith have the upper hand rather than our fears: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” — Psalm 46:1-2 (NIV) That’s not to say this isn’t a very troubling situation — it is. Nor is it saying fear isn’t present — it is. It’s saying, however, that Fear isn’t in charge — Faith is.