All Saints’ Sunday, Year A
All Saints’ Sunday, Year A
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Reporters interviewed an elderly woman after she had survived an earthquake. “Weren’t you afraid?” they asked. “Not really,” she replied. “I was kind of glad to know I have a God who can shake the world.” For some folks, it seems to take something like an earthquake or some other kind of life-threatening event before they wake up and turn to God. For others, they place their lives in God’s care always; therefore nothing can shake their trust in God.
Fear. In today’s psalm, we learn about two kinds of fear. There is the anxiety-ridden kind of fear that we struggle with concerning our lives and the lives of our loved ones. There is also the fear of the LORD, which involves a deep awe, wonder and respect for God. The introduction to Psalm 34 gives us a clue about the situation out of which the psalm arose. It reads: “Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.”
The background story of this is thought to be that of 1 Samuel 21. In this story, David is on the run from King Saul. He visits a priest named Ahimelech, and after requesting it, he receives the Holy Bread of Presence to feed his fellow companions. In flight from Saul, David visits unarmed, King Achish of Gath (Philistine). We are told that David “was very much afraid of King Achish of Gath.” In his fear, David starts playing the role of a madman by scratching marks on the doors of the gate and letting spittle run down his beard. Achish responds by complaining to his servants that he’s got enough of his own crazy people, without this foreigner David wasting his time, so David is allowed to leave unharmed.
David’s fear in this story is the anxiety-ridden kind, causing him to lose courage and literally act up, by playing the fool and making a fool of himself. His fear does not seem to have accomplished anything significant. One wonders too what sort of effect it had on David personally--did he feel embarrassed about it and come to regret it later? What about the effect on David’s supporters? Did this incident strengthen or weaken their loyalty to David? Maybe the moral of this story is that the worst kind of fear makes human beings lose their self-esteem and causes them to do some very out of the ordinary things. Maybe when anxiety-ridden fears take over our lives they can in fact drive us mad.
There’s another Jewish story that teaches us how fear can take control of our lives.
A community leader came to see Jacob, hoping to find peace of mind, and ease for his burden.
The man was troubled by a repetitive dream that he did not understand.
“Jacob, in my dream, I have traveled a long distance and am finally arriving at a great city. But, at the entrance to the city, I am met by a tall soldier who says that I must answer two questions before I am admitted. Will you help me?”
“The first question the soldier asks is ‘What supports the walls of a city?’”
“That is easy,” said Jacob. “Fear supports the walls of a city.”
“But what supports the fear?” asked the man. “For that is the second question.”
“The walls,” answered Jacob. “The fears we cannot climb become our walls.” 1
So it is that our fears can run our lives and drive us mad, and keep us in slavery, unless we are willing to face our fears and deal with them. Back in our psalm, we learn that David was able to overcome his fears in verse four: “I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” We too can take our anxiety-ridden fears to the LORD and ask him for deliverance. Whether our fears are for ourselves personally, or for our family, our friends, our congregation, the larger church, our country, or our world—we too can turn to the LORD and ask for deliverance.
David then goes on to speak of the second kind of fear—fear of the LORD. He says: “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” Again he assures the ancient Israelites and us: “for those who fear him (the LORD) have no want.” And he goes on to say that: “young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” David in the turbulent life that he lived, with all of the political and domestic ups and downs, challenges and uncertainties, was, in the end, able to trust in God, and fear God above all else. He learned that by giving up all of his worldly fears to God, he was able to fear the LORD. That gave him a new freedom to live for God and for others as a servant of God. Is this not also the case for us?
It was Rabbi Louis Jacobs, who once insightfully observed:
The accusation that religion is based on fear is countered by noting that, in fact, the fear of God is such that it frees (hu)man(ity) from all other fears. It produces the serenity and peace of mind that enables (hu)man(ity) to face all obstacles calmly and courageously….2
There’s no telling what sort of marvellous things can happen when, in freedom based on fear of the LORD we are committed to facing all obstacles calmly and courageously. On a congregational level, we at Grace might want to start bold new initiatives and step out in adventurous faith by inviting new people into our midst. God has blessed us, is our vision large enough to help us best use the God-given gifts that we’ve been given to serve Christ here in our city? On a larger world level, is there enough love and concern for the world’s poorest of the poor to wage an all out war against poverty? If so, are we willing as nations to spend more of our tax dollars on feeding, clothing, and educating the poor; rather than on war and weapons of mass destruction?
As we celebrate All Saints’ Sunday, we are free to be inspired by the lives of those who feared the LORD and made a difference for others and us, in the church and in the world. We are freed to put into practice those beautiful attitudes of Jesus in our gospel today. Freed by the love and grace of Jesus to face all obstacles calmly and courageously; to make a difference in the church and in the world.