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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

Where There is Fear, God is There

John 14:23-29

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me.

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe.

I love thunderstorms! It is a quirk in my personality but whenever the weather forecast says there will be thunderstorms, I am a happy camper. I love to see the lightening crackle, hear the thunder boom, and watch the rain pouring down in sheets (as long as I am inside and not driving in it!).

But it was not always this way. As a kid, at the first hint of a thunderstorm fear took over my body and my first thought was to find a place to hide! My brothers and sisters felt the same way. If there was a thunderstorm at night, we would all scramble out of our beds and run downstairs. Our parents would pull out the sofa bed and we would huddle together under the covers until it was over – or we fell asleep.

My attitude about thunderstorms changed one day. Grandma Alice was visiting when a storm hit. I was ready to find that sofa bed. Before I could, Grandma took my hand. We went and stood by the front door. She gently explained to me that thunderstorms are part of God’s creation. Then she taught me to count “Mississippi’s” to see how far away the storm was. The fear that used to engulf me during a thunderstorm was taken away by my Grandma’s teaching and reassurance.

I can still hear her gentle voice in my head whenever there is a thunderstorm, “Come to the door, Diane, and watch the beautiful lightening and we’ll count Mississippi’s together.”

In our adult world, there are times when we feel like we live in the midst of constant thunderstorms. Only the lightening bolts seem to strike from many different directions, sometimes at the same time and the thunder seems to boom constantly overhead. There are days when we don’t even want to get out of bed for fear of where the lightening will strike next. It’s enough to make even a lover of thunderstorms weary.

We have every right to feel that way. The booming thunder of tragedy, pain, and hopelessness surrounds us. Just look at the headlines on a news channel, in a newspaper, or online. Children die of starvation, wars rage, and people are killed at work, in the store, or in church. Others are injured or die in natural disasters. The dangers of our own technology impact our everyday lives. Identity theft, hackers, and cars that seem to know more than we do. We aren’t sure what is safe to eat or drink anymore, or if what we need is even available to buy. We feel helpless.

However, we can’t hide under the covers most days. We have to go out into the stormy world. So, we have established a mechanism, an umbrella if you will, to deal with the storms, to minimize the fears, and to create a sense of security and peace.

Some people choose to become what we might call activists who want to make a difference, calm some of the storms, and take the world and its problems head-on. A few examples:

· Climb a redwood tree and stay there until forest management policies change

· Help refugees or adopt a third-world child

· Serve in the armed forces in an effort to effect peace

· Volunteer at homeless shelters and soup kitchens and pantries

Others choose violent means to wipe out their perceived problems.

The reality is that no matter how much we try to do, in the history of the world, there is only One who is powerful enough to truly calm a storm.

Many try to distance themselves from the storms of the world. They retreat into their own private lives, close the windows and doors, turn up the music or do the NY Times crossword puzzle, seeking to blot out the external storms.

Even so, those trying to hide may know what is going on in the world through the newspaper, seeing the news, or through conversations around the water cooler.

But we have learned to compartmentalize – to deal with the world out there on our own terms and when we choose to or must do so. We go to work, come home, take vacations, and live our private lives. Some live in gated communities, have guard dogs, and/or have installed complex security systems. All in an effort to minimize fear and effect a level of external peace.

Then a jolt of reality hits when storms erupt inside our private worlds. Lightening strikes when a loved one dies, a best friend moves away, we are downsized, make an error to let the winning run score, or told you have cancer.

Peace, that freedom from fear, is elusive. No matter what we try to do ourselves, that peace seems to be just out of our reach.

That’s the point, though, isn’t it? Peace is elusive. We can’t grab it on our own. We need help!

So, we may ask a friend for advice:

I saw a comic strip a while back. It was a Marvin cartoon that was a tribute to Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts. In it, Marvin is sitting with Linus. Linus gives Marvin instructions on how to deal with fear. He says, “Trust me Marvin. If you hold the blanket in your left hand and suck your thumb, you’ll have nothing in the world to fear.” Next frame: Snoopy grabs Marvin’s blanket and races off. Linus says, “with the possible exception of the neighbor’s blanket-grabbing dog.”

A more reliable friend is Jesus. He has much better advice than Linus. One example is in this passage in the gospel of John. Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

That’s helpful, you may say to yourself. That’s fine for you to say. You’re God! How do I not let the troubles of the world not bother me? What about anxiety, fear, and worry? What kind of advice is this to help me?

Let’s look at the context of Jesus’ words. Jesus isn’t asking us to have untroubled hearts and have no fear on our own. He gives us help! Jesus tells us that the Counselor, the Holy Spirit will be with us.

Jesus isn’t leaving us, his children, alone to deal with the thunderstorms of life. Jesus, the One with the power to truly calm storms, will be with us through the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send. Our responsibility is to love Jesus, believe what he teaches, and follow him. And the Holy Spirit will help us to even that. We are told that the Spirit reminds us of everything Jesus taught and teaches us what we forgotten or haven’t yet learned.

Look at the text again, especially verse 27. “Peace I leave with you…” Because the Holy Spirit will always be with us, Jesus’ disciples, even when we can’t see it, Jesus leaves us with this wonderful, life-changing gift. That elusive peace that we all seek to grasp.

It gets better. The gift of peace that Jesus gives is his peace, not the world’s peace. The difference between the external, out there peace based on circumstances and the internal, reassuring peace of Jesus that truly helps us deal with the thunderstorms of life is extensive. Jesus’ peace is

· Not a temporary truce or short break in the storm pattern that only seems like peace

· An internal change that gives us a new way of seeing the thunderstorms of the world

· An internal umbrella if you will

John Grisham’s book, The Testament, is about a down on his luck lawyer with a drinking and drug problem. Nate has been in rehab for the umpteenth time. His firm decides he needs a change in scenery so sends him to find the unknown heir of a wealthy businessperson.

Rachel has been serving many years as a missionary in the jungles of Brazil. On the way to find her, Nate experiences a ton of external storms: his plane crashes, bugs like you wouldn’t believe, alligators, people who don’t wear watches or use calendars (agony for a lawyer), taking small boats on the Amazon river. Not to mention his own internal storms and demons. The trip definitely isn’t his cup of tea!

Then he meets Rachel, the faithful missionary working with a tribe in the jungles of Brazil. Nate’s encounter with Rachel changes his life. He meets God. God begins a transformation in Nate’s life. He starts to see the world and himself with new eyes, the eyes of Jesus.

The lightning and thunder of Nate’s life don’t immediately disappear. But he begins to experience the internal change that comes from receiving the peace of Christ.

· A sense of hope in the midst of the storms of life

· Knowledge that you are not alone when circumstances feel overwhelming

· Confidence that Jesus will help you up when you fall and give you strength to hang on even in the worst of times

Hear Jesus’ words again:

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

No matter what the thunderstorms of your life look like today, you are not alone in facing them. Listen for the Holy Spirit’s reassuring voice to remind you of the peace of Christ that dwells within you that helps you to see the world with new eyes, the eyes of Jesus.

Come to the door, watch the beautiful lightening, hear the majestic roar of thunder and we’ll count Mississippi’s together.


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