Fearless Faith: God Makes All Things New.
Before Stephen Colbert took over the Late Show from David Letterman,
he had a wildly popular parody show
over on Comedy Central called The Colbert Report.
He based it on the talking heads, personality driven programs on CNN and FOX News
bombastic ideologues who talked a big game
who stood tall on behalf of their ideals
against a wave of “misguided opposition.”
The show’s opening splashed all sorts of superlative words on the screen
words meant to be about him, Stephen Colbert
all-beef (that confused me,
it must have been a play for cattle country)
all these words splashing on the screen
while Colbert stood there with a big American Flag
as a red-white-and-blue bald eagle flew by
screeching on cue.
It was a satirical take on both the state of our news and our pundits
and on us, those of us who read and watch such things.
Colbert was meant to be brazenly bold and always right, always sure
there was no weakness, no Achilles heal
no blemish in his armor
no matter the facts or evidence to contradict him.
He was kind of the archetype of the fearless, self-made, powerful man
all the way down to his pressed power suits
someone who believed it and who knew it and who strutted around to show it.
Now, there’s a lot to analyze there, and maybe more on another Sunday
but the surprising thing about Stephen Colbert’s character
was this: for all his posturing, for all this gravitas
for someone who was, seemingly, so self assured
so perfect in his point of view
there was ONE THING
that he could be human about
there was ONE thing that he admitted scared him, and it was this:
Bears scared him.
He had this recurring thing, maybe once a week,
where he talked about seeing bears,
how they were a nemesis that had to be taken out
or something to hide from.
And why not, Bears are scary.
This summer, when our family travelled to Jackson, Wyoming
we were introduced to the dangers of Bears
and all the things designed to keep them away
Bear Bells, attached to your backpack
Bear Spray, don’t hike without some
but also don’t let it go off accidently.
We even encountered a bear, driving through Yellowstone,
and got out of our car along with maybe a hundred other people
where we saw it from a safe distance
looking for lunch.
It didn’t seem that scary. It wasn’t too bad.
But I was thinking about Stephen and his one moment of honesty, of authenticity,
earlier this summer when I heard a friend preach a sermon on hope and fear.
In that Sermon, Mark shared a story about Greg Garrett
who once spent a weekend leading a retreat in Cody, Wyoming,
just a few hours where my family stayed this Summer.
Here’s how he put it:
Greg’s hosts built time into that retreat so he could
take a long hike in Yellowstone, if he wanted to.
And who wouldn’t. Its Yellowstone. Its beautiful.
Now, Greg Garrett is a novelist, teaches English at Baylor,
lives in Austin.
He’s a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.
But knowing that he was going hiking, ALONE, on a bear-laden trail,
they told him all about the necessary precautions
they taught him what to do if he got lost,
where his cell phone would get reception,
and where it would not…
they showed him all the spots where he would be likely
to see other people, you know, just in case…
and then they warned Garrett about the Swiss hiker
who had been eaten on that trail.
Best be safe and all.
And that warning… my preaching friend continued
that warning affected his whole Yellowstone experience.
On his hike, he saw bears…EVERYWHERE:
THIS stump. Bears.
That clump of grass,
Those shadows deep in the forest.
He was so jumpy thinking that the was seeing all those bears,
that he couldn’t enjoy all the amazing views around him.
In fact, he didn’t see the views at all—mountains or lakes or flower filled valley—
–all he saw, were lots and lots and lots of things that looked like bears.
Garrett later reflected about this experience:
He said: From the news we consume
to the opinions we hold,
to the pain we feel,
and the preoccupations we share—
–in today’s world:
if you are looking for bears,
you will most certainly see bears.
…But, bears may be ALL you see.
Garrett has studied the
emotional, spiritual, and theological responses
in our culture over the past fifteen years.
He concludes: we just keep warning one another … about BEARS.
As a result, people of faith come to God’s promises,
but DON’T experience those promises—
–INSTEAD “we see bears everywhere”
because we expect to find them there.[i]
Welcome to our final sermon in this series on Fearless Faith,
where we are exploring the repeated call of scripture to Not Fear
to be not afraid.
Sometimes when you sketch out a series of explorations like this
you have an idea of where it is going to go,
and then things happen and they move you along in unexpected directions.
We started this series looking at Jesus asleep on a Boat
while his disciples feared for their lives on the turbulent waves of the sea
-then we travelled along looking at what it means to love, and our worries
we have about those we love
-and we also looked at what it means to live
with our own concerns about our
security and our salvation and our struggles.
-We explored a bit our attempts to address our worries by trying to control everything
which turns out to be folly,
and how we need to rely on friends or family or others
those whom God gives us to lean on.
-And we looked at how life is about change,
how change is hard, but how its all we have
but how courage and conviction
can help us face change with hope.
Which brings us to this morning.
What do you think?
Are you any more calm, any less anxious this morning?
The world we live in hasn’t changed much, not really.
It continues to be same world, awash in moments of beauty at one moment
and bitterness in another.
-This week has been preoccupied
with bitter news of more disputed police shootings
and community confrontations
after the deaths of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott
along with renewed calls for justice and reform.
-This week there was another mass shooting,
this time in a Washington State mall
leaving five people mortally wounded.
-This week there were doctor appointments,
and funeral arrangements for people we love
and disappointments felt after work we’d poured ourselves into
didn’t quite fall into place the way we wanted.
-This week friends broke up.
-This week she uttered harsh words to someone she can’t take back.
-This week he didn’t get a chance to say he was sorry.
The world we live in hasn’t changed much, not really.
The bears are real, and they’re out there,
and I don’t blame Stephen Colbert one bit for being afraid of them.
But here’s the thing:
if you’re looking for bears,
you will most certainly see bears.
But Bears may be all you see.
And it’s a rather sad, sort of diminished life we lead, if all we see are bears.
But there is so much more to life, to living, than bears.
This week my sister-in-law had her first child,
and I got to hold a less-than-day-old baby again
for the first time since my daughters were born, I think.
It is a remarkable thing, holding a newborn,
a bundle of toes and fingers and sinew and hope
swaddled and cuddled up against your shoulder.
It’s a remarkable thing, welcoming a new life into this world of ours
a life to love and to care for
and to set free to do remarkable, wonderful, incredible things.
Its kind of like what the prophet Jeremiah did, way back in the sixth century BC.
You might have asked yourself while I was reading this passage today
what in the world does THIS have to do with anything.
It’s a good question.
Right there in the middle of Jeremiah
is a real-estate transaction:
a story about deeds and letters of intent and official registrars.
It is the sort of Biblical Story we tend to skip over, if we’re honest
because it records how official business got done way back then
the kind of detail that might be interesting to a historian or archeologist, right
but why would I want to worry myself with it.
To many other things to think about…
But this is, truly, a remarkable moment in the history of the Hebrew people.
You get a bit of the context at the start of the story:
The major players in the Babylonian conquest of Judah are here
the Babylonian ruler, Nebuchadrezzar,
is laying siege on the Judean capital, Jerusalem,
and the prophet Jeremiah
is being kept away,
mainly because he kept saying how bad it was going
and how bad it was going to be.
Jeremiah is locked up, in a back closet in the court of the guard of Judah’s king,
and he can hear the assault on the capital
and he can remember the news reports about his country routed.
It is a dire time, a time where, if you wanted to, you could see bears EVERYWHERE.
But this Jeremiah, the one who was asked to speak TRUTH to his people
to tell them that exile was coming, and that it wouldn’t be quick either
THIS Jeremiah, the one as we heard last week wasn’t sure he was capable
who didn’t really want to be the in this situation, no sir
who would rather have fled for some imaginary utopia
away from all this worry and concern
but who was given a call and a job by God herself.
That Jeremiah, that Jeremiah went and bought a plot of land in the town of his birth.
Now why would you do that?
When an invading army is coming and you’re not quite sure that the deed
is going to be worth the paper its written on
why would you go and put a large portion of your savings
seventeen shekels of silver
down on a field in a land
that you’re not SURE is going to be your land, after the conflict?
-Well, it’s a bit like every moment you open your heart in love to someone
not being absolutely sure they’ll love you back
or that you can keep them safe
or that you won’t get hurt.
-It’s a bit like holding the hand of your friend in the hospital bed
sharing a story and a laugh and a memory you’ll end up cherishing forever.
-It’s a bit like getting up in the morning after a rough week at school
determined not to let those bullies diminish what you know to be true
about your self worth, your lovability.
-It’s a bit like going back to therapy
after dredging up some painful hurt
because you know healing is possible there.
-And It’s a bit like looking a newborn baby in the eyes
with all the fierceness and determination of life
staring right at you saying: “lets go. lets do this.”
Jeremiah believed in the promises of God.
Jeremiah knew that after war and exile
and another season of wondering in the wilderness
Jeremiah knew that God would gather the people that God loved back together
and that this little farm in Anathoth
would grow crops again
that it was a GOOD and TRUE investment in the future
all other signs notwithstanding.
Jeremiah chose to look past the bears,
and to see the beauty and the possibility all around him…
There may be no more perfect summation of the Christian promise
than we find in the eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to this little church in Rome.
We’ve been affirming throughout this series
that all of our own efforts at pulling ourselves together in life
for adopting a stiff upper lip, a firm resolve,
ultimately rely on the help of others
our neighbors, our friends, our families,
and, most importantly, on our God,
the one who helps us in our weakness, as Paul says
who prays for us when we do not know what to say
or how to pray
the one who sighs with us
and who searches the heart
and who KNOWS what we are going through.
And then this bold statement:
All things work together for good, for those who love God.
Is that just wishful thinking?
Is that willful ignorance in the face of enormous facts to the contrary,
kind of like buying a field during an invasion?
Is that some sort of saccharine, too blessed to be stressed,
watered down medicine, pie in the sky thinking unrealistic in today’s world?
I don’t think so.
Because in my life, there maybe has been no more meaningful truth to hang my hat on
For I am convinced, that neither death, nor life
nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come
nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else
in all creation,
will be able to separate me from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If that is true, then all things ARE possible for good.
If that is true, then the Kingdom of God is near.
Nothing will be able to separate YOU from the love of God.
That is the hope we have in God.
That is the promise we have in this life,
that no matter what, God is making all things new
and that we are forever and always and without fail, held in God’s love.
We affirmed that today for Beatrice Dorothy Rendina.
In the waters of baptism, we claimed that promise for her.
And we remember that promise, for each of us,
who have been baptized
or who are thinking about being baptized
this sign and seal of something God has already done
from the moment we take our first breath
God praying for us
walking with us
nudging us, caring for us
helping us get back up after we’ve fallen
teaching us to stand for truth and justice and
on behalf of those wronged
that this sign and seal confirms God’s care for us, making all things possible.
My friends, I am convinced that
the answer to life’s fears, to life’s worries,
is the love and the hope of God.
So may we live in that hope
and move forward in that love
that our faith may be confirmed
and our world may be made new
and the beauty and joy and the justice of our world
bears and all
can finally be the focus of our living.
May it be so. Amen.
[i] Greg Garrett, “Reading the Bible after 9/11,” Day 1 Blog, posted August 22, 2011, cited in the sermon “Come By Here (New Hope)” by the Rev. Mark Ramsey, preached at Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church on July 24, 2016