Scripture: Psalm 27: 1;4-9
In 2005 we moved to Indianapolis. We moved to the north side of the city so that I could take a youth ministry position and eventually start seminary. One of the benefits of this position is that we were able to live in the house the church owned right next door. This house was an old farm house that the city had grown out to. The house had been vacant for a couple of years when we moved in, so it was completely empty with one exception. Down in the basement, surrounded by cobwebs was a single picture of a clown riding a unicycle. I hopped right on the nope-train and got that picture out of there. Seriously, I put it in the car and went straight to Goodwill to get it away. The washer and dryer were down in that basement, and for the next four years every time I went down stairs I was a little nervous that the picture would somehow be back.
I would not say I have coulrophobia, which is a fear of clowns, but I really do not care for them. I am not alone. A 2008 study of pediatric hospital patients found that the overwhelming majority of children did not like clowns or find them particularly funny. The same holds true for adults. A 2012 survey of adult consumers found that 43% of American adults have a negative opinion of Ronald McDonald, and the leading reason for this dislike is people found him creepy. Children today, mine included, tend to dislike clowns. They are more likely to see clowns as a source of terror due to movie villains like Pennywise and the Joker. This has led to clowning associations to declare there is a national clown shortage. While I am sympathetic to people seeing the decline of something they personally enjoy, the decline of clowning is not something I will lose much sleep over. Unless, I actually dream about clowns. Then I will lose sleep, because clowns are nightmare fuel.
There is some solid scientific research about why so many people have such strong aversions to clowns, especially children. The face paint of clowns makes it hard to discern their emotions. Clown face paint tends to focus around the eyes and the mouth which are the two areas we learn to look to understand the emotional state of people. The clown face paint interferes with this and this interference is made worse by some of the other trappings of clowns such as oversized or outlandish features such as red noses and multi-color wigs. This creates a situation where we are not able to get a good understanding of what a clown’s true intentions are. Our brains can interpret clowns with a lot of ambiguity. This ambiguity, of not knowing if a clown means to make us laugh or cause us harm, is where the discomfort and even fear of clowns comes from.
You may not be personally afraid of clowns, but all of us have things that make us uncomfortable. For you it might be snakes or heights or speaking in front of others. We all have things that make us uncomfortable or afraid. Some of these things like rodents or clowns we know are kind of irrational, but then there are much bigger existential fears that we all struggle with as well. No matter what it is that scares us and keeps us up at night, the core similarities are the same. Franklin D. Roosevelt once famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself. The essence of fear itself is the ambiguity of it all, it is the not knowing, it is the possibility of the worst case scenario. Fear and anxiety have always been part of the human experience. We have always been uncomfortable with the ambiguity and the lack of knowing. However, this morning’s scripture shows that when we seek the presence of God then we have nothing to fear, not even fear itself.
This morning’s scripture is a Psalm that is attributed to David. Biblical scholarship often places this Psalm as being written when David was king. David would have been no stranger to fear. Before he became king, David had fought in battles, he had also been a fugitive from the vengeful and unhinged King Saul. Even after that episode was behind him, David still had things that could fill him with anxiety and dread. David was able to secure the kingdom of Israel, but the chosen people were surrounded by those who had no problem taking up arms against them. Early in his reign as King, around the time this morning’s scripture might have been written David had to fight the Philistines to his West, The Moabites to his Southeast, The Armeans to the north, and the Ammonites to the East. In verse three of this morning’s scripture where David wrote, “Through an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident” it was not a hypothetical situation. These were realities that he had to face. We stopped at verse 9 of Psalm 27, if we peek ahead at verses ten and twelve we see that foreign military threats were not the only problems that David had. Verse 10 mentions that his parents have forsaken him, and his relationship there is strained. Verse 12 speaks of false witnesses and those who slander him with malicious accusations. David had a lot that could keep him up at night.
We are separated from King David by centuries and a vastly different cultural context. However, even if the contexts are different many of the fears we face David faced. We may not need to worry about dying by a Philistine spear but we do have anxiety about our physical well-being. We may not have hostile nations surrounding our, but we do fear for the future. We do not have to deal with palace intrigue or political smear campaigns, but rocky relationships and how others view us can be a source of uneasiness. The source of fear itself is often the ambiguity of what is going to happen next, so all of these situations are valid reasons to be afraid. Yet in the face of this, in the face of besieging armies, wicked people, and toxic enemies David was able to write, “The LORD is the stronghold of my life- of Whom shall I be afraid?”
When we consider our own lives, when we consider the proverbial armies and enemies that we face, are we able to stare down our own fears the way David did? When we get down to it, fear is irrational. Fear is rarely based in reality or facts, but it is based in what we do not know. Fear is our assumption of the worst possible outcome given room to grow. It is our doubts given voice. Fear is the complete victory of the unknown. There is an older, popular science fiction book called Dune By Frank Hubert. In that book he wrote: “Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.”
Fear may or may not be the mind killer, but it is absolutely the faith killer. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as being certain of what we hope for. However, fear is being certain that the worst will happen. Faith is based in trusting God, but fear is based in trusting nothing. Faith is based in confidence, and fear is based in doubt. Ultimately, fear cuts us off from God. We cannot choose to give into our fears and follow God’s guidance at the same time. We cannot assume the worse while believing God wants our best at the same time. We cannot claim God’s final victory while allowing our thoughts to give complete victory to the unknown. Atheism is not absence of faith, fear itself is the absence of faith.
This is why the bible actually has quite a lot to say about fear, and the message is consistent. In addition to David’s writings in this morning’s scripture, we find a similar message in the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah 41:10 states, “do not fear for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God”. Then in John 14:27, Jesus himself said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. . . Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” All told the phrase “fear not” or “do not be afraid” appears in the Bible 365 times.
Despite that there will be times in our life where we are afraid. There are times when the uncertainty of what is going to happen next is overwhelming. To feel that way is human, but we cannot let fear get the better of us. I think that reminder is what we can learn the most from this morning’s scripture. When David was confronted by all of the reasons he had to be afraid, his greatest request was not to have those fears removed. About his greatest desire he wrote, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life.”
The actual temple was built by David’s son Solomon, but in David’s day the center of worship was still the tabernacle, the sacred tent that he references in verse six. The ancient Israelites believed that the temple and the tabernacle before that, was the place on earth where God dwelled. They believed it was at that place that one could experience the real presence of God. When David was faced by the fears of life, his response was to seek out the presence of God. For David he found God’s presence in the sacred tent. The good news for those who are in Christ, is we do not need to go to the same tent to find God’s presence. Jesus promised that through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit he will be with us always, to the very end of the age.
When we are afraid, when the test results come back not good, when the bills are stacking up, when we are uncertain about what tomorrow holds, then may we follow the example of David and may we seek God’s presence. Like David may we seek the Lord in times of trouble. May the Lord be our light, our salvation, the stronghold of our lives. May we remember that God has the power of the universe, and the Bible proclaims if God is for us then who can stand against us?
More importantly may we remember that even if things go as bad as possible, even if our absolute worst possible outcome for our scary scenario comes true there are something that even that will change. For those who are saved by the blood of Jesus, no matter what we are still saved, no matter what God’s love for us does not fail. Even when everything else does, that one thing remains. We can have confidence that when it is all said and done we will dwell in the house of the Lord all the days eternal, and there is nothing on this earth or even in all the powers of hell that can ever, ever change that. Our sins are forgiven, our life is everlasting, and God’s love is steadfast. In light of those most wonderful truths, whom shall we fear?
When we face fear we face a choice. It is a choice to trust God or give into fear. It is a choice to love others or give into fear. It is a choice to hold onto faith or let go and give into fear. Fear is never the right choice. Whatever it is in your life that causes great anxiety and fear, whatever unknown possibility keeps you awake at night may you be willing to let it go. May you not let fear of the unknown rule you, but may you allow God to be what guides your path. As the people of God we do not even need to fear fear itself because we have a faith in God that is greater than anything that can scare us.