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"God's Got This!"

This sermon was delivered at Cobleskill United Methodist Church on August 29th, 2021 ,the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost , by Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

Seeing with Compassion Series

“God’s Got This”

Isaiah 43:1-7

43 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia[a] and Seba in exchange for you. 4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Everyone sees the world differently. We all look through different lenses and we all have different basic desires and different basic fears. Each week this summer we’ve been trying on one of nine of these lenses to make an attempt at self-awareness and empathy with people who wear a different lens.

We’ve been using the Enneagram to study these different ways of seeing because this system of organizing human personalities has a spiritual foundation that identifies the key fear of each of nine types. So far this summer we’ve moved through 7 of these types so far: those whose primary fear is being controlled (type 8), those whose primary fear is discord (type 9), those whose primary fear is being wrong (type 1), those whose primary fear is being unloved (type 2), those whose primary fear is being worthless (type 3), those whose primary fear is being meaningless (type 4), and last week, those whose primary fear is being helpless (type 5). We have two weeks left in this series and so today as it happens, in a weird and some would say providential way, in a week when hurricanes, wars, forest fires, dual epidemics of sickness and hatred are raging, we are talking about Type 6, the type whose primary fear is chaos. If we were to choose a pair of lenses or sunglasses for this type they would come in the darkest shade available with blinders on the sides and maybe a complimentary helmet and gas mask, just in case.

The Enneagram Type 6, sometimes called The Loyalist, is governed by a deep desire to preserve security at all costs. Their anxiety leads them to imagine worst-case scenarios and at their best this can allow them to be logically prepared, responsible, and ready for anything. Unfortunately, it can lead to a life lived in tremendous fear. This type of person is hyper focused on authority figures and can either gain a lot of security from people in power, or have a strong aversion and distrust of authority. To be governed by fear can have tremendous side-effects. Some Enneagram experts who teach lots of workshops around the world, estimate that there are more Type 6s in the world than any other type. On one hand this is excellent. It’s the sixes with their ardent pursuit of security for themselves and everyone around them that keeps all the rest of us alive. On the other hand, fear unchecked can become a contagious virus in of itself, spreading rapidly in the right environments. I would hypothesize that we are living through such a time.

Right at this very moment you could turn on the news and see more than enough actual tragedy. With Hurricane Ida barreling toward Louisiana, Haiti again in dust, our nation’s voting rights under debate, the west burning at record rates, a war in a country far away that has brought so much loss of life and promises to do more. And that’s what is real. Never mind the tragedy that you dress rehearse in your mind that hasn’t even happened yet. The day dreams you have about horrible things will probably never occur yet you still spend mental energy turning the scenarios over and over in your head. I don’t especially associate myself as a Type 6 on the Enneagram, but I can’t remember a day recently when I didn’t spend a disproportionate time worrying about some real or imagined problem! We are living through a fearful time. Fear breads fear.

As special and particularly tragic as we might say today, this week, or these years, I can tell you with great confidence that this has not been the worst life has to offer. We know that because the Bible tells us so.

Yes, the Bible has stories that warm our hearts and inspire us with good deeds. But the Bible is also full of fearful times. Times when natural disasters and wars and plagues and personal tragedy threatened to overcome ordinary people like you and me. In fact, it was during such a time that the verses of Isaiah were written. War and exile had overcome an entire people whose days were spent as captives in enemy land; many of their relatives were dead or missing and they thought God had abandoned them. Fear was breading fear. The prophet Isaiah spoke into the silence and trembling with a message from God:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

Isaiah had no way of knowing that his message from God would be read by a 2021 audience where forest fires burn, hurricanes flood, and enemy armies consume. But this message from God is timeless because the answer to fear will always, in every situation, in every time and in every place, be remembering there is a God. That God knows your name. And that God will never leave you alone.

Some might say the opposite of fear is courage. Just be buck up; be brave; overcome your fear. But the opposite of fear can’t be courage because courage is something that we must come up with ourselves. There is no amount of courage that will see you through the most fearful of times. There’s nothing wrong with courage, but the thing is, it’s self-generated. And sometimes when we’re in the thickness and depth of fear, generating our own defense is simply impossible. The opposite of fear is faith.

Faith is God offers us a life-raft through the unknown waters.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,” God says. Fear is not the enemy. It’s just not the ending. Fear is a cause for pause. It’s an invitation to stop. It’s a healthy emotion created by God. It kept our ancestors alive and it will keep us alive, too. When we are afraid, we slow down; we take caution and we pay attention. And in that moment of pause, we can pray.

God, I know you are with me. Can you help me understand where this fear is coming from? Is this a fear that can help? Or is this a fear that is just hurting?

And in that pause, God will give you the answer you need. Sometimes that answer might be a “yes!” Your fear of hurricanes is a real and a healthy fear. God might nudge you to work with your neighboring churches to pack flood buckets to help people affected by hurricanes because your fear was a healthy and helpful fear. (sound familiar?) Other times, God might bring a sense of calm to your anxious heart through the comforting word of a friend who grounds you what is real and what is not real… borrowed trouble, as they say.

This morning we are celebrating a baptism. A ritual where we take ordinary, cold water and ask God to bless the one who would be brought under that water so that their fear may never own them. So that when they pass through the waters, God will always be with them.

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