A friend of mine recently picked up her eight-year-old son from summer camp, it was his first time ever away at sleepover camp, and the first time he was ever away from his parents for a week. Now, earlier in the year, when they were talking about summer camps, she said her son was really excited about going. But the night before he was to leave, he panicked. And he came into her room crying. He said, I don't want to go to camp anymore. And he started to express all the what-ifs.
What if the other kids don't like me? What if I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? What if the food is gross? What if I get homesick?
But my friend said once camp was over, when she went to pick him up, he was a completely different kid. She said he was just so confident. So self-assured. Fearless. And he was so excited to tell her all about all the new friends that he had made and all the new experiences he had, and all the new things he tried.
And I share that with you today because, obviously, that is the theme of today's service. It's about overcoming our fears. We're not little kids anymore. But we still have a lot of fears as adults, don't we?
I read that the top three fears for adults are the fear of public speaking, the fear of flying, and the fear of dying. Just as that little boy has all those what-ifs, we have them too. What What if I fail? What if I fall? What if everything goes wrong? Why are all of our what-ifs fear-based? I mean, why don't we ever think, What if everything goes right? What if I'm a great success? What if everybody likes me? What if I experienced some miracle today?
The purpose of the spiritual life, the purpose of our spiritual practice is to shift our thinking, from thoughts of fear, to thoughts of love. And that's why our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, which Dan read for us, come from a book that's called A Return to Love.
This book has become a modern spiritual classic. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend that you do. It was written in 1992 by Marianne Williamson. And she wrote it during the years that she was the pastor of the Unity Church on the other side of the state, in the Royal Oak area of Michigan. During that time the church had more than 2,000 members, and in the book, she says that there are just two emotions, fear and love. That's it. Everything you're feeling or thinking can be categorized in one of those two.
So when you're thinking thoughts of worry, and doubt, and lack and limitation, and resentment, and anger, and jealousy, that all comes from a place of fear. But if you're thinking thoughts of hope, and trust, and joy and peace, then you're coming from a place of love. And so the purpose of the spiritual life is to return to love. As she says, love is what we're born with. Fear is what we learn.
And she says fear is an illusion. Now you may remember last year I shared with you an acronym I found online for fear F. E. A. R. False Evidence Appearing Real. Because those false evidences feel real: What my husband gets sick? What if I don't have enough money for retirement? That's false evidence. That hasn't happened, but it appears real in your mind.
Fear is an illusion. The Bible speaks to this not once, not twice byt 300 times! Three hundred times in the Bible it says “Do not be afraid.” “Fear not.” I actually read online when I was researching for my homily, that it said that it appears in the Bible exactly 365 times. Now, I don't know if that's true, I didn't verify that. But I love that idea that for every single day of the year, God is saying, “Do not be afraid.” That is what Jesus is trying to communicate to the apostles in today's Gospel reading for the 11th, Sunday after Pentecost.
If you were here last Sunday, we heard the story of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish. And this happens right after that. Jesus sends the crowds home. And he tells the apostles, you get in a boat and go to the other side, I'm going to go up to a mountain by myself to pray.
We see it often in the Gospels, Jesus was a man of action. But he was also a man of contemplation. And that's a wonderful model for us. Yes, we are to do good work in the world. But we also have to find time to be still. And so we see Jesus goes up to a mountaintop, symbolizing a place of higher consciousness, where he can have a higher perspective.
In that place of higher consciousness, he gets a sense that his apostles are caught in the storm, and he comes to them, walking on the water, and says, “Peace, be still. Why were you afraid? Why did you doubt it? Why didn't you trust me?” And that's really the question for us to consider during the times in our life, when we're in fear, when we feel like we're caught in a storm of life. Why aren’t we putting our trust in God?
Now, I want to be clear. If you are experiencing fear, it doesn't mean that you're a person who doesn't have a strong faith. Jesus Himself experienced fear. You remember the Garden of Gethsemane? But I thought of that quote by Mark Twain that says, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it's the mastery of fear.”
We're going to experience fear in our lives, but we have been given the power to master our fears. So we see that this happens to Peter in today's Gospel reading, at least for a very, very brief time, Peter is able to overcome his fear, and to actually walk on the water.
This is a great surprise to a lot of Christians who think that Jesus was the only person who ever performed any miracles. And this shows us that that wasn't true. The apostles also performed miracles. Peter was able to walk on the water. And why was that? Because he was so focused on Jesus's love.
His eyes relaxed with Jesus, Jesus reached out his hand. And Peter was so focused on the power and the presence of the Christ, that he was able to walk on the water for himself. But then he starts to sink, and why?
Because it says he took his eyes off of Jesus. He started to notice the wind and the storm again, and he began to sink. And again, my friends, that happens to us during those times in our lives when our boats are being rocked and we’re caught, caught in the storms and we begin to sink when we don't put our trust in God's love, God's power, God's presence in our lives.
In Second Timothy, verse one, it says, God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. God has not given us the spirit of fear, but power and love and a sound mind.
And that, my friends, is why I'm always almost every Sunday inviting you to find time to pray, because that's what we're doing in prayer. We're shifting our thinking, from thoughts of fear to thoughts of love. Yes, in prayer, we bring our fears before God. But in that time of stillness, our hearts and minds are transformed. When you think about a storm, you think about a tornado or a hurricane. There are lots of things swirling around, and you may feel that in your life sometimes. But in the center of that storm, there's a place of calm and stillness.
And that's what you're doing in prayer and meditation, you're placing yourself in that center of the storm where all is at peace.
So that's what I would like to invite you to do this week. I know many of you are dealing with situations in your life that are very fearful. And I know others of you are just fearful of the state of our country or the state of the world.
Bring those fears to your time of prayer and meditation. And in the stillness, you'll connect with that still small voice that is within you, the voice of God that says, “Be not afraid. Put your trust in me. All shall be well.”
Fear is an illusion. The love of God is true. And when you know that truth, you will be set free.
Words of Integration and Guidance
from the book, A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson
We're hallucinating. And that's what this world is: a mass hallucination, where fear seems more real than love. Fear is an illusion. Our craziness, paranoia, anxiety, and trauma are literally all imagined. You may believe that you are responsible for what you do, but not for what you think. The truth is that you are responsible for what you think, because it is only at this level that you can exercise choice. What you do comes from what you think. Thought is Cause; experience is Effect. If you don’t like the effects in your life, you have to change the nature of your thinking. You can choose thoughts of love or thoughts of fear. Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things. Meaning lies in us. In the absence of love, we began slowly but surely to fall apart. When we attach value to things that aren’t love—the money, the car, the house, the prestige—we are loving things that can’t love us back. We are searching for meaning in the meaningless.
What did you think?