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Lord God, open your Word again to us this day by the power of your Holy Spirit, so that we may remember your love made known in Jesus Christ. Overwhelm our fears with your love, so that we may know your joy and peace, through Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
I John 4:7-21
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
Some of you are aware that I truly love the game of soccer.
I have played the game since I was seven years old. I will be playing a game tomorrow night.
I have watched my sons play more games than I can recall.
Yesterday, I watched my new team play – Atlanta United.
If you have been keeping up with such things, you know that Atlanta United is on a roll.
They are ranked at the very top of Major League Soccer, considered at this point in the season
to be the best of the best…in North America at least.
One aspect that I enjoy about watching the team is that they play without fear.
They do not play as if they are afraid that they are going to lose.
They do not play as if they are afraid they are going to lose every 50-50 ball.
They do not play as if they are afraid they are going to miss the pass or miss the goal.
They play with confidence. They play on the front of their feet and not on their heels.
The team that plays on their heels is a team that is eventually going to lose.
The team that plays on the front of their feet is a team that eventually is going to score.
Soccer, like many sports, is a mental game. One’s mental condition has everything to do
with one’s success on the field, which is also true on the golf course or in the batter’s box.
“He’s playing with such confidence”, the golf reporter will whisper from Augusta National.
“She’s swinging like she knows she’ll hit a home run”,
a friend comments to the parent in the stands.
Playing with confidence and not with fear makes all the difference in the outcome of the game.
In I John, living with confidence before God and loving neighbor without fear
makes all the difference in the outcomes of human life.
This does not mean that people of faith will never be afraid.
Fear is pervasive. Fear is a quite normal aspect of human life.
We all will find ourselves afraid of something eventually. Some of the more common fears are:
Arachnophobia – The fear of spiders; Ophidiophobia – The fear of snakes;
Acrophobia – The fear of heights; Cynophobia – The fear of dogs;
Entomophobia – fear of insects; Trypanophobia – fear of needles; Aerophobia – the fear of flying.
There are all sorts of fears. Some are quite normal; some are rather abnormal.
Some get blown way out of proportion in our minds. Some keep up awake at night.
Today, we honor our high school seniors. Many of them will soon be off to college.
I am wondering…Can anyone go off to college without any fear whatsoever?
Can a parent send their beloved child off to school without some measure of fear?
Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached a sermon entitled “Antidotes for Fear.”
First he spoke of the positive sides of fear:
“Fear is the elemental alarm system of the human organism which warns of approaching dangers…”
(not a bad thing for a college freshman to remember).
“Fear, moreover is a powerfully create force.
Every great invention and intellectual advance represents a desire to escape
from some dreaded circumstance or condition,”
like the fear of pain leading to marvelous advances in medical science.
Then King goes on to say that normal fear protects us, while abnormal fear paralyzes us.
“Our problem is not to be rid of fear, but rather to harness and master it.”
But how do we harness and master our fears? King counsels four things:
“First, we must unflinchingly face our fears and honestly ask ourselves why we are afraid.”
Second, we must nurture the classical virtue of courage, the power of the mind to overcome fear.
Third, “Fear is mastered through love.” As our text for today claims,
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
Fourth, “Fear is mastered through faith…[which] assures us that the universe is trustworthy
and that God is concerned.”
Some years later, MLK stood at a rally for garbage workers in Memphis addressing his own fears.
It was a stormy night. A large crowd had gathered to hear him.
And the 33-year-old husband and father of small children spoke up:
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place.
But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will…
I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
(from Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself, By Scotty McLennan, Dean for Religious Life
Adapted from a Sermon Preached in Memorial Church, Stanford University, October 14, 2001)
Normal fear protects us; abnormal fear paralyzes us.
There is no abnormal fear in love; perfect love casts out abnormal fear.
Abnormal fear can paralyze even the bravest soul.
Abnormal fear can cause an otherwise confident individual to doubt a good decision,
to neglect to follow through on a commitment, even to become physically ill.
Fear will keep even the best of athletes or dancers or musicians from performing at their best.
“How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.” (Florence Nightingale)
Fear is a prison that keeps a person from becoming what God intends for us to be.
One preacher claimed that: We move against fear with the weapons of faith and love. (Rick Warren)
Have not I commanded you?, says the Lord (Joshua 1:9) Be strong and of a good courage;
be not afraid, neither be dismayed: for the LORD your God [is] with you wherever you go.
Psalms 23:4 – Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou [art] with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Isaiah 41:10 – Do not be afraid, for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God:
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my powerful right hand.
Psalms 56:3-4 – When I am afraid, I will trust in God.
In God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.
In 1933, in the depth of the great depression, when millions were suffering
and facing a frightening, uncertain future,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the nation in his first inaugural:
“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly.
Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today.
This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—
nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Roosevelt staked the claim that it is not death or hardship that is a fearful thing,
but the fear of hardship and death. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…
(Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933, as published in Samuel Rosenman, ed.,
The Public Papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Volume Two, 1938)
Matt and Lori McMahan’s eldest son, Drew, returns to us this morning after 10 weeks
in Parris Island, South Carolina. Most of you will recognize that name.
Parris Island is no beach resort, but a Marine Corps training base.
For the past 10 weeks, Drew has been put through a mental and physical and emotional gauntlet.
He has been tested beyond our imagination. He has probably faced some of his worst fears.
And he has made it through. Drew has survived Parris Island,
and his presence here today is a testament to his endurance and perseverance.
Now, more than a few pounds lighter, Drew is a full member of the Marine Corps.
Friends, do not miss the first words of the risen Jesus after he greets the women: Do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid of me, says the Lord. Do not be afraid of death, says the Lord.
Do not be afraid of life. Do not be afraid to celebrate on this glorious day of days.
Do not be afraid to run and tell others what you have seen and heard.
Do not be afraid to stand up and speak of what you have seen and experienced to be true.
Do not be afraid to love, as I have loved you.
As we have walked through the epistle of I John over the past weeks,
we have read that love is a test of the Christian life.
We have read that love is the “commandment” which one in fellowship with God will keep.
We have read that love is a sign of “likeness” to God the Father,
a sign that the children of God will reveal.
In today’s text, the author reveals that love is the very nature of God.
“God is love.” God is the source of our ability to return God’s love and to love our neighbor.
As followers of God, we are to live, not in fear, but in love.
We are to abide in love, “make love our aim”, as Paul writes elsewhere.
Love is not a duty, nor a burden, nor simply a response to command.
Love is to be our very nature, an expression of who we truly are.
When we follow the way of Jesus Christ, “God’s love abides (even) in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
The fruit of the Spirit is first love…then joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control.
There is no law against such things.
What might it look like if the Church of Jesus Christ fully embodied love and not fear?
What might it look like if we said to ourselves when we got up in the morning: I am love.
I will not be afraid this day, but I will be defined by love.
I will not be driven or distracted by fear, but will live today in love for God and for all whom I meet.
I will not be afraid of the future. I will not be afraid of my neighbor. I will not be afraid of my conditions.
I will embody, to the best of my ability, the love of my Savior, Jesus Christ.
What if our political conversations began to take on the tone of embodied, self-giving, sacrificial love
rather than fear? What if our conversations about the funding of public schools
or the availability of health care or the proliferation of guns
or our foreign policy or our immigration policy took on the tone of embodied love rather than fear?
We must fully recognize our normal fears, and protect ourselves and our nation to some extent,
but we must not be driven by abnormal fear.
I John claims that those who do not love do not know God,
and “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars.”
In I John, this idea that God is love and we are thus to love our neighbor
is not simply a fact to be discovered nor an assurance to be confirmed,
not a mental verdict to acknowledge but a moral resolve to live, a lifestyle to be experienced.
(Charles Eerdman, The General Epistles, p. 140)
Through the radical cost of Jesus’ sacrifice, Jesus’ suffering and death,
God’s good intention was that we would realize grace,
we would come to know forgiveness and mercy,
we would experience God’s divine love for us.
And therefore, Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
If we do not love, we do not trust God, and we allow fear to rule our lives.
We allow fear to paralyze and separate and segregate.
But if we love, we abide in God.
If we love, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected (even) in us.
Living with confidence before God and loving neighbor without fear
will make all the difference in the outcomes of human life.
Beloved, let us love one another, because God first loved us. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
April 29, 2018
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030