Updated: Jan 30
Most of us here today have heard the soundbite of President Franklin Roosevelt saying, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Roosevelt spoke those words in the first paragraph of his 1933 Inaugural Address, when he was sworn in as president for his first of four terms elected.
I had wrongly presumed that he spoke those words about the threat of World War II; but, instead, he was referring to the Great Depression that had enveloped the nation, beginning in 1929.
While being somewhat of a religious theme, the “fear” Roosevelt spoke of was not religious. He spoke or the fear of financial instability nationally … a “fear” that businesses and people would be shy about making material investments. Those fears arose due to the losses that had ruined so many “easy money” millionaires, bankrupted so many small businesses, and put so many hard-working common people in soup lines.
“Brother, can you spare a dime?” was a question heard often in those days.
The answer to that question was ‘Big Government’. The fears of the people would be assuaged by Roosevelt’s New Deal federal work programs, farm subsidies, anti-poverty welfare initiatives and the passing of the Social Security Act of 1935.
The safety and security of Americans was placed in the hands of a government that grew into a protective giant.
Today, our Federal government stands “six cubits and a span,” fully dressed in armor and weaponry. The shield-bearer that runs out before it is its underling – that which can be summed up as all the support functions of the politics identifying with Washington D. C.
Our government has long boasted to the world, the same as it boasts to its own citizens still, “You shall be our servants and serve us.”
Just as Goliath bellowed those words before the Israelite armies, we likewise stand today, “dismayed and greatly afraid” of the giant our government has become.
The only thing that makes Big Government unchallenged is fear.
It was fear that gave rise to other Big Governments, primarily those which led to, or were greatly affected by World War II.
World War II and the Great Depression were offspring of the fears that followed World War I – the fear that that must be the war to end all wars.
The League of Nations and the subsequent United Nations are institutions that fight fear with fear.
It was fear that led to the Cold War, where two equal ‘Goliath’ giants were afraid of “pushing the red button” and beginning the end of the world.
It is fear that defines the current war our Big Government is mired in – a War on Terrorism.
“Terrorism” can be defined as “A state of fear produced by acts of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.”
The distinction of “political purposes” reverts one back to government directed “fears,” where the “political” can then equally infer Democracy, or Communism, or Radical Islam (all as philosophical-religious motivations), simply because each giant uses acts of violence and words of intimidation as its ways of forcing its will upon peoples.
Today’s readings speak loudly about the effects fear has on people.
Young David heard the boasts of Goliath and immediately went to Saul, saying, “Let no one’s heart fail because of [that giant braggart].”
Fear lurks in the hearts of people.
Jesus was asleep on a boat that was being tossed wildly about in the waves of the Sea of Galilee, when his disciples awoke him, frightened. Their fears made them think they were about to die. Jesus simply commanded the environment, “Peace! Be still!” And … it was so.
Fear of death is strong in people who know they are mortal creatures.
Paul wrote the Corinthians saying, “We are treated as impostors, and are yet true; as unknown, and yet we are well known; as dying, and see – we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
Those who are without fear are either evil or good: Goliath or David; Materialist or Spiritualist; Scientist or Cleric; Warrior or Healer. One’s reason for being fearless is clear to see, while the other is not.
Being fearless because of an unseen God causes people to lash out against those whose faith is not founded in natural, physical powers, but in the spiritual ones.
“The only thing you have to fear is God,” as everything else is just some over-dressed giant that is trying to make sure you tremble like a leaf, because your fears give that giant complete control over you. Fears cause you to submit to the gods of the world, because you forget there is only One True God.
We read how Goliath, upon seeing young David coming towards him – basically unprotected and unarmed – “cursed David by his gods.” The “gods” of Goliath were clearly visible: his size, his strength, his armor, his weapons, and his allies. Goliath worshipped the “gods” of nature, those who awarded their faithful with physical abundance and worldly riches.
We read how Jesus’ disciples saw, “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already swamped.” After Jesus calmed the situation by a command, the disciples wondered, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
The disciples, like the Philistines AND the Israelites, worshipped the “gods” of nature, who punished the faithful through random acts of physical violence. The “gods” of nature always stand before us with super stature – compared to our feeble selves.
“Who am I to do battle with those giants?” we meekly ask.
I remember moving to coastal Mississippi on August 1, 2005. In the months prior to that date (in hurricane season), there had been three hurricanes that made landfall on the gulf coast: Cindy (Cat. 1 – LA.); Dennis (Cat. 4 – FLA.); and Emily (which hit two places: Cat. 4 – Yucatan and Cat. 3 – Mexico coast)
Due to Cindy and Dennis, the people of Waveland, Pass Christian and Bay Saint Louis had already been sent to shelters twice before, in preparation for potential landfalls there.
Both times the hurricanes missed that area of Mississippi.
I had never experienced the wrath of a tornado before in my life, much less a hurricane. As Hurricane Katrina developed in the Caribbean and then hit southern Florida, as a Cat. 1, few were listening to the warnings and fears projecting that Katrina would regroup and hit the Gulf Coast as a greater storm.
People went about their business as usual, thinking another false alarm would have them needlessly packing up a few things for an overnight stay at some secure location, with maybe a few limbs in the yard to clean up the day after.
I was not afraid of Katrina because no one I came in contact with was afraid. Even though the television was screaming “FEAR!“, everyone was saying, “They always make it seem worse than it ever is.”
The calm before the storm.
We all know the reality now.
In a way, Hurricane Katrina was like the Great Depression of 1929, as both came about because of nature. Depressions, like hurricanes, come and go, leaving messes in their wakes. People are used to tragedy striking randomly. While there is fear, there are prayers for God’s help, regardless of the outcome.
The greatest fears are not for salvation, but for recovery.
The true fears that Hurricane Katrina exposed (and since then – Sandy, in 2012) came when the people expected the government to come save the day and make all the hurts and wounds go away quickly. God saved the lives of most people; but the government that boasted it was the Greatest Nation in the World was found to be run by liars and cheats.
The government is a lower-case “g” god. All it is good for is blowing hot air and using fear as its means of growth in power.
What we need to listen to today … what we need to hear from these scripture readings, is David asking us, “Why does your heart fail from fear, because of terrorism?”
What we need to hear is Jesus asking us, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
What we need to hear is Paul asking us, “Why do you restrict the affections of your heart from God and Christ?” “Why do you only pray for salvation when all hell is breaking loose?”
What we need to realize today is that which speaks to us from the psalm, where it sings, “The ungodly have fallen into the pit they dug, and in the snare they set is their own foot caught.”
The snare we set is worshiping little-g gods Monday through Saturday (and half of Sunday), while acting fearless only on Sunday.
Fear is promoted in everything we see on television these days – in the news, in the entertainment, in the sports and competitions.
Sacrificing Christianity to the sports on Sundays – extreme games – cage fights – et al.
We, like the Israelites, tremble at the thought of having to be the one chosen to champion a cause. We gladly give up all our beliefs for the anonymity of watching someone else fight our battles for us.
We, like the disciples, find no solace in the fact that Jesus sleeps in the face of our fears, when it is our fears of lesser “gods” that have kept Jesus from being watchfully protecting us.
We, like Paul pointed out, fail to see how Isaiah heard God say, “In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you.”
Instead, we demand that God must meet our schedule. We are blinded to the realization that “NOW is the acceptable time; and NOW is the day of salvation!”
All our fears disappear when our hearts have been opened wide for the LORD.
Indeed … “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
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