Return to Sermon Archive
Fear and Katrina
Because of the events of the week, I have changed the verses, I was going to preach on. I invite you to turn in your Bibles to Psalm 27 and follow along as I read verses 1-5
1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh-- my adversaries and foes-- they shall stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Initially, this week I had planned to preach on a Labor Day topic, but after the events of the week, I felt that we needed another scripture and another topic today. On Monday, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. The initial reports were bad enough. About 50 people dead, millions of people refugees, billions of dollars in damage. But then we began to realize that it was much worse than that. In Gulfport and Biloxi, we saw block after block of leveled buildings. Reporters said it looked much like the tsunami in Asia last year. Then, two levees broke and made New Orleans uninhabitable. By Thursday, they were saying that possibly thousands had perished, about 2 million people were without power, and there was looting in New Orleans.
I was watching coverage of the disaster on CNN. They were showing video of dead bodies floating in the water. One segment showed about thousand people camped on the raised portion of an interstate. It looked like a scene from a science fiction apocalypse. Some of these people had already had health problems and some had died. Their bodies were just laying there on the highway. Reporters kept saying, This should not happen in America.
There was a female news anchor interviewing both government officials. The news anchor was from that area. and she obviously was disturbed by the reports. She asked the officials, “Can we ever rebuild? Can we ever recover from this?” They replied, Well, maybe not. Her questions were getting more and more shrill, and the people she was talking to seemed vague and indecisive.
I thought, Take a deep breath, lady. Take several deep breaths. Calm down. I know Katrina is a catastrophe. I know a lot of people lost everything, but certainly we can recover. and the last thing we need right now is news coverage dominated by fear and pessimism.
At 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, the President addressed the nation. His speech was larded with statistics. He talked about how many trucks we are sending to the strickened area, how many generators, how many bottles of water, how many tons of food, how many ships and national guardsmen. The President’s intention was to make us feel that measures have been taken, action is underway, and we can feel confident that the immediate problems at least are being addressed. The President was right in that we need reassurance, but I though we needed a better speech.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President in 1932, in the very depths of the depression. The economy was almost dead and many people were ready to bury it forever. One third of the people were out of work. Thousands upon thousands of people were on the move looking for jobs. There was social unrest, even talk of revolution. Those were the circumstances when Roosevelt became president. In his First Inaugural Address , he said,
“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.”
Now I suppose that no one would ever compare George Bush to Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt struck the right chord for his time, and for ours. Of course, the nation will endure. The Gulf Coast will revive and prosper. In 1906, the city of San Francisco was leveled by earthquake and fire. It was built right back again. In 1900, a Hurricane hit Galveston, Texas. Our records are fragmentary, but as many as 12, 000 people might have been killed. Galveston rebuilt bigger and better than ever. The Gulf Coast can also be rebuilt. It will take time and money and effort, but it can be done. Roosevelt was right. The only thing that can stop us is fear itself.
Yes, things are tough for a lot of people right now. We face a uncertainty about the future. Gas prices are through the roof. What is going to happen? Obviously, we do not know what is going to happen, but the worst thing for us to do is to panic and start thinking in terms of defeat and pessimism.
Fear imprisons us. Fear prevents us from being the free and effective people that God created us to be. A few years ago, Beth and I visitited ancient Indian ruins in New Mexico called Montezuma’s Castle. The name is a misnomer. Montezuma never lived there. These are ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings. The Anasazi farmed the bottom of the canyon. They got their water from a creek in the bottom of the canyon. But their dwellings were halfway up the canyon wall, dug into the canyon wall. They had no stairs. Every drop of water, every morsel of food had to be carried up ladders to their dwellings. My first thought on seeing this was: They were scared of something. To go to that much effort, to live where they did, they were afraid. And so they were locked into this existence that led them to be constantly climbing ladders and hiding out from the world. They effectively constructed prisons for themselves in the canyon wall. That is what fear does.
Contrast fear with faith. Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages.
In the book of Samuel, Ch 17, the Israelite army was confronted with its greatest fear. That fear was named Goliath. Goliath was a giant Philistine warrior. He was about 9 feet tall, taller than an NBA center. He was armored from head to toe. He carried a spear that looked like a log.
When Israel went to war with Philistia, Goliath marched out between the two armies and challenged any Israelite to fight. The Israelites were scared spitless. Not a man dared to accept Goliath’s challenge. The whole army of Israel was cowed and spiritless. They had not even fought a battle and they were already defeated—until David showed up. David was not impressed by Goliath’s size nor his armor nor his spear. David put his faith in God and his sling. You know the story. I suppose it is the most familiar story in the Bible. David hit Goliath in the forehead with a rock and killed him. David’s arm was not paralyzed by fear. It was liberated by faith in God
Well for us, Katrina was certainly Goliath. It was monster storm. But we should not be cowed or paralyzed by the destruction. Let us have faith like David and depend upon the Lord and our own abilities. The two always go together. We have abilities and talents. If we combine those with the help of the Lord, we are unstoppable. We are giant killers.
But faith comes first. Before David could even put that rock in his sling, he had to have faith in God. That is what PS 27 is about. No matter what Goliath we face in this life, the Psalmist has a answer for us. The answer does not begin with Goliath. The answer begins with God.
The reason why we are sometimes overcome with doubt and pessimism is that we begin by assessing the situation without God. In any trouble, in any crisis, we look at what’s happened, we break it down and ask, Can I handle this? If it is a difficult situation, we may think, I cannot handle this. Then we are in panic mode. Fear sets in and we pray O God help me. As we look at Psalm 27:1-2, we see that the Psalmist reverses that way of thinking. The Psalmist begins with absolute confidence in God. V1 declares, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” That is the first thought that we should have in any crisis. God will lead us, God will save us. Therefore, I shall not be dominated by fear. Now, of course, I still have to assess the problem. I still have to take action. But the faith that the Lord is with me enables me to use my resources and abilities in the best way possible.
Now the psalmist is a poet, and Hebrew poetry does not use rhyme and meter like English poetry. Hebrew poetry uses the repetition of ideas. So the psalmist repeats this idea in different words: “The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” In any crisis, that is what you need to know first.
NASA, in doing the risky business of space flight, has developed the checklist method of solution to a science. They say you write out a numbered checklist of the steps involved in solving your problem. Then you go to step 1 and do that, and when it is done, check it off and go to step 2, do that, check it off, and so you work your way through all the steps and when you are done, the problem is solved.
That is a good method, but the Psalmist would say that step 1 is your faith in God. In solving any problem, the first thing you need to know is that God is your stronghold. God is your light. God is with you in that situation. When you are secure in that knowledge, then you can go to step 2 which begins what we might call the practical solution of the problem.
Now we do not know what the psalmist’s problem was. In v2, we read of evildoers attacking him. He describes them as intent on devouring his flesh. That is a Hebrew figure of speech for gossiping about him, ridiculing him, tearing him down. We have the same figure of speech in English. A “backbiter” says mean and spiteful things about another person. A “backbiter” does not literally bite another person’s back. But she bites them with gossip, with the ridicule, with contempt. Even so, in Psalm 27, the Psalmist is not speaking of cannibals trying to eat his flesh. He is talking about adversaries who are trying to devour him in other ways. He has enemies who want to do him harm.
But he is not going to worry about that sort of thing because the Lord is his stronghold, and so he says confidently, “They shall stumble and fall.”
He goes on in v3 to say: “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.” In effect, he says, imagine the worst that can possibly happen to you. Imagine the worst situation.
Many people along the gulf coast right now would say that they are facing the worst possible situation. They have lost their homes, they have lost their jobs, they have no food or water, no sanitary facilities, no medical facilities. It is no exaggeration to say that in certain areas along the gulf coast, civilization has been temporarily overwhelmed, and we are dealing with a primitive survival situation. The Psalmist says even in that worst case, “My heart shall not fear.”
But we should keep the mind the source of his confidence. He is not putting on a happy face and saying that we should all think positively. He is not just saying, Have faith. He is saying, Have faith in God. He is confident because God is the center of his life. His situation may be awful, but the Lord is his stronghold, and so he is not paralyzed with fear.
In our Bible study this year, we have just begun the study of Joshua. When Joshua became the leader of Israel, God told him to cross the river Jordan and conquer Canaan. Can you imagine what Joshua must have felt when he was confronted with that stupendous task? Why me, Lord? But God gave Joshua the assurance he needed. In 1:5, God said, “No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.”
God will not fail us. God will not forsake us. God is our stronghold on whom we can always depend. That is how we are able to overcome fear and uncertainty. That is how we are enabled to face to Goliaths and Canaanites and even hurricanes. God is with us. God is our stronghold.
In Psalm 27:4, the psalmist says that he prayed for one thing. That gets our attention. If you could pray for one thing, what would it be? The psalmist tells us what it should be—to live in God’s presence, “to behold the beauty of the Lord.” This is the only way we can live without fear, by having God in our lives, all the time, every day.
The psalmist says, that is your answer. That is your answer to turmoil and confusion and difficulties and crises. God is your answer. God will hide you “in his shelter in the day of trouble;” God “will conceal you under the cover of his tent.” God “will set you high on a rock.” If you have not heard anything else today, be assured of this. God will be with you. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 9/23/05