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01:08:00 pm, by Robert Arbogast , 1307 words  
Categories: Pentecost 2012, Psalms

Fear and Trust

Sermon preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio

Scripture Readings
Psalm 56
Romans 15:13

It’s a prayer to the Most High God: Whenever I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. Whenever I am afraid. What are you afraid of? You have your fears. We all do. So what are you afraid of?

The psalmist had enemies, people who were trying to ruin his life. It was frustrating, agonizing even. All day, every day. A conspiracy of evil against him. His reputation lay in ruins, his prospects in pieces. He feared for his life. And if not for his life, then for his livelihood. So he prayed. He prayed to the Most High God: Whenever I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.

What are you afraid of? We all have our fears, even if we don’t have enemies. We all have fears, fears for every stage of our lives. And we have our reasons for being afraid.

You just finished the eighth grade. In two months, you’ll be starting high school. And already you’re afraid. In middle school, you never fit in. You preferred the library to the soccer field, and you enjoyed solving math problems more than sharing gossip. A few classmates reminded you every day that you didn’t fit in. Now you’re afraid that high school will be worse. Bigger school, bigger problems. We all have our fears. And we have our reasons for being afraid.

You’re about to start your junior year in college. Two years from now, you’ll have a degree. And already you’re afraid. When you finish school, you’ll owe more money than your grandparents paid for their house. But who knows what the job market will look like? And who knows what the social landscape will look like? You’re afraid, and no wonder. You might end up moving back in with your parents. (Your parents might be afraid of that, too!) We all have our fears. And we have our reasons for being afraid.

The other day my brother said that Sixty is the new forty. That’s true. Once you hit fifty, sixty doesn’t seem so old any more. But once you hit fifty, you’re already afraid. You know very well that sixty is not forty. You’ve always thought of yourself as young, but you’re not young any more. You’ve started to feel that first-thing-in-the-morning creaking in your joints. And what is it you’re supposed to do on the way home? So you’re afraid. Afraid of getting older, afraid of slowing down, afraid of breaking down. You don’t check the obituaries every day. Not yet. But that day is coming. And who knows what’s going to come with it? We all have our fears. And we have our reasons for being afraid.

If you’re eighty―eighty is not the new fifty, by the way―if you’re eighty, then you know you’re almost to the last stop. And you’re probably afraid. Not afraid of dying. Not afraid of being dead. Afraid of how you’ll get there. You’ve seen people wince in pain and struggle for breath. You’ve seen people stare blankly into space. You’ve heard people cry out for God to no avail. So you’re afraid. We all have our fears. And we have our reasons.

And that’s only the beginning. We’re afraid of all kinds of things. It may not be our biggest fear, but maybe what’s always with us is that we’re afraid of losing things:

  • losing our health,
  • losing a job,
  • having a child,
  • losing our faith,
  • losing a husband or wife,
  • losing a friend,
  • losing our hearing,
  • losing our sight,
  • losing our savings,
  • losing our health insurance,
  • losing a world view,
  • losing a sense of safety and security,
  • losing our self-respect,
  • losing the comfort of the familiar.

So much to lose! So much to fear!

What do we do with these fears, with all these fears? How can we carry on in such a frightening, threatening world? How can we keep moving forward?

One of the strategies we have for dealing with fear is to rationalize, to analyze, to talk ourselves out of the fear. It starts when we’re little kids: Don’t be afraid of monsters under your bed. Turn on the light and look. There’s nothing there. And it continues into adulthood: Don’t be afraid of flying. Statistics say that once you make it to the airport, you’ve completed the most dangerous part of the journey. And for those final days, when we might not be able to reason, we plan ahead with a set of legal documents: living will, advance directive, medical power of attorney: You’ve covered the bases. Don’t be afraid. 

All well and good. But not enough. Never enough. Sometimes there are monsters under the bed. And if not under the bed, then sleeping in the room down the hall. Sometimes the plane crashes. Then you become a statistic that says the drive to the airport is still more dangerous. But you’re dead. And you can sign all the legal papers you want, but there’s no advance way to know how you will die, whether the journey will be long or short, easy or hard.

The psalmist knows fear, fear from every direction, threats always lying in wait for him. So he prays to God: Whenever I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. Trust in God, not in probabilities. Trust in God, not in the luck of the draw. Trust in God. But what is the psalmist trusting God for? What is he trusting God to do?

Here’s how he amplifies that expression of trust:

In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid,
for what can flesh do to me?

The psalmist’s trust is built on a foundation bigger than himself, bigger than his own circumstances, bigger certainly than his enemies, bigger even than his fears. That foundation? God has spoken. God has promised. And God is in control.

God is in control. But that doesn’t mean the psalmist’s enemies won’t inflict damage. God is in control. But that doesn’t mean the monster won’t get you. It doesn’t mean the plane won’t crash. And it doesn’t mean you, or what’s left of you, won’t linger in a nursing home.

What it means is that God’s plans for you are ultimate, God’s intentions for you are final. It means that when we’re afraid―and let’s remember, we have our reasons for being afraid―but when we’re afraid, whatever the reason, that does not eliminate our hope. Because our hope is in God.

Hope is something we don’t see. Yet it’s real. As real as anything we’ve ever seen or touched. Hope is as real as anything that has ever threatened us, as real as anything that has ever hurt us, as real as anything that could ever befall us.

Hope is not that the trouble will necessarily urn away from us. Hope is not that the danger will certainly pass. Hope is not that we’ll never know despair. No. Hope is that, after all is said and done, we belong to Jesus. Jesus, who prayed to be rescued from his fate. Jesus, who despaired that God was not helping him. Jesus, whose enemies got the better of him and made an end of him. Jesus, who was dead and buried. But also Jesus, who was raised from the dead to begin a new life, to begin our new life, the new life of all the world.

We belong to Jesus, and nothing, nothing can take us out of his hand. We belong to Jesus, and nothing can separate us from his love or from his life. It’s this hope that gives us joy and peace. This hope takes the edge off our fears. This hope modulates our miseries, while we wait, while we trust in God. And this hope will not be disappointed.

In the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.



10:45:00 pm, by RAArbogast , 1133 words  
Categories: Pentecost 2012, Psalms

Being for Peace in a World for War

Sermon preached by the Rev. Robert A. Arbogast
Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio
Scripture Readings
Psalm 120
Matthew 5:9
When Jesus comes in his kingdom, there will be endless peace (Isaiah 9:7). Meanwhile God blesses those who work for peace; they will be called the children of God (Matthew 5:9). If you and I are Jesus-people, if we are citizens of his kingdom, then we are, by definition, people of peace (cp. Romans 14:18)―which makes life in this world uncomfortable for us, which puts us permanently out of step with the ways of this world.

Psalm 120 says, 

Too long have I had to live
among the enemies of peace.
I am on the side of  peace,
but when I speak of it, they are for war (vv. 6-7).

Doesn’t it make you uncomfortable, all the money spent on war and on war machines? Doesn’t it make you uncomfortable, all the lives lost to war, all the bodies and minds crippled by war? Doesn’t it make you uncomfortable, all the war-like posturing and threats?

Doesn’t it make you uncomfortable, what’s happening in Syria these days? And the danger in Pakistan? And the flag-draped caskets at Dover? And the drone strikes? And the collateral damage?

Doesn’t it make you uncomfortable that every president, Republican or Democrat, and that every congress, whoever has the majority, seem always to be in favor of war, in favor of preparing for war, in favor of threatening war? Doesn’t it make you feel like you don’t fit in?

Well, of course it does! Because we are Jesus-people. Because we are citizens of his kingdom. Because we are, by definition, people of peace. War, with all its apparatus, sickens us. We want no part of war!
I told you last Sunday that I’ve been reading the psalms for several months. Four times now, I’ve read Psalm 120. And all four times, these words have brought me up short:

I am on the side of  peace,
but when I speak of it, they are for war.

That’s just how it feels. It feels like the whole world is for war. Governments are for war. Political parties are for war. Neighbors and friends are for war. And despite who Jesus is, despite what Jesus said, even the church is for war. Just wars. Preemptive wars. Good wars. Proxy wars. Cyber wars. Remote control wars.

And always, of course, whatever nation we belong to is the good guy. Whatever nation we belong to is on the side of right. And whatever nation we belong to is always a defender, never an aggressor.
How can the world not be for war? How can the church not be for war? How can we not be for war? It’s a simple matter of realism. The kingdom of God and its peace are for someday. Not for now. Not yet. The time hasn’t come. So we can pray for it and wait for it. But in the meantime, we have to be realistic.

There will always be evil in this world. The good guys will always have enemies. So we will always need to defend ourselves. And we’ll always need to defend our friends and neighbors, too. Sometimes that means preparing for war. Sometimes that means threatening war. And sometimes that means going to war.

That’s how things work in this world, like it or not. And we have to make the best of it. We can pray for peace. But we had better prepare for war.
Well, that all makes perfect sense. There is plenty of evil in this world. It infects and afflicts every one of us. Evil has taken root in every human heart, in every human institution, in every nation. So it makes sense to do our best to deal with that evil. And sometimes that means war. Or judging by past and present experience, most all of the time that means war, one war or another, somewhere. It makes perfect sense. Unavoidable, perfect sense.

But let me ask you, is following Jesus supposed to make perfect sense? Is the church supposed to be a sensible institution? Are we, the citizens of the kingdom of God, supposed to be sensible? When Jesus says, Take up your cross, does that make sense? When Jesus says, Put away your sword, does that make sense? When Jesus defeats evil by surrendering to evil, does that make sense?
Yes, we’re still waiting for the kingdom of God. We’re still waiting for the time when swords [will be beaten] into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks (cp. Isaiah 2:4). But what are we supposed to do in the meantime? Pray for the kingdom to come, but live like this world? How can that be? Doesn’t Jesus call us to follow him?

So what’s up with us, when we don’t feel out of sorts with each reported drone strike? What’s up with us, when we don’t feel out of sorts each time Kevin has to go to Afghanistan? Oh, we worry about him and his safety. But what about the whole business of war?

And what’s up with us, when we don’t feel out of sorts over the continuous celebration of war in songs and slogans and sacred national rituals? And what’s up with us, when we want to join the cheering section when Osama bin Laden is gunned down or when Abu Yahya al-Libi is blown up by a drone-launched missile?

The Jewish midrash tells a story about angels bursting into a song of celebration when the Red Sea closes in over Pharaoh’s chariots and cavalry. But God won’t hear of it: My creatures are drowning in the sea, and would you sing? What’s up with us, when we celebrate the killing and maiming of war?

I have no intention this morning of offering a thorough critique of the long Christian tradition of accommodating war. And I have no intention of offering an unassailable argument in favor of peace. I only want to urge you and to urge myself to take seriously that Jesus is the Prince of Peace (cf. Isaiah 9:6), that his kingdom is a kingdom of peace, and that we are called to live the life of his kingdom not just in some far-off future, but here and now, no matter how out of step that makes us.
In just a few minutes, we’ll be taking some steps. We’ll approach the Table. We’ll come to Jesus. Let me tell you, this world does not want us to take these steps. Because these steps unite us with Jesus, with Jesus who died to unveil the ultimate powerlessness of the kingdoms of this world. And because these steps unite us with everyone who eats the bread and drinks the cup, even people with whom this world wants us to be at war.

If being in step with Jesus puts us out of step with this world, is there any question about the path we ought to choose? 

In the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.


08:59:00 am, by Robert Arbogast , 1350 words  
Categories: Pentecost 2012, Psalms

Acquiring a Taste

Sermon preached by Rev. Robert A. Arbogast

Olentangy Church, Columbus, Ohio


Scripture Readings

Psalm 1

Joshua 24:14-18


It’s the second verse of Psalm 1 that caught my attention, the first part of the verse. You could paraphrase it like this: For the godly, the Lord’s Torah is a pleasure. Today we wouldn’t say, Torah (or Law or Instruction―those are other meanings of the word). No, today we would say, Bible, or maybe even, Gospel.

Whatever word we use, they all refer to pretty much the same thing. It’s the story of God’s faithfulness to the world and to his people. And―this is the part that caught my attentionaccording to the psalm, whatever we call it, this story, this record, is a pleasure.

To me that’s a little strange. What’s your experience? Is the Bible and the story it tells a pleasure? Sometimes it’s a comfort. Often it’s a curiosity or a challenge. But a pleasure?

A pleasure is something you keep going back to, going back to without pressure, without prodding. A pleasure is something you’re drawn to, almost in spite of yourself. A pleasure may be against your better judgment, but it’s not against your will. A pleasure is definitely something you want. Is that how you feel about the Bible? Is that how you feel about the story it tells?

Maybe you’re different than I am. But for most of my life, I’ve read the Bible out of a sense of duty. It’s like exercising or eating your vegetables. You do it because it’s good for you. Actually, though, just like with exercising, it winds up being something you don’t do. You know you should. But you don’t. Not regularly. Because you don’t find it a pleasure. And is that your fault?

The whole idea of exercising is foreign to being human. Exercising is artificial. We’re not made to travel on treadmills or to swim in indoor pools. It’s not natural, and we know it. So we don’t take pleasure in it.

Is it so different with the Bible? We weren’t made to relate to God through a book. We were made to be face-to-face with God. A book, even a good story, can only be a poor substitute for the genuine thing. So why would we take pleasure in it?

But suppose we take the psalm seriously. In that case, we might have to admit that it is possible to take pleasure in the Bible. But maybe it’s an acquired taste. Yeah, I think that’s right.

Let me go out on a limb here with an analogy. (This one will be in honor of Roger Post.) When my brother and I were little kids, our dad would once in a while let us take a sip of his beer. We didn’t like the taste. But it was cool to be doing something so grown-up. Many years later, I tried beer again. I still didn’t like it. Not at all. But I kept trying it, and something funny happened. I acquired a taste for beer.

These days I drink a beer almost every day. I like the taste. I take pleasure in my suppertime beer. Last week when Roger was in the rehab facility, he had a hankering for a beer. Too bad he never got it. I think he would have taken pleasure in a few refreshing swallows.

What does this have to do with the Bible? Quite a bit, I think. In my experience, the Bible is an acquired taste. It’s not automatically pleasurable to crack open the Bible and take a long swig. Especially not when you’re doing it out of a sense of obligation, like with exercising and eating your vegetables. I don’t think I would take pleasure in my suppertime beer if I had to drink it because it was good for me. That would ruin the experience.

So, too, with the Bible. But the psalm doesn’t beat anyone up. It doesn’t say, You ungodly schmuck! You ought to take pleasure in the Bible. No. It says the Bible is a pleasure. That’s what the Bible is. That’s what the Bible itself is under some obligation to be.

It’s not up to you to make the Bible a pleasure, to squeeze it into pleasing shape. And it’s not up to you to twist and turn and contort yourself until somehow, miraculously, even though you’re in pain, the Bible itself becomes a pleasure.

No, the Bible is a pleasure. Just like beer is a pleasure. At least beer is a pleasure to me. And it was a pleasure to Roger. A pleasure because we both had acquired a taste for it. Not by forcing ourselves. (You will like this! You must like this!) No. Not like that at all. We exposed ourselves to it. We tried it out when we had the chance. Maybe we even bought some for our own refrigerators to see what all the fuss was about. And somewhere along the way, we opened a beer, took a sip, and found pleasure in it. My experience with the Bible is the same.

Let me tell you about the best Bible thing that’s happened to me. It’s pretty recent. It started in February. I was at the monastery, Gethsemani Abbey, in Kentucky. I was going to the liturgy multiple times a day. Every time, the center of the liturgy was the psalms. It made an impact on me. And when I got back from the monastery, I ordered a Psalter. It’s the one hundred fifty psalms, published as a standalone book, this one.

Since mid-February, I’ve been using this book to read the psalms. Every day. All one hundred fifty psalms in a month. By now, I’ve read through the psalms three and a half times since coming back from Gethsemani. As a result, I appreciate the psalms in a way I never did before. I look forward to reading psalms every morning and every evening. And I’m not being driven by a sense of obligation. No. It’s a matter of desire. I have begun to acquire a taste for the psalms. I take pleasure in reading them.

So here’s a suggestion―and that’s all I have this morning, a suggestion. Here it is: Claim a portion of the Bible, and make it your own. Maybe you’ll want to get one of these psalters. Everything is laid out, morning and evening, on a thirty day cycle. Maybe you’ll want to claim the Gospel of John or some other Bible book. Whatever you decide, stake your claim, them read. Read the book through, just that one bookread it through again and again for a month, for six months, for a year. Read it slowly. Read it out loud. (The Bible was made to be read out loud. In the ancient world, silent reading was unheard of!) Claim a portion of the Bible and read it, out loud. Read it in the morning. Read it in the evening.

Don’t worry about doing it just right. And don’t worry about never missing. That’s not the point. The point is to see if maybe you will acquire a taste for the Bible, or at least for part of the Bible. And don’t feel bad if it’s just part of the Bible. I don’t feel bad that I’m just reading the psalms these days. I could do a lot worse, right? If you try John or Ezekiel or Romans or whatever, and it doesn’t work, that’s okay. Move on. Try something else. (May I recommend the psalms?) 


But don’t ever think it’s your job to make the Bible a pleasure. No. The Bible is a pleasure. You’re just seeing if you can acquire a taste for it, seeing if you can discover the pleasure in it. That’s what’s happened with me and the psalms. They are a pleasure for me.

Oh, it’s not perfect. I’ll admit that. But it is good. It’s better than anything I’ve known before. So I recommend it. I highly recommend it.

In the name of the Father

and of the Son

and of the Holy Spirit.




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