Why do people tremble when they pray

Göttingen sermons





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Sermon for Philippians 2: 12-13, written by Jochen Cornelius-Bundschuh

12 So, dear ones, - like you always obedience have been, not alone in my presence, but now even more so in my absence - make you be saved with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God who works in you both, willing and doing, according to his good will.

 

I.

Create your salvation, dear church, create with fear and trembling!

Create: A wonderful word. The sleeves roll up. Go ahead. Isn't it great to have achieved something. Evangelical Christians take responsibility for the world. They are happy when something is really going on in the parish hall. They lend a hand when something needs to be done in the district. You are in the hospice service or when employees are being sought for a blackboard. They pack up in the neighborhood help. You are proud when the confirmands move into a decorated church, beaming.

Yes, do it! But the purpose surprises me: manage that you will be saved!? Didn't Luther teach us the opposite? Stop creating your own salvation. Rely on Christ, on his word, on his grace, on your faith. To God's mercy that makes us free and safe! Wouldn't that be the better evangelical motto for a Reformation service: Let go, stop wanting to take everything into your own hands !? God works the will and the accomplishment in you. So: let go so that you will be happy!

And something else irritates me as a Protestant: what does this mean? with fear and trembling! Make you happy with fear and trembling! Isn't there enough fear in the world already? Luther preached against fear! Do not be afraid, we say to the people, to children, young people and adults whom we baptize. Do not be afraid, we call out to people in need. We encourage people who work for peace, for justice, for the integrity of creation. Do not be alarmed: God's Spirit is with you!

Make you happy with fear and trembling! How does this word become the good news for Reformation Day?

 

II

I start at the back, with fear and trembling and with the fear in the world!

Paul writes these lines to his favorite church in Philippi from prison. The Roman state accuses him. Because he succeeds in his sermon. He speaks to a lot of people. They come, they listen, they gather, they pray and sing, they celebrate communion. They care for one another. They take care of widows and orphans. You refuse to serve in the military. They no longer worship the emperor. They pray to Jesus: a rebel crucified by Rome. Paul is threatened with a trial, possibly the death penalty for high treason and public hostility, for resisting the ruling order. The Philippians are afraid - for Paul, but probably also for themselves: are we also threatened with persecution? The Philippians are afraid - whether they are comforted by this: Can you be saved with fear and trembling?

First of all it is realistic! Because our lives are still threatened as long as we are not yet in God's kingdom. It is realistic because in many situations it is hard work not to sink into fear. Don't let yourself get caught up in fear! And not to stare helplessly and spellbound at the disaster. It is hard work to keep courage and hope.

But Paul's word also strengthens people! Because it tells you: in faith you trade fear for fear and trembling. What is the difference between fear and fear and trembling?

anxiety is diffuse. She doesn't know anyone else; the threatening is everywhere. She has nothing to turn to to complain or to fight back. Fear paralyzes and rigidifies. It makes you lose your bearings. Like a cell with no window, no top and bottom, no left and right.

Fear and trembling also know about the disaster. But they have a counterpart. Bigger and more powerful than humans and not harmless, but still a counterpart that shows itself. A counterpart to whom I can turn, against whom I defend myself, before whom I complain, but which I can also honor. While fear shields people from everything like a diving bell, fear sharpens the senses: outlines become recognizable, noises can be distinguished, smells are imprinted. The body trembles with tension and concentration. I am awake, I believe - with fear and trembling.

 

III

Martin Luthers time was a time of great fear: of epidemics and war, of poverty and homelessness! The Church played with the fear of the people: do pious works! Donate, put money in the drainage pot! Then you can be sure that after the sufferings of this world you will go to heaven. If you do enough for God - and that means for the church, if you give God grace with it, then you can care less about what happens here, then you have a place in heaven.

Luther almost broke because of these threats and this claim. As hard as he tried, as seriously as he took his vows, he always discovered where he had not yet acted properly. Where else he could have helped. That he could have prayed more. That his thoughts had again led him into all sorts of desires, although it is said: you should not desire ...

All good works do not make you happy! Luther experienced that. Because they are starting on the wrong side: They want to create security and honor before God instead of giving God the honor and praising God's mercy. They leave the world behind instead of taking responsibility for it! They seek to achieve more in heaven than humans can - and must - achieve before God. You are abandoning the earth! They are afraid of God and in the world, instead of awe of God and the courage to live! No, this Creation does not make you happy!

 

IV

And today? Why are we creating today? Are we afraid - or afraid? How do we think we can be saved?

We are not afraid that we, as Christians, will be persecuted. But, for example, what will happen in our country? What if the recession really comes - or is it already there? "The financial crisis is costing 37 jobs in Battenberg" said last Wednesday in my regional newspaper! Of course, first of all it is just the temporary workers who were hired when there were a lot of jobs. Now they are no longer needed. But how far is Battenberg from here? How is this crisis affecting the people in your community? How will things go on in our villages and cities? For the shops, the craftsmen, the families? Will our children find work?

Make yourselves happy! Yes, creating seems to offer some help against fear. "Create, create, build houses, and don't look to de Mädle." The Swabian song is also a Protestant song, sociologists know that: where the evangelicals live, there is a lot of discipline, they work hard and earn very well . People care for their families, children and young people make an effort in school and teaching. Evangelicals want to achieve something; they achieve a lot.

Sometimes that helps against fear! But then a financial crisis terrifies millions of people on earth, freezes people who do not even know why this crisis suddenly occurs - it also hits people here in Northern Hesse. But then you get sick; Still healthy in the morning, then the doctor’s few words: there is a shadow on the X-ray, you have to go to the CT. Suddenly the world stands still; we are rigid with fear.

 

V

What then is meant by this: "Create"? "Create that you may be saved - with fear and trembling." It's about creating against the fear that wants to take us prisoner. A work that knows: God is merciful, I can rely on God's blessing. Therefore I can do something and I am not helplessly exposed to dangers and adversity.

It is a strong trust that we live from. But it also remains endangered, broken. We are not yet living in the kingdom of God, we have no guarantee of recovery or good work through our faith. Fear and trembling remain and worries: will faith carry? Will I stand the temptation? Will I find my way out of fear - into the open air, where God's mercy is shown?

How does it work, this creation that leads out of fear? This work that holds fast to the fact that Christ makes me saved - with fear and trembling?

  1. It is different from the Muddle on. Because it looks to Jesus and his way. Where do I correspond to this way? What would Jesus say about my path? What would he do if he were me? How would he give me hope, how would he encourage me to comfort and strengthen others?
  2. This work is not about me look good. Not in front of God and not in front of others. It happens for God's sake and for the sake of your neighbor. Because it is God who works the will and also the accomplishment. It's about our salvation, not just mine. Our work is for the whole community, the body of Christ. We believe, love and create for and with one another.
  3. This creation is job, hard work; perhaps this is why Protestantism rightly has the reputation of being exhausting with some. God wants us to set out with Jesus into God's new world, in which people live peacefully, justly and freely with themselves, with others, with creation. This takes courage, it takes hope and strength. That doesn't work by itself!
  4. This creation is work, but nowadays it is mostly one To let. One: Let God have his say. One: Let Jesus lead the way. One: let yourself be carried away by the winds of the spirit. Create as let!
    As in the prayer. Prayer sustains the world - and at the same time gives everything from its own into God's hand.
    As in the To sing: Paul sent a song to the church in Philippi with this letter, the basic song of faith. It tells of Jesus who was obedient, just as the Philippians are - and yet so much more. It tells how Jesus walked the way of life, down to us, on the way with the poor and weak, how he was murdered by those he disturbed - and how God raised him and made him ruler of our world. The church at that time sang this song. Like the churches of the Reformation later, who marched through the streets singing. They sang against fear, against bondage, against injustice. Until they were heard. They had no more power than a nightingale with their singing and yet they changed the world and gave it new hope. Praying, singing, listening to the biblical word, talking about it so that everyone understands it, in German - all of this is in the making!

Work that you may be saved with fear and trembling. It is a special creation to which we are called! It lives from letting go, from relying on the Triune God - and at the same time works on bliss in this world. Love passes on with fear and trembling - and yet it is certain that God works both, willing and doing. Amen.