Sermon 19



Fear Not

Isaiah 35.4

September 24, 2006


Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of God the Father , Son (X) and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we celebrate the 88th anniversary of our congregation and the completion of the Parish House exterior restoration project. And we do so by dwelling on the lessons appointed for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost.


God’s Holy Words

These lessons are words from God. They are not dusty, old, outdated ideas from the ancient Near East. They are God’s holy, precious and eternal Words for us today – just as they were long ago to the first believers. For this is how God speaks to us. He does not speak to us by mouth-to-ear like people do, but by his holy book, the sacred Scriptures. So when we hear the Holy Scriptures read aloud for us, it is God having his say with us.

Now in the first lesson we hear God saying to us these grand and glorious words from Isaiah 35.4, “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! God… will save you.’” These are wonderful words for the weary. They calm our hearts. They reassure us. They say God is on our side. He will help us. And so we need not worry.


The Gloom of Job 7.7

And we need to hear that. For we worry anyway. In our hearts Job’s words of old haunt us. In Job 7.7 we read, “My eye will never again see good.” In our weariness and despair, we doubt God’s goodness – like Job did. We sin and take these negative words to heart. We are afraid we’ll never again see any good. We are just like Job. Our sin holds us in its grip. We cannot shake it off. We’re afraid we’ve seen the last of any goodness. Job’s words seem to mark us like indelible ink.

So we need Isaiah 35.4. We need to know that God is on his way to rescue us. We need to know what Job should have believed in Psalm 4.8, “Only you, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

      Yet we flail around. We toss and turn in our doubt and despair. Job’s words become our words: “My eye will never again see good.” Too much goes wrong. Too much time goes by with no peace. God’s help is far from us. Only turmoil and frustration fill our days. “My eye will never again see good.”


An Unworldly Peace

But Job 7.7 cannot silence Isaiah 35.4. God continues to bring his salvation. In, with and under our despair and fear, he is bringing his peace. Fear not, he says to us. Fear not.

      Now this peace, I’ll grant you, is odd. In John 14.27 Jesus our Lord and Savior says it’s “not as the world gives.” So this peace is an unworldly peace. In it we’ll detect no familiar form or pattern. And the great apostle, St. Paul , says in Philippians 4.7 that it’s a peace that “passes all understanding.” So if you contest its veracity, I won’t be able to prove its truth to you. Believers know it’s true – but we can’t explain it convincingly to all who complain about it. It passes all understanding.

But this won’t stop us from singing its praises. Isaiah 35.4 is in our hearts – lodged firmly there. And so we must sing out: “Be strong, do not fear! God will save you.”

I must therefore ask: Is there any one here today singing forth these hopeful words of Isaiah? Or are Job’s gloomy words drowning out all the rest? Are you only saying: “My eye will never again see good”? Are we all so stuck in despair that we’re even ashamed to try to hope again?


1917 vs. 1918

Well, I don’t know about you, but I do know that there have been days when Job’s words have ruled in the halls and hearts of this church.

In 1915, for instance, Pastor Olaf Holen came to West Seattle to start our congregation. He worked for two years and couldn’t get any more than 15 families to sign up. So by 1917 he despaired and said you might as well throw the money spent on this mission right into Puget Sound ! The people here, he wrote in his memoirs, would rather drink and dance on Saturday nights than get ready for church on Sunday morning. Sunday had to be saved for sleeping off the hang-over from Saturday night’s drinking and dancing. It was this sinfulness that led to Pastor Holen’s despair. His heart was heavy with those gloomy words from Job 7.7, “My eye will never again see good.”

But by 1918 Isaiah 35.4 was heard again: “Be strong, do not fear! God will save you.” Pastor Erik Slettedahl found 11 more families and our church was established just one year after Pastor Holen had given up on it. The gloomy words of Job had given way to Isaiah 35.4. Thanks be to God!


1933 vs. 1936

But this steadfastness didn’t last for long. In ten years the Great Depression was on and money was short. Then a catastrophe hit us. Our minister, Pastor Hans Holte, died in office. The first and only pastor ever to do so – even though some of you might think that record has stood too long! But no, Pastor Holte is the only minister we’ve ever had who died in office. And it left our congregation reeling with despair and sadness.

He and his wife Minnie were dearly beloved. And so our church grieved in 1933 when he died. And Job’s words crept back into our hearts that year: “My eye will never again see good.” Our district office said we didn’t have enough members or money to stay open. The church should close, they said.

But two cried out. Minnie Holte and Charlie Johnson begged with the district office for one last chance. And in 1936 Pastor Anders Aasen from northern California became our minister. He was a fire-ball. Under his leadership Isaiah was again heard: “Be strong, do not fear! God will save you.” And sure enough the church grew and did not have to close. We even got off the district’s financial aid program.


1945 vs. 1950

After WWII ended, our church needed a bigger building. But we lacked the leadership and money to build one. It seemed that we were stuck forever in our little white church. In our despair and hopelessness, Job’s words came back: “My eye will never again see good.” These words once again filled the dark recesses of our hearts. We’ll never see any good again. The depression is finally going to catch up with us.

But God is good. In 1946 Pastor Norris R. Halvorson became our minister. He was just what we needed. And in 1950 we had our new church building – a magnificent gothic, brick structure. During this time Job’s dark, brooding words were shooed-away by Isaiah’s bright, hopeful ones: “Be strong, do not fear! God will save you.” So the new building was built and paid for in a short time to everyone’s surprise – everyone except for those listening to Isaiah 35.4!


1958 vs. 1959

Once again, however, Job’s dark words gripped us: “My eye will never again see good.” In 1958 the congregation finished our second new building, the Parish House – our office and education building – and we ended up in conflict over Pastor Halvorson. In a matter of weeks he was gone, off to Brooklyn , New York , called to serve a congregation there, that also needed a new building.

But what would become of us? Brooklyn ’s gain was our distinct and painful loss! What pastor could fill Pastor Halvorson’s shoes? He was the only one to have managed our new buildings and attending new parish life. Our church once again was teetering at the edge of a deep, dangerous precipice. Would we fall in?

Then in 1959 Isaiah’s words were heard again: “Be strong, do not fear. God will save you.” In that year we were pulled back from the brink when Pastor Donald Hinderlie became our minister. He preserved what was good from the past and built upon it. He maintained our new buildings and protected our confessional, liturgical, parish life in the turbulent 1960s when guitar worship and folk songs were all the rage. God once again saved our congregation. Once again those gloomy words from Job 7.7 did not prevail.


1970 vs. 1976

But soon it became apparent we needed a grand new pipe organ to lead our worship in our gothic house of God. From 1970 to 1975 we struggled over what to do. In this turmoil Job’s words sunk back into our hearts: “My eye will never again see good.” We despaired. We needed a mechanical-action, tracker pipe organ and an expert organist to play it – but neither were likely to come our way.

By 1976 things had changed dramatically – and maybe even miraculously. Isaiah’s words were back: “Be strong, do not fear! God will save you.” Our new organist arrived and remains here to this day – expert and faithful beyond our dearest hopes. And our stunning Noack organ, Op. 83, was also installed. It’s shape, color and sound was just what we needed. Job’s gloomy words were again silenced.


1987 vs. 1993

But all was not sweetness and light. Low intensity trouble was brewing in the congregation – and had been ever since 1946. In 1987 the trouble gave way to a major eruption. Our congregation was now in the grip of an open conflict like it had never seen before. This was a time of great stress and loss. There were lies and threats hurled day after day for years ongoing. Members were afraid of each other. Some said they would chain the doors of this church shut so no one could worship on the Lord’s day. Others said we might just as well put a “for sale” sign in the church yard!

During these years of tribulation Job’s words were often heard: “My eye will never again see good.” But these words did not prevail. Slowly, but ineluctably, Isaiah’s words returned and we sang out again: “Be strong, do not fear! God will save you.”

And so by 1993 the conflict was resolved. We had a new constitution in place that blocked inactive members from showing up to vote on contested parish issues. We had our first mission statement that finally clarified our theological and liturgical direction. We also finally had a permanent pledge program that made giving money to this church a serious matter. And we established a regular pastoral review format that was fair and efficient to protect both the congregation and the pastor.

In 1987 no one could have possibly foreseen what finally was to come by 1993. God saved us beyond our fondest dreams.


1996 vs. 2006

But once again there were property problems. The exterior walls of the Parish House, built in 1958, were in disrepair with no solution in sight. We struggled to find a contractor to help us and nothing worked. All the bids were sky high. We couldn’t afford any of them. So once again Job’s words were in our hearts: “My eye will never again see good.” It looked like we could not maintain our property and it was going to crumble down around us – leaving us nothing to stave it off.

But then ten years later, the clouds cleared. Seattle Glass Company made us an innovative, durable and affordable offer. And the congregation secured a large loan – and the impossible was done just like that. The exterior walls of the Parish House have finally been restored! In the midst of this excitement Isaiah’s words were heard in the halls of this church once again: “Be strong, do not fear. God will save you.” And he did – yet  again! This we should have anticipated – given Isaiah 35.4!


Burdened Down By Sinfulness

This quick, partial survey shows the bumps and bruises from our past. It’s no fairy-tale history! It’s no rose garden. But it needs to be shown. This is our Biblical heritage. When Israel was led out of slavery in Egypt into the freedom of the promise land, it wasn’t all sweetness and light either. They rebelled in the wilderness. They doubted God’s goodness too. They defied the Lord Almighty. They murmured against him (Numbers 21.5).

These facts should not be covered up so we can pretend everything has always been and now is alright. Our past – like Israel ’s – hasn’t been like that. We’ve had our troubles. And we’ve been sinners – doubting the very goodness of God. We’ve let Job’s words trounce Isaiah’s better words again and again. We haven’t learned from history! We haven’t “remembered God’s wonders of old” (Psalm 77.11)!

This is not as it should be. And so we must confess our sin. We must repent and beg God for mercy. This is the common lot of God’s people. And it is so in the New Testament as well. There we also see dirty linen in St. Paul ’s attack on St. Peter for not being straightforward about the Gospel in Galatians 2.11-21. And then there’s the lying in Acts 5.4!

Over the years I have tried to drive this home. Admit you’re a sinner! – you’ve heard me preach. Know you can’t save yourselves! Know God hates sinners (Psalm 5.5) and that you better repent in Jesus’ name!

And many have gone against me for preaching this way. They say I’m too negative – even hateful! I have responded by saying every sermon holds out the hope we have for salvation in Christ. That’s never missing in any of my sermons. When we repent God blesses us. So what’s the beef, I ask? I, for the longest time, couldn’t figure this out. Then one day I was looking into the blank eyes of one of my critics and it dawned on me. The words of salvation only work if they’re believed in. If you don’t believe Jesus saves you, then my sermons are only doom and gloom. For the law of condemnation is crushing when you’re left to stand before it all alone!


Peace By the Blood of Jesus’ Cross

But do not cave in to your sin. Don’t stand before the law alone. Look to Jesus. He is your hope. By faith in him those sneaky words of Job can be held at bay, day after day. By faith in Jesus the soaring words of Isaiah can be your constant companion: “Be strong, do not fear. God will save you.”

How does Jesus Christ manage this for us? Colossians 1.20 says he makes peace by the blood of his cross. This is indeed a strange sort of peace – coming on the heels of a bloody crucifixion. But it’s just what we need. It is a peace with God that’s greater than any other.

Our deepest problem is our moral and spiritual failure. These transgressions separate us from God. When we break his law by not honoring his goodness and by hurting his creation, God is provoked to anger and condemns us to everlasting punishment in hell. He’s fierce and there’s nothing we can do about it. As Luther says in his Large Catechism, “We lay under God’s wrath,… doomed to eternal damnation, as we had deserved” (The Book of Concord , Tappert edition, p. 414). Ouch!

But into the breach steps our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is punished in our place – by God himself (Isaiah 53.4-6, 10-12)! This is what’s happening on the cross (Hebrews 9.14; Ephesians 5.2). If we but believe in this and entrust our lives to our crucified Lord, then we’re saved from our sins and the everlasting punishment they inflict on us. Christ has suffered all of this for us on the cross! Sing praise to Christ!

So once faith in Jesus takes hold of us, we have peace with God. And that peace only comes by the blood of the cross. This is what we should be holding onto when dark days strike. Days like those in this congregation in 1917, 1933, 1945, 1958, 1970, 1987, and 1996. For, again, as Luther writes in that same passage from his Catechism, “Christ snatched us poor lost creatures from the jaws of hell and restored us to the Father’s favor and grace…. He made satisfaction for us and paid what we owed, not with silver and gold, but with his own precious blood.”

So come to the altar today and receive Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. In, with, and under the bread and the wine of this mystery, you will receive Jesus himself. He is truly present in this sacrament. Eat of it and he will abide in you that you may abide in him (John 6.56). In this Holy Communion your faith will be strengthened. In that strength your faith in the Master and Lord Jesus will grow so that the peace which is yours may sustain you in difficult times. A peace which will ward off those hopeless words in Job 7.7.

And then do good works in Jesus’ name. Recall this day another word from that glorious prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 50.4 God tells us “to sustain with a word him that is weary.”

Let us then have confidence and trust in the promises of God and share those words with the weary. Don’t give up on them. Don’t let those words “fade away” – following modern dictates [Hans W. Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (Yale, 1974) p. 79]. Trust in the Word of God instead. Tell what he is doing. Promote his way. Don’t look for substitutes. Don’t run off to the bar thinking alcohol will help you. Don’t look to drugs for relief. Don’t hope in restaurant meals and vacations. Don’t see in education and wealth your salvation. Don’t see entertainment as your only joy. Instead sustain the weary with a word from God. In the old Latin Bible it puts it this way: sustentare verbo. Yes, that’s it, sustain the weary with a word – God’s Word! Sustentare verbo. Sustain one another with a word! Let that be our clarion cry.

Call on God for help to see you through this. And he will bless you. He will give the wisdom and courage and compassion you’ll need to sustain with a word those who are weary. For God loves you in Christ Jesus and he will bless you in this good work. He wants you to be strong for the kingdom and so he’ll work with you that you may not be fearful in the days ahead. Fear not, says God. Fear not! Amen.


[based on the sermon as delivered with some revisions.]


“[We] are so damnably ungrateful and blind. God showers upon [us] such great and rich miracles, and [we] do not consider even one of them or thank Him for it! But if some clown shows up who can walk a tightrope or who has monkeys to display, him [we] admire, praise, exalt.”

[Martin Luther, Commentary on Psalm 111 (1530)

Luther’s Works 13:367.]


“The whole world is ignorant of the magnitude of its sins and does not want to hear about it, and yes, yes it rather punishes those who expose sins.”

[Martin Luther, Disputation Concerning Justification (1536)

Luther’s Works 34:176.]


“I am so very tired of the preaching office, as a result of the great ingratitude of the people, but much more because of the unbearable hardships which the devil and the world deal out to me. But the poor souls will not let me stop preaching. Besides, there is a man, named Jesus Christ, who says ‘No’ to my resignation.”

[Martin Luther, Exhortation to All Clergy (1530),

Luther’s Works 34:50.]


“The truth and wisdom of God… can be received only in an empty and destitute heart.”

[Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans (1518)

Luther’s Works 25:204.]


“Everything happens through the ministry of the Word.”

[Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians (1535)

Luther’s Works 26:442.]