“Do not be afraid!”

preaching a sermon, based on Luke 12.32-40 and Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, August 7, 2016

Jesus breathlessly bombards us with one command after another about giving everything to the poor, “Sell your possessions and give alms,” so to plan for eternity, “Make purses for…(your) treasure in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” so to prepare for his unpredictable return the timing of which, in another place, he makes clear he doesn’t know,[1] “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit…You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Glancing one verse beyond our appointed gospel passage, Peter, doubtless reacting to the extremism of Jesus’ instruction, asks, “Lord, are you (saying) this for us or for everyone?”[2] Equally doubtless Peter and we pray Jesus intends this as a universal message and not aimed directly at his disciples then and us now. But we are included in “everyone.” So, how do we understand Jesus’ crazy demands?

Looking at the immediate context of his opening word, “Do not be afraid,” we may be no less confused.

In our world of international and homegrown terrorism, do not be afraid?

In our country culturally, socially, economically, and racially divided against itself with unity of national purpose far from us, perhaps a lifeless ideal, do not be afraid?

With partisan demonization and vilification of one’s opponent, no matter the issue and no matter on what side of the line of opinion, becoming the lingua franca of our political sphere, spurred by fear and mistrust and sparking greater unrest amongst the populace, do not be afraid?

With whatever is happening in your lives and mine that vexes us, perplexes us, keeps us up at night, do not be afraid?

Really, Jesus?

Yes! Of all scripture’s teachings, “do not be afraid” is one of the greatest. Why? Because it is frequently said. Why? Because our biblical forebears were and we are frequently afraid.

When Abram, ancient of age, despaired of the fulfillment of God’s promise that he would have a son, the first fruit of generations to come, God said, “Do not be afraid, for I am your shield, your very great reward.”[3]

When the Israelites in exodus from Egypt stood terrified, trapped between the raging Red Sea before them and the rampaging Egyptian army behind them, Moses said, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and behold the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.”[4]

When the angel Gabriel told a bewildered Mary that she would bear God’s Son, he said, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.”[5]

When Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant before they were married and pondered how to send her away quietly, sparing her from public disgrace, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”[6]

When Jesus gathered with his disciples on the night before his death, he said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you…Do not be afraid.”[7]

When the women, running in fear from the empty tomb, encountered the risen Jesus, he said, “Do not be afraid, go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”[8]

“Do not be afraid” is a word of consolation and proclamation. For whenever it is uttered, it is the prolegomenon announcing that God is about to do a great thing. So, “Do not be afraid, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Here is the heart of the gospel, the good news of Jesus. God’s pleasure, God’s plan, God’s promise is to give us the kingdom, to grant us God’s life, to grace us with God’s everlasting presence now and forever. To have faith and hope, in the words of Hebrews, “assurance” and “conviction”, not wishful thinking, but trust and confidence in this promise, even more to love this promise is to be unafraid, instilled with a righteous fearlessness, inspired by a virtuous courage through which we dare to live the life Jesus describes, demands. Not impoverishing ourselves for the sake of the poor, but being generous with what we possess, living for not solely for ourselves. Not dropping everything to wait in hyperactive readiness for the coming of Jesus, but waiting, watching in zealous expectation to see what God is doing in human history and in your lives and mine; waiting, watching, as the prayer says, “to behold God’s gracious hand in the world around us, that, rejoicing in the whole creation, we may serve God with gladness.”[9]

Here’s some more good news! God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom already hath been accomplished through the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon us and within us. Thus, whate’er the circumstances of the world and in our lives, be not afraid. Rather, in the courage of our faith, hope, and love, let us, in “serving the Lord with gladness,” always:

Come labor on. No time for rest, till glows the western sky,

till the long shadows o’er our pathway lie,

and a glad sound comes with the setting sun,

“Servants, well done.”[10]

 

Footnotes:

[1] The Son of Man will come on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory…But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matthew 24.30b, 36).

[2] Luke 12.41

[3] Genesis 15.1

[4] Exodus 14.13

[5] Luke 1.30

[6] Matthew 1.20

[7] John 14.27

[8] Matthew 28.10

[9] O heavenly Father, who hast filled the world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works; that, rejoicing in thy whole creation, we may learn to serve thee with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (The Book of Common Prayer, page 814; emphasis mine).

[10] Come, labor on, verse 5, The Hymnal 1982, #541; words, Jane Laurie Borthwick (1813-1897)

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3 thoughts on ““Do not be afraid!”

  1. Dear Paul,

    Thank you for this sermon. Today’s my worst day yet since Tim’s death. I’m sad. There have been times I was also afraid. The most afraid I’ve been was when the doctor said Tim was brain dead. It was so final!! I was afraid of how the rest of my life would be, with all the hate and uncertainty in this world, and without Tim.

    Then I read your sermon. I know my faith is strong but I needed your words from today to remind me that “in the courage of our faith, hope and love…” Life is hard, very hard sometimes but in spite of it all we have to remember not to “be afraid”. I feel stronger now than I did an hour ago, so thank you!

    Much love!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Much love, always to you!

      Yes, life is hard. Very. And in the light and shadow of Tim’s death, your life is tremendously hard. I, too, am aware of his absence with a deep and abiding sadness.

      Earlier today, I reflected on the reality that 3 Sundays ago, Tim died, 4 Sundays ago, he was stricken, 5 Sundays ago, he was out and about, alive and, as far as we all knew, well and doing well. This brings me afresh to the difficult realization that we are fragile and life is damnably uncertain. In this, I, you, we all can lean toward our natural tendency of fear or, in Christian consciousness, lean on the cross of Jesus, trusting that what he has accomplished for us is greater than our fears. That’s my faith, hope, and love…

      Still, there are moments I waver and fall into my fears. Nevertheless, though I wax and wane, ebb and flow, I believe that Jesus’ love for us is steadfast and changeless. In this, my heart is at rest.

      Again, love

      Liked by 1 person

      • Paul this put my heart at rest as well. I too have reflected on the last few Sundays of Tim’s life. Just so amazing how things work. Life is short so I’ll continue to press forward with my faith!

        Liked by 1 person

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