Year C; Proper 14; 8.11.2019
Luke 12:32-40; Genesis 15:1-6
There is much to fear these days. That doesn’t sound like very good news, does it?
But some people think there is more to fear now than in any other time in history. Bad news greets us each day. In the United States, the bad news is that we are turning against each other because we fear each other. In Brunswick, we are affected by the fears of people fleeing for their lives from dangerous places in Africa. Some of the asylum seekers are moving up the coast to our area seeking safety, friendship and work. Ironically, as asylum seekers expose themselves to great dangers in order to find their way to “safety” here in our country, last week four countries have declared the United States as “unsafe” for traveling due to the increasing frequency of mass shootings and their unpredictability. These are scary developments.
It is true that fear is a normal human feeling, even a helpful human feeling. It can prompt us to flee for safety, or fight in defense in a dangerous situation. You know, the fight or flight of the sympathetic nervous system.
But fear can fester. Chronic bad news every single day can create fear that can cause depression and paralysis. It can be corrosive and can turn an otherwise gentle and open hearted person into someone who finds reasons to hate. In the “echo chambers” of social media and our extremely divided republic, if we are not careful, we might slip into the bad habit of reinforcing our fears and hatreds by listening only to those who “think like me!”
I have spoken before of my former long-time spiritual director who now is in her 80s. She has remained a friend and we talk frequently. You may remember that I spoke about her stepdaughter who twenty years ago was murdered as she came up out of the subway near her Brooklyn home. She was a star student in the Masters of Social Work program at Hunter College and had worked with domestic violence victims with good success. The two young men who murdered her thought she looked vulnerable and was an easy target for robbery. They killed her.
My spiritual director and her husband have been grief stricken for many years. But they courageously reached out to the mothers of their daughter’s murderers for some kind of redemptive connection. One of the mothers reached back. It was a connection, not a friendship. But I thought it was brave of them both. Hatred and paralysis…nursing fears could have been the answer. Instead, they looked to their faith to guide them to forgiveness. Later, my spiritual director used her pain and faith to help me move forward through my loss nurturing courage and faith in me.
But Monday in our phone conversation, I found my friend beside herself with worry about the world’s affairs. She was horrified by the back-to-back mass shootings. She was depressed that so many of our country’s leaders and media outlets were stoking White Nationalism. Then she told me how worried she was about Iran and their recent assertiveness in the Strait of Hormuz. I have never seen her more afraid of the future.
I found myself quoting Jesus to her. I must have been rested from my vacation because I was able to say, “Take heart, Gayle.” I said, “Isn’t that what Jesus tells his followers? ‘Take heart, it is I.’” It was my turn to be herspiritual friend. So, I shared with her how much Jesus means to us and has meant to us over the years and is still with us through our fears. Yes, the world IS broken. But we have our faith, our prayers, worship and each other. We have our calling to serve to those in need for Christ’s sake. Christ means everything to us.
In today’s gospel, Jesus gently commands his followers in Chapter 12, “Do not be afraid little flock.” Don’t you love this sentence?“Do not be afraid little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” “Jesus spends much of the twelfth chapter of Luke reassuring and encouraging his followers in the face of possible catastrophic circumstance. There majority of Chapter 12 deals with fear and worry.” (Maxie Dunnam blog of February 2017)
But Jesus does not leave his followers alone in their fear and worry. He gives the promise of God’s fidelity and “treasure.” Remember “God’s treasure” from the parable last week? Jesus gives this classic description of God’s trustworthiness, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
God’s good pleasure is to give us the kingdom – on earth as in heaven- and is so intimate with each one of us that God numbers every hair on our head! Even if there are only hair follicles! They are numbered!
All throughout the gospel of Luke, the words ‘Be not afraid” are words of encouragement from the God whose pleasure is to give us the kingdom. The priest Zechariah wondered how it might be that he and Elizabeth would have a son in their old age. “The angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid…”
Mary wondered about being made pregnant by the Spirit who would give her the Son of God. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” The shepherds abiding in the Christmas Eve fields were terrified when they say the heavenly host. The angel told them, “Do not be afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” These tidings are God’s good pleasure brought to all the world.
This very day, Jesus simply tells us, “Do not be afraid….God’s good pleasure is with you.” Isn’t God’s steadfast commitment to loving all the Creation and all the creatures a trustworthy thing?
We are not alone in our fears. We face our fears together and with a God who loves us and a Son who died and rose for us. We are not on the “frontier” going it alone, cut off from the faithful. It’s not normal to notbe afraid when we see so much trouble here and now and on the horizon. But our faith tells us we can trust God’s goodness and Christ’s presence with us in our fears.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached a sermon on fear in the season of Epiphany, January 15, 1933, 15 days before Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany. He knew what was on the horizon. I’d like to share an excerpt of what he had to say to the faithful about fear:
“…we name the name of the One who makes the evil inside us recoil, who makes fear and anxiety themselves tremble with fear and puts them to flight. We name the One who overcame fear and led it captive in the victory procession, who nailed it to the cross and committed it to oblivion; we name the One who is the shout of victory of humankind redeemed from the fear of death – Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Living One. He alone is Lord over fear; it knows him as its master; it gives way to him alone. So look to Christ when you are afraid, think of Christ, keep him before your eyes, call upon Christ and pray to him, believe that he is with you now, helping you…then fear will grow pale and fade away, and you will be free.”
With these consoling and true words, people of faith remember whose we are. We are reminded of WHO loves us more in all the dangers of all history, and who loves us now in the echo chamber of fear we might be inhabiting at the moment.
“Do not fear, little flock –God’s good pleasure is Christ with us now in the middle of our fears. How will we nurture his presence with us each day?”