Sermons

Sun, Jun 25, 2017

Do not be afraid

Series:Sermons

It was in the eerie half-light of early morning... 

we turned the corner...

and there it was coming towards us...

headlights blazing...

its robotic arm extending with a whirl of hydraulics...

clamping the rubbish bin on the curb...

lifting it high into the air...

and unleashing its putrid contents...

before returning the bin to the ground with a loud thud.

Senan--

my first Irish Wolfhound-- 

froze.

I had only had him a short time...

having come to me as a rescue at the age of twelve months.

But having been bred and living on a farm--

at some distance from a main road--

he had never encountered anything like this before...

and he was terrified.

He began to tremble.

His tail firmly wrapped beneath his body.

His ears pinned back.

He tried to bolt...

almost wrenching my arm from its socket.

So I threw all my weight onto him...

pinning him to someone's wire front fence...

until the rubbish truck passed by.

 

Fear--

it's a powerful emotion:

instinctive...

primal...

and dangerous.

Gripped with fear it's easy to lose control:

to do or say things that you will regret later;

to act irrationally;

to hurt those whom you love;

to hurt yourself.

Gripped with fear we're capable of almost anything.

 

Fear--

it can strike at any time:

when we encounter something new or different--

something that we don't understand;

when we stand on the precipice of the unknown...

our imaginations running riot...

anticipating the worst...

things that may or may never come to fruition.

when something happens that reminds us of painful past experiences...

of things that we would rather forget or avoid:

like getting back behind the wheel of a car after you have had an accident...

or struggling with feelings for another person when you have been through a divorce.

And then, of course, there's also irrational fear:

like instinctively taking your foot off the accelerator

when you see a police car...

even if you weren't speeding at the time.

 

Fear--

powerful...

instinctive...

primal...

and dangerous.

Because, in the end, it's about self-preservation...

and self-protection.

We experience fear when we sense danger:

when we know we're going to be hurt...

swamped or overwhelmed;

when we're driven beyond what we can cope with;

when we feel lost...

rejected...

or abandoned.

 

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows."

This morning's reading from Matthew is all about fear.

For, three times we're told, "Don't be afraid".

Which, of course, can simply be an unhelpful platitude...

or a form of condescending or patronising.

Yet here, Jesus offers a significant reason:

don't be afraid because God cares...

intimately...

personally...

deeply...

completely.

If God cares about the death of even a humble sparrow--

an animal that wasn't particularly valuable or valued-

how much more, then, does God care about us?

That doesn't mean, 'don't be afraid because nothing bad is going to happen'...

as if God were some sort of force-field or lucky rabbit's foot.

Because that's not how it works in the real world.

Rather, don't be afraid because you're not alone.

God is with you. 

Always.

God won't desert you...

or abandon you...

or stop caring.

And all of us need to hear that.

Like when we're sitting in hospital...

with tubes running in through our noses and out from our arms...

machines beeping...

constantly being poked and prodded...

samples collected for tests...

as we await some news from the specialist;

or, perhaps, seeing someone you love go through that...

and hoping that it won't happen to you.

or, perhaps, when yet another close friend dies...

and suddenly we begin to feel so alone...

so mortal.

We need to know God is with us amid the fear of pain and suffering;

the fear of dying;

and the fear living.

 

And yet, in the end, that's not what this passage is talking about.

Yes, the injunction, "do not fear", is the central theme. But it's not talking about the normal fears that we encounter in life...

nor the fear of death...

even less irrational fear.

Rather, it's talking about a different sort of fear--

the fear that comes from knowing all-to-well.

The fear that comes when faced with a certain course of action...

and knowing what the consequences will be.

Because, note how the reading begins...

with a warning. 

A warning that those who hear Jesus' words--

those who follow Jesus and who live by his words--

shouldn't expect a different reaction from the one that Jesus received.

It's a warning that choosing to be a disciple is risky...

and costly...

and potentially scary.

Because it calls us to a life of integrity...

walking out of step with the rest of the world;

speaking the words that the world around us doesn't want to hear--

words that are uncomfortable...

words that challenge the status quo...

words that confront society's false gods--

whatever they may be...

be it sport...

or family...

or nationalism...

or some heartless self-centredness;

words that expose hypocrisy...

and greed...

and corruption...

and injustice.

It's a warning that choosing to be a disciple of Jesus is risky...

and it may ask of us what it asked of Jesus himself--

our life.

Because, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote--

if you excuse the non-inclusive language:

"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die".

That's the sort of fear that is being addressed here:

the fear that comes from speaking out in the name of Christ...

confronting, challenging, calling to task...

being agents of God's transforming love...

and knowing that there are consequences for doing so.

Fighting for what is good and right and just...

acting with integrity...

taking a stand...

and doing that regardless of the consequences...

but knowing that whatever happens, God is there...

and we are not alone;

knowing that God's purposes will, in the end, triumph.

Because God will have the last word--

not any human powers-that-be.

Because in the struggle for justice...

in the struggle for what is right...

in the struggle to realise God's purpose and intent for creation...

and in all that we might endure to that end...

we are not alone. 

God will not abandon us. 

And God will prevail.

So don't be afraid.

 

But what has that got to do with us, you may well ask?

Because few of us are in that sort of position.

Few of us are faced with that sort of decision.

Maybe it's not as dramatic as a Dietrich Bonhoeffer...

or a Martin Luther King.

It might be small...

even seemingly inconsequential.

But, throughout our lives, all of us are confronted with moments of decision;

occasions when we are faced with the choice between courage and expediency;

when we are called to take a stand, rather than silently acquiesce...

to act with integrity, rather than respond with apathetic ignorance...

to speak out for what is right, and good, and just... 

regardless of the consequences.

And, when you do choose do that...

be assured...

God is with you.

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