Proper 7-A Matthew 10:24-39
Last week end I was out of town visiting my brother. He attends a different type of Christian church and on Sunday I went to church with him. Their pastor was on vacation, so the entire service was lay led, including the sermon. The preacher of the day stood up and said he couldn’t find anything to say about the scripture readings, and since it was Father’s Day, he decided to talk about his dad. So, we heard all about his dad!
I remember wondering what would happen if I showed up and said, “sorry, I couldn’t figure out what to say, so I’m going to talk about my dad….or my cats….or whatever…..” I sort of figured that wouldn’t go over too well. Mostly, as tempting as it may be sometimes, I would be too afraid to pull it off! I’d probably get a call from the bishop, from my homiletics teacher, or from my archdeacon. My fear of my bishop and archdeacon can be a great motivator for me!
Do we have a more pervasive or powerful motivating force in our lives than FEAR? How often do you say that you don’t want to do or say something because you are afraid of the outcome? I do it all of the time. We learn to fear the world around us. We learn to fear anything or anyone that is different from what we have defined as our “norm”. How often does fear become the driving force of our actions? Think about one of your days from last week – how many decisions did you make as a result of fear? I made a lot! I was really tired and wanted to stay home to sleep, but I was afraid of not going to work because I was afraid of losing my job because I was afraid of losing my home because I was afraid of becoming a bag lady. I tend to stay late at work because I am afraid of not looking like a good employee. After all, that is what good workers do in Silicon Valley.
I think I have always “fretted” about things out of fear of “whatever”. In college I had a wise roommate who would always ask me, “What’s the worst that can happen?” “Such and such would happen.” “And what would happen to you if ‘such and such’ happened?” It never failed. My answer would end up being, “I’d survive” or “nothing”. To this day, I invoke my roommate’s question and usually realize “it” isn’t as bad as I am making “it” out to be.
But we have good news! Jesus knows we are a fearful people! When he is sending the disciples out to proclaim the Good News, to heal the sick and cast out unclean spirits, and to be utterly trusting in God, he knows that fear will cause the disciples to fail. So what does Jesus do? He names their fear out loud – just as my roommate used to do with me. Jesus doesn’t hide it. Jesus tells the disciples of the suffering they will endure in God’s name. Naming aloud the suffering that they will endure is the first step in freeing the disciples from their fear. Jesus tells his disciples to trust in God and live beyond their fear.
“Do not fear!” This is a recurring message in the first half of today’s gospel. When Jesus says, “do not fear”, that statement is followed with good news. Contrast that to when we hear in other sections, “Woe be unto you!” So hearing “do not fear” is good news for us.
“…have no fear….: for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, ….that will not be known.” “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…”
“…do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Do not fear! God is with us. God upholds us. God guides us. God knows each and every hair on our heads. God loves us. We need not acquiesce to our fears if we let God love us and let God guide us. In fact, in many ways, fear is the antithesis of faith.
From the beginning, living the Christian life and being disciples of Christ, has always meant that we would be, and are, called to live outside of our comfort zone. Today’s gospel makes that very clear. Jesus didn’t send the disciples to the Temple to hear the Holy Scriptures and pray and spend time with each other. He sent them out and about. Just as the disciples did, we are to be Jesus’ hands and feet and go out into the world with all of its snares and unrest and people’s tribulations and fears.
But that’s not what I want to hear and that’s not what I want to do! I want my Christian life to be quiet and peaceful and spent with my church family.
So how do we find the strength and courage to gather up our fears and step out into the world, to live in utter dependence on God and to give God all of our fears and trepidations? How do we live beyond our fears? First and foremost, is prayer which I think you already know.
Another place I believe we can begin with is our baptisms, which Paul talks about in Romans. Paul takes baptism very seriously, as should we. Our baptisms are more than a religious ritual, whether you were baptized as a baby and don’t remember it, or whether you were baptized as an adult and remember it still. Baptism is how we are able to make the transition and transformation from sin into life, from sin into grace. Baptism is a reality changer. It is life transforming.
The resulting Grace we receive is regenerative. In baptism God promises us a life which no one can take away. The courage we look for to transform our fears is rooted in God’s promise of life.
When faced with my constant barrage of fears, I’ve been learning to ask myself if the particular thing I face is something to fear, or is it an opportunity to exercise my faith? I’ve found that if instead of reacting to a “fear inducer” with an apprehensive and angry, “What’s that!?”, and instead react with, “Oh, I haven’t heard of that before, please tell me more about it, or more about you?” that my fear level drops tremendously. When I approach my “fear inducer” with wonder and curiosity instead of apprehension and anger, then I am not so fearful, and I learn something new. It doesn’t
mean I have to agree with it, it just means I have learned something new. And I learned I didn’t have to be afraid. To do this, I always need God’s help to step past my fear into wonder and curiosity.
So, this is all easier said than done. How do we maintain a posture of trust in God and wonder and curiosity in God’s creation instead of a straight jump to fear? Would you please open your prayer books to p. 304? Look down to the fourth question from the Celebrant. Look at that answer, and the remaining answers through the middle of p. 305.
How will we continue in the Apostle’s teaching? How will we persevere in resisting all evil?
How will we proclaim the Good News?
How will we serve Christ, loving our neighbor as ourselves?
How will we strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?
What’s the answer in the Prayer Book? “We will with God’s help”.
Always. Forever. It’s a process, a journey. There is no other way but with God’s help.
Tell me again how we will overcome each and every fear we encounter? “We will with God’s help”.