Home Sermon Sermon: Do NOT Be Afraid

Josephine Robertson
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Kirkland
August 7 2016
Genesis 15:1-6, Luke 12:32-40

There is a temptation in reading today’s lessons to get wound up into a knot of anxiety. It’s an incredibly human temptation. We hear Jesus talking about being alert servants and we go into hyper prepared mode, no sleep, no play, no relaxing! This is spiritual red alert!

And this is the point where Jesus smacks his forehead and rolls his eyes at me. Because that is not the point. When was the last time we as human beings didn’t immediately jump to the worst conclusions about the news, about each other, about God, about the future of our world? When were we not afraid, exactly what Jesus was exhorting us not to be this morning? Don’t be afraid little ones! Your God loves you, it is going to be OK. I have a very hip young clergy sister who likes to say that God spends a lot of the Bible saying to us: “You’re at like an 11 right now and I need you say a 4.” Do not be afraid.

That simple sentence is the key that unlocks the rest of our scriptures: don’t be afraid my friends, my dear ones. Don’t be afraid. I’d like to invite you to sink into those words today. Lean back against the pew, and settle your feet nice and square and flat on the ground. Let your arms hang loose and heavy from your shoulders, perhaps place your hands on your knees or in your lap, palms up or palms down, whatever is comfortable. Now take a deep breath in through you nose, let your belly expand with good cleansing air and really hear the words: “Do not be afraid.” And let all the air rush out through your mouth so you can hear the Spirit moving, let all the fear and stress and anger and worry of the week rush out with that breath: “for your Father desires to give you blessings.”

Do not be afraid. Beloved little flock. God gives you the Kingdom.

There’s a myth we’ve told ourselves: that our world was once Christian, but is no longer. The truth is, it never was. The world wasn’t Jewish for Jesus, or part of the covenant for Abraham and Sarah, and it has never been Christian for us. Oh it wore some liturgical garments for a while and said the right words, but that’s not the same thing. Because the world has always been, and always will be, afraid. Afraid of death, or hunger, or suffering, or poverty, or losing out, or those who are different from us. It doesn’t matter what the world is afraid of today, it just is.

That fear has often crept into our beloved little flocks. Jesus’ words today have caused anxiety and worry about end times and punishment. But go back over it again in your mind, listen again to what Jesus actually says: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”

Sell your possessions, and give alms.”

For the master will come home, and fasten his belt and serve a surprise banquet to his servants.

You are loved, by a God who goes by such familiar words as Father, Mother. By Jesus who calls us friends. You are loved. By the One who made everything and promises a Kingdom of justice and love. You are loved. Let the fear roll away, let loose your fingers from the things to which you cling. Because your Father desires to give you the Kingdom.

And in case that seems too easy, or even too far away: remember Abraham and Sarah. Remember a couple who lived their whole lives as a journey from the place where they were called, to the place they were called to go. Their blessing wasn’t in the destination, they didn’t meet God when they finally arrived. Their blessings was their journey which they walked, step by faltering step, with the One who had called them, with the mysterious one for whom they had no name.

Sarah and her husband become icons for we the church, reminders that we are nomads here, that our life is a journey with one foot in the good world that God has made, broken as it has become; and one foot always stepping toward a home and a hope that can never be taken away. This is the sort of ready that Jesus calls his disciples to, not frantic preparation, not trembling fearful cowering in a bunker waiting for the end to come. Not fire insurance for a future cataclysm. A daily walk, with eyes wide open, next to the One who goes by Father, Mother, Friend.

A daily walk with a master who comes home over and over again in a thousand different ways and throws a thousand different surprise banquets. Deacon Brian a couple weeks ago said that he suspects Jesus’ coming agin happens over and over again in unexpected ways. I have always suspected the same. That the Kingdom promised to us peeks through in the simple moments and that blessing happens in our daily lives, if we are open and listening.

My Grandmother was a wise woman. Her life was quite a journey, from a farm in Missouri so poor that in her words “we didn’t notice the Great Depression” to a Master’s degree in education, a long career in teaching, two children, grandchildren, a husband she loved fiercely, and a church she served quietly. She had much to teach but perhaps the most important thing she had to teach was how to journey. You see my Grandmother stayed rooted through struggles far greater than those I can imagine. And she did it dish by dish. I suspect she had read the mystic Brother Lawrence early in her life, because her life was about being awake, and aware. She was not religious in the sense that she talked about faith much, though she was a lifelong Episcopalian. But as a child she taught me to wash the dishes, and just the dishes. Brother Lawrence calls it “washing the dishes for God,” by which he meant that the journey of our lives is about living as best we can aware of the presence of holiness at our elbow, always in the mundane and everyday moments of our lives.

Washing the dishes with mindfulness is a prayer. When my Grandmother sewed cancer pads she did it quietly and without fanfare, sewing each and every one as if it were Christ himself that would receive it. She lived her life ready, not in anxious anticipation of anything, not with frenetic energy or striving, or grasping. She simply lived, as aware as she could be of the momentary and continual coming of God.

When we are “of the world” as religious people like to say we live in fear: that the knock at the door is a danger, that when we give someone money they’ll waste it, that when we meet God it will be vengeance and punishment we meet. A life of faith (a better translation of the Greek would be trust) challenges us to just the opposite: as if every knock at the door could be a divine messenger in disguise. As if every act of generosity might give us the opportunity to peek into the Kingdom. As if every moment of life were a chance to meet God, to live at the brink of blessing.

In the coming days, and months, and years of our lives may we indeed grow wise on the words of Christ: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”`

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