“Do Not Be Afraid, Little Flock” – 08-11-13 – Proper 14 – Cycle C

Listen to the sermon here:

Scriptures: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16; Luke 12:32-40

These are the words of Jesus to his disciples and therefore to us. Do you live in fear? Some people spend their whole lives in fear; some with very good reason, some because it is a habit or imagined enemies. Do you live in fear?

Majorie lived in fear. When Marjorie was a child – almost into her teens – the depression hit her family. No work for father. No groceries for mother to prepare for meals. No space for a garden. No fuel for warmth or for cooking even if there had been food. Marjorie had good reason to have fear that would not leave even when now she does not lack these things. Yet it is natural for Marjorie to “hoard” groceries and clothing and always making sure there is money set aside for fuel.

Young Norman once was bullied and pushed into a swimming hole from a high rock – of course, into the deep part. Norman had never learned to swim because his family was busy from dawn to dusk on their farm. On this first venture with other young people to this popular swimming area in a strong stream, he was being initiated. Somehow someone who cared got to Norman in time. Ever since that time, Norman has avoided swimming-depth water.

Eileen’s mother was in a building when a fire started. Now she is afraid of going into any building where more than a few people are gathered and then she stays very close to a door.

Yes, these fears are understandable. One of them could be us. It is not a sin to be afraid. However, being afraid, living with fear stifles our life. We are missing the feeling of joy and well-being. What can a person do to crawl out of the shell of fear? Is it possible to leave the shell of fear behind, to not need that shell? I am thinking that some of us carry sweaters or jackets in fear of being in blowing air-conditioning or being at a picnic outdoors and being afraid that we will start shaking from the cold or become sick. I look at this as precaution that is practical. But, carrying a shell like a turtle becomes very burdensome.

Some of us are a bit fearful of lifting those nice warm covers each morning to face the day. What will the day hold? Do we already know that a doctor appointment is scheduled and there may be bad news or the normal discomfort of a dental visit? It is so easy to grab those covers and even pull them over our head to hide from the new day. Maybe we know we need to apologize to someone or maybe our supervisor asked to meet with us today. Fear on top of fear! Label it “apprehension” because it sounds less threatening, less debilitating.

Why was Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock” to the gathered people? For one thing, Jesus said, “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors, will be proclaimed from the housetops.” To me, that is very scary and is sufficient to make me ever more cautious what I say and do. Oh, that I had learned this as a child!
Then, Jesus warns that we shall talk boldly about God and never deny God. In this same chapter of Luke 12, Jesus tells of the man whose barns were too small and the man decided to build bigger barns after which the man’s life was taken that very day. Have we ever decided to have our money in two banks because the federal insurance has a limit on the coverage in each bank?

Remember the birds of the air and the flowers of the field? Aha! What can worrying do for us? Jesus says worrying will not solve any problem, neither will it keep hard things from happening to us. Then there is the fear that we will not be ready when Christ comes again.

In Luke 12, Jesus says that the nations of the world strive after all the things toward which we personally strive. In Psalm 33 the Psalmist refers to nations and how the nations can find “happiness” if they change their goals. People and nations can let go of “fear.” Imagine a world without fear! No nuclear weapons. No secretive spying. No expanding or closing the borders.

What is the way to find “happiness?” Well, the bondage and fear caused by a loose tongue can be broken. Break those chains of fear. Jesus says, “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”

We shall not worry about what we will eat and drink because God loves us with an everlasting love. If God takes care of the sparrow and the lilies of the field will he not much more take care of you? Instead of our striving for money to buy food and clothes, we shall seek the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God will provide these things. If we stand in front of a homeless person who is hungry and cold standing there in a light shirt and thin sneakers, and say, “God will provide the things you need,” what will that person do? If I were the homeless person, I would be tempted to try strangling anyone who stood in front of me and said that. So can we discard this passage from the Bible? Can we take a scissors as Thomas Jefferson did, and say, “This is not true. This does not make sense.” How can we stop worrying? How can we put fear aside when the very thing we fear is happening to us?

Big, big question! Well God does things backward, upside down, and inside out! God’s ways are not business-like or sensible and scientific. You know that we need to lose our life to save it. We need to give love or the love inside us will evaporate. We need to “give up” our own goals before we may see them happen in front of our eyes. We need to trust God when life seems impossible. It is not a guarantee. That is the whole point.

God is in charge – always and completely! Thinking and living that way will get us everywhere. God is in charge! God has reasons which are way over our ability to grasp. When trouble after trouble happens to one family, we say “God, where is your mercy? Why are you letting this happen? These are good people. Where is your justice? Yes, where is your mercy? Stop it, God,” we plead. We are simply not God. We could become atheists. We could become “nothings.” What would we be missing?

We need to notice that when trouble comes, God is already with us. Becoming an atheist or simply becoming angry toward God will not change God’s presence with us. Having a loving church family helps us to feel God’s presence. If we are not part of a loving church, it would be good for us to find one. God presence is more visible and felt when we have sisters and brothers in Christ who are not like Job’s friends who were convinced that Job must have done something to displease God. God looks for our faith. Paul says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Job eventually was praised for his faith. Abraham was praised for his faith. Both of these men remained steadfast through thick and thin, through many challenges.

Abraham’s wanderings were leading toward a homeland. Eventually his descendants were led to the homeland and were directed to enter. Through all our fears, beyond all of our fears, as we walk blindly through our earthly lives, God has our homeland dangling like a carrot for a horse. The kingdom of God is our goal. It is our homeland now. It will be our perfect homeland in time to come. There will be no more fear or tears. It will be a glorious place and time.

Meanwhile, we shall not be like nations who place their faith and money and horses and men in armies and wars. Instead God is looking for nations to place their faith in God’s everlasting love. The Psalmist says in Psalm 33, “Our innermost being waits for you, O Lord, our helper and our shield. Surely, our heart rejoices in you, for in your holy name we put our trust. Let your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, even as we place our hope in you.”

Our kingdom is not the United States, although we are indeed blessed to live in relative safety, with abundant resources. If this were God’s complete kingdom, there would be no hungry people, no people without medical care. There would be peaceful ways of solving differences within and without instead of envy and anger and possessiveness. Our country and the world will not reach that point as long as each of us has not reached that point. I am guilty, guilty, guilty! Even though I share my goods, I want to be the one to decide what and how much to give. I would become very disturbed if someone were to declare my home or property or possessions belongs to him or her and not to me. Yes, I have a long way to go in sharing my possessions. We have locks on our house. I lock my car. Fear, in the light of day. There it is!

Jesus said, “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. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Hear the words of a song.

Have no fear, little flock; Have no fear little flock,
For the Father has chosen To give you the Kingdom; have no fear, little flock!

Have good cheer, little flock; Have good cheer, little flock,
For the Father will keep you In his love forever; Have good cheer, little flock!

Praise the Lord high above; Praise the Lord high above,
For he stoops down to heal you, Uplift and restore you; Praise the Lord high above!

Thankful hearts raise to God; Thankful hearts raise to God,
For he stays close beside you, In all things works with you; Thankful hearts raise to God!