Do Not Be Afraid
University Hill United Church : Sun, August 8, 2004
“Do not be afraid.” Jackline and I pondered together the difficulty of obeying what is God’s most frequent command in the Bible. Is it really possible for humans to not be afraid? So much in our lives can be determined and driven by fear... the fear of rejection by others, especially by those we love and respect, the fear of being misunderstood, of being labeled and dismissed, or the fear that causes us to label and dismiss others the fear of losing “our way of life” or, for some, the fear of hunger, of homelessness, of despair, the fear of the truth being told, the fear of death. (Anne Lamott’s description of the fear of parents...bravado in the face of lose, “Now there is something that could happen that I could not survive”...she could lose her son; Operating Instructions, p.60) “Do not be afraid, little flock,” Jesus speaks these words even as forces have begun to conspire against him. At the end of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, the devil departs, Luke narrates, “until an opportune time.”(4:13) In chapter 11, Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees and lawyers, his truth-telling, begins his ending, giving the devil his opportunity. Chapter 12 begins with thousands thronging about Jesus, “so that they trample on one another”...but in a short time he will be abandoned, even by his own disciples, to hang crucified on a cursed hill outside Jerusalem’s gates. At this point in the text, in the midst of the thronging crowd, Jesus speaks to his disciples; so, you understand, he speaks to us... Do not be afraid, Uhillians, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. We are half way through Luke’s gospel here; and halfway through the chapter. Jesus has spoken at length previous to this about the call to be generous towards God (and therefore, others) and admonished his disciples to not worry about their life, about what they will eat or what they will wear. Instead, he encourages us to strive for God’s kingdom, and the things that we need will be given to us as well. Even as we strive for the kingdom, we hear in today’s text, it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. Could anything really be easier, or harder, for us? In letting go of our fears of scarcity, we can be caught up in God’s giving. And, did you catch what the gift is? Further along in Luke’s gospel, his good news, we hear Jesus’ reply to the question of when the kingdom will come. In Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, Jesus answers, “The kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, ‘Look here!’ or ‘There it is!’ And why? Because God’s kingdom is already among you.” God has already given the gift of the kingdom in the person and work of Jesus, the Christ. Jesus stands amongst the disciple and the Pharisee, healing, freeing, telling the truth, his arms open wide in invitation. Caught up in God’s generous gift, we are freed to give of ourselves...to give ourselves. And so follow Jesus next words...practical, material imperatives: Sell your possessions and give alms. Make “treasure in heaven.” Heaven, remember, is all about being in relationship with God - it is a present possibility and reality, as well as a future one. We can live in heaven now, with God and God’s concerns for justice and right relationship amongst all of humanity and Creation. To sell possessions, to give generously to those in need demonstrates that fear is not the reality in which we live. What can you and I sell this week? what can we give away? Remember, these are practical, material commands. They show us where our heart is - where our will is...where our reality is, where we will put our effort, where and what we will risk. When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” we state our willingness to risk everything - God’s will has become our will. With Jesus’ words, we disciples become a people “in the know.” The Spirit of Christ has gathered us together, not because we are better than others, but because we recognize our complete and utter need for God. We glimpse God’s kingdom work in Christ - the elimination of fear, the gift of freedom in God’s abundance to be generous. God is at work in the world, reconciling and making new. Jesus’s next words address us as a people “in the know.” In the next three verses, we are given five practices... to be dressed for action, to have our lamps lit, to be waiting, to open the door and to be alert. I would like to encourage us to look at these practices together as a church, a part of the Body of Christ here on this university campus. To be dressed for action literally means “to draw up the long outer garment and tuck it into the sash around one’s waist so as to be prepared for vigorous activity.” This is how the Israelites are instructed to eat the first Passover meal right before the exodus from Egypt and slavery. When God’s call comes, we are to be ready for action, to participate in God’s future. What might this look like here at Uhill?, because God’s call will come. We are also to have our lamps lit. Earlier, Luke has noted that “no one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so those who enter may see the light.” (11:33) The light we steward and live our life together in, is, of course, the good news of Christ’s Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Here, amongst us, the world’s Fridays of pain and suffering can be held, waited and prayed upon in the expectant hope of Sunday’s resurrection. This is what we can hope people see when they enter here. Waiting for the master to return at an unexpected time from his honeymoon speaks to us of a readiness fine-tuned by the disciplines of our faith - standing under the story that shapes us, prayer and worship, service to one another and the neighbour and stranger we encounter. Opening the door when Christ comes reminds us of our studies of Christian hospitality and of who is the host at the table we gather round each week and each day. To be found alert is to be blessed in an astonishing way. In a kingdom reversal of roles, the master becomes the servant. We have glimpsed this here, I believe, at Uhill in the dinners we have humbly hosted for participants in the Native Ministries consortium. Seeking to walk the path of redemption Christ calls us to, we began seven years ago to host a dinner each July, inviting our First Nations brothers and sisters to eat with us, to sing with us and to tell us their stories. It was a chance for us to make a space for them to speak and for us to listen. They could, of course, have refused. But they did not. We heard stories of how God had found these people in the midst of their suffering and lifted them up and of how God would and could do that for us too...suddenly, we realised we were hearing the good news being preached to us, from those whose suffering was so aggravated by our church’s past actions. I can testify that this kingdom moment made me thirst for more such glimpses. To be served by Christ is a wonderous thing. All of these five practices are carried out in service to the master, for also five times in three verses, we are told that the master will come. The master will return to his household. Christ will show up on the doorstep... today, in a few weeks at the start of a new school year on campus, at an unexpected time, in the darkness of our Saturday waiting. This is the testimony of our faith...Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Amen.