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Do Not Be Afraid

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August 11, 2019 — Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

Rev. Alison Quin

Today’s Readings:

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Do Not Be Afraid

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Close your eyes for a moment and take a deep breath.  Listen again:  Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

This is one of my favorite verses of Scripture—it has often become my mantra.
Do not be afraid.  That is the heart of the gospel.  It starts with the message of the angels to Mary and Joseph.  “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”  “Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  At Jesus’ birth, the angel told the shepherds:  “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy for all people.”

Jesus tells his disciples over and over not to be afraid.  When he walks across the water to his disciples, he says, “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”  He teaches them not to be afraid or worried about anything—that God counts the hairs on their heads and will provide for every need.  In his farewell to the disciples, he says “let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  When he rose from the dead, he told them again, do not to be afraid.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Jesus is the loving shepherd, who cares for us sheep.  God is the loving Father who rejoices in giving everything he has to his children.

The translation of this verse does not quite capture the Greek text which is in the aorist or past tense.   God has already given the kingdom to us. And God delighted in that decision.  We are already participants in God’s reign—it’s not a future promise—rather, it’s an accomplished fact.

We do not have to be afraid of anything, because nothing in all creation can ever separate us from God or God’s love.

But, you might be saying to yourself, there’s a lot to be afraid of.  There are health issues and financial worries, and family problems, problems at work, or problems getting a job.

That’s before you look at the news of the day.  The news could fill us with fear every day if we allow it to.

I saw a New Yorker Cartoon this week that had two sharks swimming in the ocean and one says to the other:  “Everything smells like fear now.”

But Jesus calls us to a different way of life.  As St. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…” Romans 12:2a.

Do not be afraid.

Easier said than done.  But the text offers a clue about how to combat fear.   “Sell your possessions, give alms, make purses for yourself that do not wear out.”

When you are not afraid, your heart is open and you can be generous.  But it also works in reverse.  When you are afraid, be generous—focus on giving to others.  You will forget to be afraid.

You will be transformed because you will be living life according to the upside down rules of God’s reign.

Jesus was afraid going toward the cross, but he focused on giving himself for us and that gave him the courage to go forward.  “Perfect love casts out fear.”  I John 4:18b

When we choose generosity instead of fear, when we choose mercy and compassion instead of self-concern, we become like him.

What if we woke up in the morning praying to be able to help someone, instead of anxiously cataloguing our fears?  I have a story about a neighbor of mine, Dick Davenport.   His wife Betty used to bring donations of bagels from Bodacious to the food pantry—we called her Bagel Betty.

Dick would often help her.  One day, I was by myself in the church parking lot, about to get in the car to make a hospital visit. It was a snowy and icy day.  My car wouldn’t start—the battery was dead.   I was trying to figure out what to do when Dick Davenport drove up to drop off bagels.  He immediately offered to jump my car and we got it started.  I was amazed he showed up at the right moment and I thanked him profusely.  But I was even more amazed at what he said.  “You’re my answer to prayer because I woke up today asking God to let me help someone today.”

When you live in love, rather than fear, you are available to God, for God’s purposes.  Fear shuts us down, but love opens our hearts.

Do not be afraid, little flock.  For it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself, an offering and a sacrifice for the whole world.

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