A sermon, based on Luke 12.32-40 with references to Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16 and Isaiah 1.1, 10-20, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, August 11, 2019
Of all Jesus’ commands – “Sell your possessions and give alms” (in other words, give everything away for the sake of the poor), “Make purses for (your) treasure in heaven” (in other words, plan for eternity), “Be dressed for action…be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (in other words, prepare for my second coming) – the first four words may be the most difficult to apprehend and apply: “Do not be afraid.”
In America, politically, racially divided against itself with unity of national purpose far from us. Do not be afraid? Really, Jesus?
America, where, recently, horribly, we have been reminded that random gun violence, happening anywhere, at any time, can come close to us.(1) Do not be afraid? Really, Jesus?
And given whatever our troubles are that keep us awake at night. Do not be afraid? Really, Jesus?
“Yes,” says Jesus, “really!”
Of all scripture’s teachings, “Do not be afraid” is the most often said because our biblical forebears were most often afraid.
When aged Abram lost hope in God’s assurance that he would have a son, the first fruit of generations to come, God said, “Do not be afraid,” and then renewed the divine promise.(2)
When the Israelites, escaping their Egyptian enslavement, faced the raging Red Sea before them with the rampaging Egyptian army coming behind them, Moses said, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and behold God’s deliverance.”(3)
When the angel Gabriel told a perplexed Mary that she would bear God’s Son, he added, “Do not be afraid. You have found favor with God.”(4)
When a troubled Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant before they were married, an angel said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”(5)
Jesus, on the night before his death, told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you…Do not be afraid.”(6)
Jesus, raised from the dead, suddenly appearing to the terrified women running from the empty tomb, said, “Do not be afraid.”(7)
“Do not be afraid” is the Bible’s greatest word of consolation. And proclamation: “Do not be afraid, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
This is the gospel, the good news! Through the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, it is God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom; God’s Self, God’s life of love and justice!
Even more good news! Because the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus has happened, by faith and hope, in the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews, we can be “assured,” “convinced” that God’s pleasure is fulfilled! God has given the kingdom!
Still more good news! We, having received God’s kingdom, are to give it away. In the words of Isaiah, we are “to do good (and) seek justice” with all and for all, always and in all ways!
So, whatever the circumstances of the world, in America, in our lives, we, who possess God’s kingdom, be not afraid to do God’s will. Be not afraid to be love and justice. Be not afraid, in the words of the hymn to…
Come labor on. No time for rest, till glows the western sky,
till the long shadows o’er our pathway lie,
(for then we will hear) a glad sound that comes with the setting sun,
(God saying) “Servants, well done.”(8)
(1) A reference to three recent mass shootings: Gilroy, CA, July 28 (4 dead, 12 injured), El Paso, TX, August 3 (22, 24), Dayton, OH, August 4 (10, 27)
(2) Genesis 15.1, 5
(3) Exodus 14.13
(4) Luke 1.30
(5) Matthew 1.20
(6) John 14.27
(7) Matthew 28.10
(8) Come, labor on, verse 5, The Hymnal 1982, #541; words, Jane Laurie Borthwick (1813-1897)