Fear Not Little Flock

Sermon preached the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost + August 8, 2010

So what do you worry about, what keeps you up at night..?  Is there anything that frightens you,  sends shivers down your spine, makes you cringe in fear when you think about it..? 

We worry about a lot of things, personal health and well being, job security, the weather… but fear, the real and present threat of danger to ourselves, our loved ones, our home, our country, our very survival… well fear is scary, really scary.

In a week of fear and uncertainty, nine killed in the midst of the very place many of us live, shop and drive by.  Uncertainty, questions, pain, anger, anguish… some move on to anger at the gunman, at the circumstances, brokenness and evil that fueled a rage that has disrupted and torn apart lives.  Some found themselves glues to the media, unable or unwilling to leave the safety of home, not knowing what to do.  As I wrote this sermon down the street at Starbucks, my creative calm was jolted as two non-uniformed policeman came in with guns strapped on their belts.

Fear, a subject that we do not dwell in, like to think about, or willingly share with others, our family and friends, and often even with ourselves.  Fear, the emotional response to a perceived threat, is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus either internal, or external.

Lets listen in to a dialogue exploring pantophobia, which is from the Greek pan or broad and phobia or dread of evil, literally the fear of everything…  Now Lucy Van Pelt is not a reliable psychiatric expert, but Charles, Charlie Brown is someone you might relate to.  Often in life we fear, sometimes the known, and other times well… other times we live in dread, frozen with the fear of evil, the pending unknown.

The texts this week weave the blunt reality of fear with the promises of God.  We are reminded again of the struggle to be faithful people, the realities of life, fears known and unknown, things possible and seemingly impossible, God’s kingdom here and now, and God’s kingdom to come.  In Genesis, Abram’s life was far from perfect and these promises from God were like his birthdays piling up one on top of another.  God promises that he will have an heir, descendents, and land all seemingly impossible.

But even as God’s promises offset his fears and life unfolds amidst his fears, God calls him Abraham, connecting them together, receiver and giver of God’s promises without regard for his less than perfect life-style and the seeming impossibility of the promises being made.  Yet with faith and trust, Abraham’s fears are calmed through relationship with God and hope in promises made.  God’s word is enough for Abraham.

There is a reprise of the story in Hebrews and like Abraham who didn’t live to see all of God’s promises unfold as numerous as the stars in the heavens, we are assured of things unseen, the very definition of faith.  Think about our fore-mothers and fathers who left a homeland and came to this country.  Think about all of the saints of Faith Lutheran Church who labored to build this place, lay the foundation of the face and hands of God today and all those who will follow you and me.  All of these faithful labored and prepared a way for us, a window of faith, or as Frederick Buechner says, faith is the eye of the heart, and by faith we see deep down beneath the face of things known.

So what are we as a faith community afraid of?  In Luke and here at 1120 Silver Lane last January, a thief came in the middle of the night and reminds us that often we get caught up in things, places, and stuff rather than the larger kingdom needs God calls us to see through the eyes of faith.  We have been journeying through Luke’s eyes of faith as Jesus continues to teach the disciples, the crowds that gather and follow him, and you and me that what is to come in Jerusalem is well, a little scary.

We have encountered a variety of folks along the way to Jerusalem to open our hearts and eyes to God’s kingdom here and the kingdom to come. 

  • We had a faith conversation of what it means to live and pray for the Kingdom of God.
  • We learned about a lawyer asking what he needed “to do” to get into the kingdom. 
  • We heard an admonition to seek the “better thing.”  
  • We asked Jesus how to pray, and were given a prayer for the kingdom to come.
  • And we explored what it means to live a life where we continually pray for our daily bread rather than trust in ourselves and how much we can be self-sufficient.

Having faith in Jesus time, overcoming doubt and fear was the reality then, as it is for us today as we are confronted by the question are we truly are indeed ready for the kingdom of God to come.  Are we ready to receive the kingdom that God puts in our hands this very day, and the promise of the kingdom that will come at an unexpected date and time.  We pray your kingdom come, but do we live it?  Does it scare you to contemplate what that really means to this place, our community, or in our lives?

In Luke, Jesus goes back and forth between teaching the in group of disciples, to teaching the larger outside group that crowds him wherever he goes.  Today we hear the words, do not be afraid, little flock, referring to the smaller group.   But this absolute from Jesus is not a command.  In fact the translation is better framed as fear not little flock because it is not possible for the disciples no matter how strong their faith to not be afraid. 

But Jesus comes to speak of the kingdom here and now and the kingdom to come.  In this kingdom we live with the reality of fear, but Jesus says fear not.  For fear is what Jesus came to free us from and in the eternal kingdom, it is God’s good pleasure, to give us all the kingdom.

The little boy, about seven or eight stood at the foot of his grandmother’s grave.  The large crowd had moved toward their cars, but he stood asking his mom questions about how the casket would be lowered into the grave and when and where the tombstone would be.  I heard his questions and was drawn to him and his stoic older brother and his younger one milling around, obviously more uncomfortable than he.

I walked over and his mom looking relieved said that he had a lot of questions and I asked him if I could answer any.  Without any fear, he said he had one.  Mom interjected that he was concerned because he felt happy     that his grandmother had died.  He jumped in, she isn’t in pain anymore and she is with God.  His older brother looked at his feet and the younger one kicked at the grass playfully.

We talked about how when someone we love dies, there are a range of emotions and that everyone reacts differently.  I affirmed that his response was okay and that death is a blessing because of God’s love and promise of eternal life.  His faith, his love for his grandmother, and his concern about his relatives that were having different feelings and reactions was a reminder for me of God’s faithful presence and promise of the kingdom, in the form of a questioning little boy who seemed far more ready for the unexpected hour than I. 

Being ready for the kingdom of God to come is hard, maybe stressful, perhaps worrisome for you, and can even be downright fear-filled.  So we gather for a word and taste of God’s grace, for we know not when the Son of Man will come, when God will give us the kingdom.  So regardless of your fears and emotions, we wait.  We wait anticipating  the master to come home… for God to give us the kingdom, even though we don’t know what to expect of our heavenly home, or Jesus’ return. We wait knowing, even if it’s with skepticism, because God promised it to us.

We are called to live not in complacency, but joyfully living and praying the Kingdom to the point where it becomes our way of life.  It is in fearing not, or not living frozen by fear, and through belief in God’s promises together that allows us the ability to bless, knowing that we are blessed.  God’s promises to us help us, give us hope and grants courage to keep waiting and seeking God in our daily living. 

We can live with faithful anticipation of God’s promises because God loves, forgives and gives us faith.  Faith that God’s promises and kingdom seen and unseen, already here, and coming at a time unknown, will be our reality forever.  Thanks be to God.

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