Jun21

Fear Itself

Categories // Sermons

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Fear Itself

        Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

The philosopher Plato said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
            In our current state of civil unrest, global pandemic, and the light of truth revealing the corruption of human kind, it seems everyday is another step into the unknown. We were once able to have confidence in much of the workings of our lives, but now we are spending more time making sure our families are safe from illness or violence. It used to be comforting knowing that tomorrow would bring a happy new day – now it brings that little hint of fear.

            As a people, we have witnessed war, plague and economic chaos. Yet even during those difficult times we still had faith in ourselves as a nation. We are no longer alone. By this I mean, it is no longer ‘Us’ against ‘Them’ but rather all of us are in the same situation. We have become a world population where actions in China effect our neighbor across the street.

            In Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first inaugural address said, that “Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment”— Our future is shadowed in the darkness of the unknown that give substance to people’s real and understandable fears.

           In today’s text, Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples to “have no fear” as he sends them out to proclaim the coming of his kingdom to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vv 6–7). Yet Jesus knows and acknowledges that he is sending them out not just to sheep but “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (v 16). His very words of admonition and encouragement, “Have no fear,” show that he knows that there is much to fear, at least from a human point of view.[1]

            What were those fears the disciples faced? The same fears I’m sure you and I face in our Christian faith. Ask yourself what prevents you from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior? Could one of the fears be rejection?

            No one wants to be rejected whether physically, emotionally or spiritually. No one wants to be the last one picked for a team, or worse, not picked at all. Everybody wants to be part of the group that is on the winning side. Nobody wants to sit in the corner at the big dance never to be asked to tango. Yet even greater is the rejection from society because of your faith and the belief in Christ’s saving work for all humankind.

            Even in our ‘enlightened’, ‘equalitarian’ and politically correct society of today, many reject not only the message of the Gospel but also those who proclaim this message—which is undoubtedly one reason we shrink from bearing witness to Christ more boldly and consistently.

            Speaking of our advanced society, which prides itself in anti-bullying mores and anti-discrimination policies, we are silenced by various tactics of intimidation just as Jesus warned his disciples to expect. [Matthew 10:17-18] Maybe you have experienced intimidation in your attempts to bear witness to Christ by word or deed. Such attempts may be as simple as wearing a cross around your neck and being told to cover it up, or having a Bible setting on your desk at work and being told to put it in a drawer, out of sight.

            Now you may say that neither of these tactics scares you. You may say, ‘I don’t care what people think. It’s my constitutional right and guaranteed religious freedom!’ But what if your environment becomes hostile? What about the next step of persecution? In verses 21-22 Jesus describes the persecution that will be encountered by those who bear witness faithfully to the Gospel of Christ.

“Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” [Matthew 10:21-22a]

            All Christians in America have mostly been spared this type of persecution, but the tide is changing. It seems that some groups actively seek out instances of Christian declaration in order to destroy our faith under the guise of offensive displays to non-Christian beliefs. I’m waiting for the day when all churches are ordered to remove any crosses from the building which can be seen by the general public. The evidence of more subtle forms of persecution is increasingly apparent.

            What is the next step to follow persecution? Execution.

            There was a man from an Islamic country in Africa. When he told his father he converted to Christianity, he was beaten so badly that he ran out into the night and did not stop traveling until he reached another country, hundreds of miles away from home. I asked him what would have happened if he stayed in his father’s house. He replied, in a matter-of-fact way, “Oh, he would have killed me.”

            We are not to be foolish by our ignorance. Even Jesus tells his disciples to flee from the town if they persecute you because, in your lifetime, you will never see every town that needs to hear the Gospel before the Son of man comes. [Matthew 10:23]

            Jesus clearly and explicitly warned the twelve disciples that they needed to be prepared to be “put to death” as the result of sinful opposition to the Gospel—and most of them eventually were.

            Martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel has been a reality throughout the history of the Church, and it continues to be a reality still today in many parts of the world. “The Greatest Story Never Told: Modern Christian Martyrdom” is the title of a sobering and thought-provoking article by Susan Brinkman, writer for the Catholic Standard and Times. [2] In this article she writes:

“The average church-going Christian is not likely to know that 45.5 million of the estimated 70 million Christians who have died for Christ did so in the last century. For this reason, scholars… refer to the past century as one of the darkest periods of martyrdom since the birth of Christianity.”

If we do not live in fear of martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel, this is due only to the grace and mercy of God; yet we do well to ask the question “What if . . .?”

            Yet do not fear, as Christ tells his disciples. Rejection, intimidation, persecution, execution have already been overcome by Jesus Christ. He has faced every enemy, even death itself and he has triumphed. He knows we will be tempted and afraid and he provides the mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. [Hebrews 4:15-16]

            Like Jeremiah, our suffering in this world is used for our ultimate good and for the glory of God. Jesus took our sin upon his shoulders and bore them up on the cross. He was crucified on that cross and took that sin to the grave. He overcame death, Satan, and hell itself. Rising again in everlasting glory, Satan no longer has power over us and death no longer has its sting.

            We have nothing to fear, not even fear itself. Why? Because Jesus is with us, intimately caring for us, in every fear-filled situation. We are not yet perfect. We still sin and we still fear, but we also know the promise of life through Christ is true and he is faithful.

            Fear will have its day and its say, but Jesus will have the last word. He tells his disciples and us:

“…even the hairs of your head are all numbered.Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. [And] everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven…” [Matthew 10:30-31]

Therefore, we can joyfully, boldly, fearlessly bear witness to Jesus until he comes again to deliver us from every form and cause of fear, proving once and for all that Jesus is greater than our fears!

No faithful under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd would stand before his flock and glibly tell them: “You have nothing to fear.” According to Jesus in Matthew 10, those who seek to follow him have much to fear from a human point of view: rejection, intimidation, all kinds of opposition, even persecution that, in many cases throughout history, has led to martyrdom for Christ.

From God’s point of view, however, we have nothing to fear. Why? Because Jesus has faced the source of every fear, has overcome every enemy that causes us fear, has promised to be with us and watch over us in every fearful situation and to guide us safely to our heavenly home, where fear will be banished forever and ever.[3]

Amen!

 


[1] Rev. Joel D. Lehenbauer, PhD: Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 24, Part 3, Series A, pp 34

[2] Susan Brinkman, Catholic Standard and Times (12/5/2008; see http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=30882&page=1).

[3] Rev. Joel D. Lehenbauer, PhD: Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 24, Part 3, Series A, pp 36