Sunday, March 2, 2014

“Listen . . . Do Not Be Afraid” (Matthew 17:1-9)

Fear is “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.”   It was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  I don’t think that FDR ever drove down Highway 212 during a Montana snow storm—especially this weekend!  If he had I doubt if he would be saying such things.  Actually, I think that FDR was using that phrase as rhetoric in hopes of soothing the fears of the American people at the start of his first term as president during the big 1933 bank panic and the Depression.  Americans were scared . . .

. . . and, we still are.

As Bob Dylan said way back there in the early 1960s, the times they are a changing.  We worry and are fearful of what the future holds for us as Americans.  We worry about whether or not we will have enough income and resources to live comfortably in retirement.  We worry about whether or not we will have good health insurance to cover our rising health concerns that come with aging.  We worry about our government and its inability to truly function together and deal with the real people that they are elected to serve.  We worry about the rising costs of living . . . about the economy . . . about a lot of things.  We worry about a future that none of knows what it will carry for each of us as we journey through this life.  The times are changing and hang over us like a cloud that won’t go away.  None of us knows what tomorrow will bring . . . we only know, realistically or imaginatively, that fear is a part of our lives.

And, that is the problem with fear . . . we just don’t know.  If we knew . . . well, if we knew, we would all jump on FDR’s bandwagon about having nothing to fear but fear itself.  But, we don’t know and the unknown is scary.  I know that it effects and affects all of us . . . I know because I have sat down and listened to many of you as you talk about the present and the future . . . there is a tinge of fear in the worlds I hear as I listen to you share your concerns, hopes, and dreams for the future for yourselves and your families . . . you just do not know what tomorrow will bring . . . and, that scares you.  It scares me, too . . . that is fear.

Today is the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany . . . the season of revelation of the Holy to all of God’s children.  It is the end of the season in which we celebrate God’s presence being revealed to all people in all places . . . that God desires a relationship with all of God’s creation . . . that Jesus did not come for a select group of people, but all people . . . that God’s love and grace is for everyone.  And, to cap off the season of Epiphany we have heard the story of the Transfiguration.

The Transfiguration takes places on a mountain top that Jesus has retreated to in order to pray.  With him are three of his disciples who witness quite a scene.  In their presence Jesus is transfigured in dazzling light and whiteness . . . then he is joined by Moses and Elijah much to the astonishment of the three disciples.  One of the disciples, Peter—always wanting to please Jesus—offers to build shelter for the three dignitaries, but is stopped short as a booming voice proclaims, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.  Listen to him!”  Which, if we are speaking plainly, scared the bejeebers out of them . . . so scared were they that they fell face down on the ground terrified.
I think that most of us would have probably been lying on the ground with them if we had just experienced the same thing.  We would have been fearful of what we were witnessing, what we were experiencing . . . why?  Because it is unknown.  And, because it is unknown to us, we really don’t know what is going to happen . . . and, we cannot control it.  In our helplessness we experience fear.

But the story did not end there . . . Jesus came and touched them.  “Get up,” he said.  “Don’t be afraid.”  Little did the disciples realize that this was the prelude of Jesus’ message to them . . . do not be afraid . . . of, as FDR put it, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”  I say that this is the prelude because I do not think that at this point the disciples realized the magnitude of the journey ahead of them as Jesus’ disciples and the carriers of the Good News of God’s desires for creation.  If they had, I doubt if they would have gotten up off of the ground.  Over two thousand years of Christian history can attest to the scary magnitude of the mission to bring all people to a relationship with God . . . and, it continues today as we read our daily newspapers, watch our televisions, and listen to the radio.  These are scary times to be a follower of Jesus . . . why?  Because we do not know.

When I shared this sense of unknowing with another once, I was confronted with a statement that I lacked faith.  “Well,” said this astute individual, “You just don’t have enough faith.”  That individual’s statement made me feel guilty that I did not have enough faith and here I was a preacher!  Not a good combination for one who wants to exhort others to be faithful.  But, I have gotten over it . . . and, I still have this sense of unknowing about what the future is going to bring on many levels of my life—including my faith.  And, I truly think that that is okay with God . . . that God can handle my fear.

Despite having the divine revealed to them with heavenly extras and booming sound effects, the disciples were not without their fears when it came to their faith.  They believed, but never did they know what the results of their words or actions would bring.  In the beginning, their words and actions brought disastrous results . . . many were martyred through gruesome deaths.  Even the Apostle Paul admitted that he did not what the results of his words or actions would be, only that they would get reactions.  Yet, as faithful people they all stepped out in faith . . . in the hope that all things would turn out for God’s will . . . and did what they had to do. 

They did so because they knew that they were not alone.  They did not know what tomorrow held, even though they knew what they hoped for, but they knew that they were not alone.  Jesus would be with them.  God would be with them.  Jesus touched them . . . assured them . . . and, told them to not be afraid . . . to not be afraid to live life in love and grace whether they knew what the results would be.  This did not mean that they would be without fear . . . it meant that the one they loved would be with them no matter what happened.

FDR spoke his famous words about fear to a nation that was becoming immobilized with the fear of doing anything in a time of great national and international crisis.  He encouraged the nation to step up and do something . . . anything . . . before all was lost . . . and, to do it together.  That no one was alone in this journey.
I think that the greatest fear of all is the fear to be alone . . . to be all alone without anyone else there.  It does not matter the situation, but to have to face and endure life by one’s self is a scary thought . . . and, I think that it is our greatest fear.  But, as the followers of Jesus, we are not alone.  Jesus is with us in the journey . . . through thick and thin, good and bad . . . Jesus is with us.  Yet, this does not mean we are without fear . . . to admit we have no fear; well, I think that practically makes us deny our creation of God’s children.  Fear is a part of life, especially when it comes to living the radical lifestyle of grace and love spoken and lived by Jesus.  It is not of this world and because it is not of this world we never know what sort of reaction we will get . . . and, as we have seen throughout the history of the movement of Jesus, death has been the reaction to those who are scared of such radical love and grace.

But, we are not to be afraid.  We are to listen to Jesus who repeatedly tells us that we are not alone . . . that he is with us.  With such knowledge let us step out into the unknown and live lives that share the Good News to all people in all places.  Amen. 

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