“Have No Fear”
“Have no fear”, Jesus says. When I think of the number of times Jesus or a messenger from God says, “Fear not”, or “Have no fear”, I begin to believe that it must be a command. Isn’t it one of the Ten Commandments, God? Well, I know better than that, although Luther uses the word “fear” in all of his explanations. We live in a chaotic time, a fearful, anxiety-filled time. We fear the rising cost of fuel, the rising cost of food, the numerous products we used with petroleum bases that cause everything to cost more. We fear more rain and more wind before we can recover from the destruction of the tornadoes and floods. We fear not having rain when we need it and no breeze to break the sweltering heat when temperatures and humidity rise. We fear not being able to find college loans or pay for advanced education debt, or mortgage extensions. We fear health crises because we don’t think we can afford the out-of-pocket expense. We fear what the government will or won’t do. We fear that the middle class will disappear and that the richer will become richer and the poor will be trapped forever in poverty. We fear terrorists and immigrants taking over our country. We fear that doing our best will not be good enough, whether that’s in the classroom or in the factory, at the office or in our homes. We live in the midst of division and discord. Every headline confirms it, but much of it is avoidable and unnecessary. We seem to feel like we have no cure for what ails us. “Have no fear.” How can we tame the chaos and division within ourselves? How can we become truth-tellers, ones who speak real facts and truths?
Jeremiah is living out his call to be God’s “mouthpiece”. This young man is finding ministry unfulfilling. It’s not what he thought it would be when God spoke to him and told him that God would tell him what to say. He didn’t know that people wouldn’t want to hear his prophetic words. He’s mocked and made a laughingstock; he’s weary of speaking words of warning and words that call Israel back to being a chosen nation, calling them to keep their promise to obey God and live in a special relationship with God. He’s tired of being the one they lash out at and put down. He wants God to “get ‘em, show them who’s boss.” He’d like to see God put them in their place. However, when Jeremiah can take a deep breath and remember who it was that called him to this ministry, he also remembers that God promised to stand with him, and he gains his confidence back and commitments himself to trust that God will protect him and he places himself in God’s hands.
Jesus is preparing his disciples for the opposition they will meet up with. This “good news” will not be good news to the Romans. The Roman government thought they had rid themselves of this Jesus, and in killing one man, it seems as though 12 more rose up to speak the same message, to teach, to preach, to heal, to cast out demons. They would be hated, martyred, destroyed for who they were and whose they were. Jesus was trying to build their confidence for what was ahead of them. It would be tough, but he wanted them to remember that God would be in the midst of everything that was to come. God knows them so well that the “hairs on your head are all counted.” He assures them that they are “of more value than sparrows.” Jesus knows that their message will not be well received by the power people, that there will be divisiveness and fighting. The power people would not just fall over and play dead. Jesus will remind God that these have put their lives on the line for this good news of God’s power over sin and death, of Jesus’ death, resurrection and how he died for sin, once and for all, and everyone who believes this and lives in Christ will find newness of life in him.
I think Jesus is talking about integrity of life to them and to us. It won’t be easy. We’re being reminded that the world hasn’t changed as much as we think or wish it has. Yes, there have been huge technological changes. Yes, we’re advanced in many ways; in health care – people live longer, dread diseases now have vaccines so that we don’t have polio or small pox. Just like the Romans thought they were secure in who they were and that the Jews were countercultural to the Roman way of life, we too as Christians may have gotten a bit smug about who we have thought we are. As Christianity grew, followers of The Way were considered to be a danger to society. They claimed to have a higher source, met in secret meetings, were said to worship a crucified criminal, and to eat a body and drink blood. They said they were living by a different set of rules. Years ago we were a majority; moral values were thought to be based on Christian principles. Churches were the core of the community. Sunday School rooms overflowed; pews were full, many congregations had to have multiple services to accommodate the number of people coming to church. We thought that the church was a well-respected institution and that everyone wanted to hear what we had to say. Did the world really change? Or did we somehow baptize the reigning culture and call it Christian? Did we get a bit overly comfortable because there seemed to be more of us than who was considered to be on the outside looking in? We got pretty out of joint when our Christmas school programs became Winter programs and we began to sing songs from other cultures and other traditions, when Christmas and Easter breaks became holiday or spring breaks. We say that we’re upset that so many outside activities steal our time and our children but we don’t say no to these or make choices that would put us or our children at a disadvantage in sports or academics. Perhaps that should have begun to be a wake-up call for us. In fact, we are called to be the “outsiders”, the ones who should be different from the world out there. Nowhere did Jesus tell his followers that it would be easy caring for those who are hungry or without a home, healing the sick and caring for those who are lonely and bereaved, speaking out for justice for those who have no voice. However, Jesus reminds them and us that we are valued and God knows everything about us and what we finding ourselves living in the midst of – be that the best of times or the most challenging of times. Jesus says, “Have no fear.” God is with us. Perhaps it’s time to really consider just how skewed things have become. Professional athletes and sports heroes make outlandish salaries and then also get paid to endorse products that we think we can’t live without or be successful in our sport without the shoes or clothing. Much of industry has been sent overseas to save a few dollars, pay those people slave wages, closed thousands of our own foundries and factories only to find thousands out of work and many more working for sub-standard wages. Most of us were raised to believe that if we worked hard, were loyal workers, and even put in the extra time, we’d be secure in our work places or in the businesses or farms we worked so hard to establish. The military budget is out of sight but we can’t seem to find monies for our schools, for health care and enough beds in facilities for those who can’t live on their own, and social system providers. Have we enslaved ourselves to what we thought was to be the “good life”, what would make us successful and happy, only to find that we’ve watered down our lives and our commitment to be what our baptism has called us to be: servants of God, children of God, those who will care for God’s creation and God’s creatures, those who will show mercy and work for justice for all people.
It is not all doom and gloom. Jeremiah gets over his ranting and raving, the disciples get on with the business at hand of going out knowing that God values them and promises to be with them. Jesus is with us. That’s our good news as well. We are valued; we are loved. God knows us, knows what we are called to be about, and promises to not send us out into the everyday world without going with us. There are so many catastrophes – shootings, children being killed, hunger, human trafficking, so many injustices, and I often hear many say that it is their faith that sustains them. That doesn’t come from being absent from God and absent from the faith community. Those are the very things we gather together, to be lifted up and to share what we have with those who have lost so much. We come together to be fed and nourished in Word and Sacrament so that we can be sent out strengthened for what comes next. God calls us in to be truth tellers and sends us out, equipped for the sake of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ that we are not alone and we also live as a people of hope as we live in God’s kingdom, as we live in this world of today. Thanks be to God. Amen
Jeremiah 20 : 7 – 13
Psalm 69 : 7 – 10 [ 11 – 15 ] 16 – 18
Romans 6 : 1b – 11
Matthew 10 : 24 – 39