Sermon from August 7, 2016

The Rev. Marjorie Menaul’s sermon from August 7.


“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”

“Do not be afraid.” These days, that is much easier said than done.

There is so much to be afraid of – and if a few of us have somehow managed not to share in one fear or another, it’s likely that friends or neighbors will be overflowing with it.
-We’re afraid of the results of the coming presidential election – the wrong person may win! Actually, many of us are afraid of the results, regardless of who the winner is.
-We’re afraid of ideological terrorism and of people whose rage overflows without warning into mass murder.
-We’re afraid of people of other religions, other races; people whose customs and hopes are different from ours.
-Or we’re afraid of prejudiced people: racists, fundamentalists, people who assume they and they alone have the truth,
-We’re afraid of Zika, as we were afraid of Ebola, as we will be afraid of the next new disease with potential to cross the ocean and harm us.
-We’re afraid of assaults on our computerized way of life – assaults from Russia, or China, or simply from hackers who want to steal our identities.
-We’re afraid of climate change.
-We’re afraid of the massive debt which so easily can pile up in the course of higher education or serious illness.
That’s a long list, and it could easily be much longer. Some of the fears on that list may have passed you by – for myself, I fear some of them much more than others – but there is one huge, overriding fear that includes them all. I suppose you could call it another variety of climate change. As the never-ending news cycle gives more and more attention to things we ought to be afraid of, we are increasingly sharing in a climate of fear. And that is changing us – changing how we see the world as individuals, and changing how we relate to one another as communities and a nation. Of all the things I’m afraid of, that is the elephant in the room.

“Do not be afraid, “ says Jesus.
Oh, sure. He just says that to us, and we’re supposed to step out of fear and into the sunlight. Right.

Jesus knew he was asking a lot. The world was very different then, but there was plenty for his disciples to be afraid of then too. Their country was under foreign rule, and they had to pay taxes to their oppressors. Romans who lived among them had strange customs, worshipped strange gods. Many in Israel were barely scratching a living from their land, and many others had lost their land and roamed the roads as bandits, threatening the safety of all who travelled. Children often died in infancy. Various groups approached these fears in different ways, and often in bitter opposition to one another. You’ve heard these names before:
-The Essenes, people who separated themselves from others and from the Temple to live in strict observance to the commandments. Many scholars believe John the Baptist was an Essene.
-The Pharisees, people who honored God by strictly observing the commandments as they lived out in the world. Jesus generally agreed with them.
-The Sadducees, who wanted their land to live in purity as God’s people. They played central roles in the Temple in Jerusalem until Herod gave that leadership role to people who shared his internationalist attitudes. By Jesus’ time, they were still around, but not well-regarded anymore.
-The Zealots, people you might call guerilla fighters or terrorists, depending on your point of view. They used violence to try to drive the Romans out.
Those are some of the groups we know about, but we don’t know much. Life in Jesus’ time and place was full of dangers, disputes, fears. It was in just that fearful situation that Jesus spoke the words we hear today: “Do not be afraid, little flock.”
How could they possibly not be afraid?
Only if they had hope that was stronger than their fear. And so Jesus went on to remind them of the hope he had been holding before them all along: “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”

And that is our hope as well.
I know; we don’t do kingdoms anymore. Yes, the language is one that doesn’t immediately resonate with citizens of a democratic country. But the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom Jesus announced – that Kingdom is our hope.
It is our hope for the future, but not for the future only. It is also our hope for today and tomorrow.

Each time we renew our baptismal covenant, you and I are committing ourselves again to living as citizens of God’s kingdom.
-First we say the Apostles Creed – we proclaim together the goodness of God, and all that God has done for us.
-Then we repeat the promises of our divine citizenship. If you’d like to look at them as I talk about them, they begin on 304 in the Book of Common Prayer:
-With God’s help, I will continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.
-With God’s help, I will persevere in resisting evil, and whenever I fall into sin, I will repent and return to the Lord.
-With God’s help, I will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
-With God’s help, I will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself.
-With God’s help, I will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Those promises put our fears into perspective, don’t they?
If we are truly seeking and serving Christ in all people, respecting their human dignity, how could we be overwhelmed by fear if those same people?
If we are truly striving for justice and peace for all people, we’ll probably be too busy fighting hunger and disease, pollution and ocean level rise, to be overwhelmed by the fear of those things.

It is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom – not a gift all wrapped up with a bow, but an invitation to a different kind of life, life with the possibility of hope.
You and I don’t have to accept that invitation.
We don’t have to expect anything beyond fear and hopelessness.
But by the grace of God, we have another choice. We can accept the Kingdom as the gift of a loving God, and live in love rather than fear.

It’s a choice each of us will have to make, over and over, day by day. It will take constant alertness to stay out of the sea of fear that laps at our ankles. But at the end of our alertness, as at the beginning, is the grace of God. As Jesus said, “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.”

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”