Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Sermon for Year C Pentecost 13 Proper 14

Okay, I know I am going backwards with these posts but some friends ask that I post some of my sermons for the past month so I am rather out of order but you can read it in the order your choose. Blessings--Jeanne+

Do Not Be Afraid

Listen to a few of the headlines from this week:
Rain cripples New York City Transit…
Small earthquake hits Los Angeles area…
Utah miners still trapped…
Pakistan may declare state of emergency…

So much bad news,
so many headlines that worry us, frighten us.

Yet we hear God say in our reading from the book of Genesis: Do not be afraid.
We hear Jesus say in Luke’s gospel: Do not be afraid.

Our immediate reaction may be to retort—
Do not be afraid!! Have you been reading the papers lately, God??!!!
Jesus, you better start watching Fox News!

Or we might say—
Do not be afraid?? Have you looked at the state of my life lately?

Fear is an overwhelming and sometimes paralyzing emotion.
A very human emotion
that overtakes us all at different moments in our lives.

But God holds firm to that statement—Do not be afraid.

We hear it over and over and over throughout scripture.
Do not be afraid. Fear not. I am with you. I am your shield

From the very beginning,
in the very first book in the Bible—Genesis--
God calls the world into being
and God calls the church—the people of God—into being,
And from the very beginning, God says, Do not be afraid.

So what are the fears that haunt Abram?
He fears he will have no children.
Heirs meant everything in that time.

But God says, Abram, look toward heaven and count the stars.
That’s how many descendants you will have.

After God reveals a glimpse of the future to Abram,
the next line in this 15th chapter of Genesis
is the critical one:
And he—Abram-- believed the LORD.

He believed.
He trusted God even when God’s promise seemed impossible.

What are the fears that terrorize the disciples of Jesus?
They feel that everything is spinning wildly out of control.
They are trying to hold on,
to get a grip,
to keep things from changing
amidst a whirlwind of uncertainty.

Jesus calmly says, Do not be afraid, little flock.
Let go of your possessions.
Give away your wealth.
Stop holding on to things that do not matter.

Let go.

Those are words that make us very, very afraid.

If we are honest,
we know that sexuality is not the most controversial issue in the church.
Money is the most controversial issue.

And it is controversial
because we are very very afraid of not having it.
We know how the world works.
And the world constantly gives us the message: money matters.

But we need to pay close attention
to the things that make us fearful.

Do not be afraid.
We need to listen to those words
because these stories in our scripture readings
are the stories of our own faith journeys.

In small ways and sometimes in large ways,
God often gives us a glimpse of the future,
a brief revelation of what really matters.

God promises us new life…
We resist,
out of our fear.
God responds and offers us reassurance.
We are faced with making a choice.

We can believe as Abram did
or we can keep on resisting.

I have certainly done my share of resisting,
Of tightly closing my eyes to the abundance God offers.
As singer song writer Kathy Mattea would term it—
Standing knee deep in a river and dying of thirst.
Maybe some you have stood in that same river.

Because it is hard to believe that things can change,
difficult to let go of the way things are--
in our own lives, or in the life of our community,
terrifying to take a leap of pure faith.

Can you imagine,
how Abram—an elderly man—felt when God said
You WILL have children.
You will have descendants as the numerous as the stars in heaven.

The purpose of this story is to show us what faith,
what belief in God
really looks like.

It is to believe in what our human minds label as impossible.

I have been doing some reading recently about what makes a church thrive.
Churches are a diverse bunch.
Yet there seems to be one singular underlying thread:

Churches that are healthy and thriving and growing,
not only see their glass as half full,
they see it as overflowing.

Abundance not scarcity.
Unlimited possibility,
not dead end streets.

Last Sunday afternoon
at our Celebration of New Ministry--
which you hosted so magnificently--
this church was packed,
our pews were full.
When we sang,
we rocked God’s house!

And I could not help thinking ,
that God was showing St. John’s what is possible.
It was a brief and beautiful glimpse into our future.

As Christians, we are called to live as people of hope.
We are called to live as people of possibility.

When we get stuck in the past,
we live in fear.
When we become fearful of the future,
we slam the door
on God’s goodness and abundance.

God continually offers us a new song.
It is up to us to make the choice to sing without fear,
to sing with great joy.

Do not be afraid.
Do not.

Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us,
As we have put our trust in you.

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