Do Not Be Afraid . . . Again

Matthew 10:24-33

Do Not Be Afraid . . . Again

June 25, 2017

 

        We did a whole sermon series back in Lent—March and April—called Overcoming Fear with Faith. 

  • We heard Jesus say, “Don’t worry about what you’re going to eat or drink. God knows you need those things. But seek first God and God’s kingdom and everything else will take care of itself.

  • We may fear foreigners and strangers, but the Bible is clear we must welcome and care for them.

  • When Peter tries to walk on the water, he grows fearful of the wind and waves, but when he falls, what happens? Jesus scoops him up and sets him back in the boat.

  • There is no fear in love, 1 John says, but perfect love casts out fear.

  • On Good Friday Jesus prayed his way through fear in Gethsemane.

  • Even on Easter, the message comes two times: Don’t be afraid.

     

    So you might think we’d pretty well covered the topic of fear in the scriptures. But no, here is Jesus today telling his disciples not once, not twice, but three times: Have no fear of them (v. 26), Do not fear (v. 28), So do not be afraid (v. 31). And what are the disciples afraid of? Well, he’d just called them and sent them out to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom and healing power. And Jesus warned that some people would oppose them, maybe even persecute them for this message. Well, yeah. I might be afraid of that. How about you?

     

            We’re in this worship series now about God-Centered Wellbeing and calling, what God calls us to do, how God calls us to be in the world. Last Sunday we heard Maple Grove members tell about their individual calling of God—to love others without needing to judge, to be a church youth leader, to reinvent oneself after grief and loss. And over lunch today we’ll work on our own personal mission statements.

    But today’s scripture is not about this individual call of God to each one of us; it’s about a calling that belongs to all disciples, one common to every Christian—to go and share the good news of Jesus Christ. We worked on that common calling three Sundays ago—writing down why Jesus is important to you, what difference the church makes in your life, and who is that one person you can invite to church. Sure enough, we wrote all that down. And then the fear sets in, right? I mean have you actually invited that person? See what I mean about fear? That’s why Jesus said it not once, not twice, but three times: Have no fear of them, Do not fear, So do not be afraid.

     

            New Testament scholar, Susan Garrett, points out that one problem interpreting Matthew 10 for our own situation is that the specific hardships Jesus warns about aren’t likely to happen to us. Our very lives are not at risk for telling a neighbor about Jesus, and we won’t get thrown in prison for inviting family and friends to church. But even though we don’t face persecution of that sort, she says, we still face some real obstacles.1 When we think about telling others about God’s love and inviting them to church, we worry that people will think we’re nosy or meddling. We’re afraid they might think we’re criticizing them or suggesting there’s something wrong with them. We’re afraid of being labeled “that religious fanatic neighbor” or the “grandparents who only talks about church.” In today’s contentious climate, we’re afraid that even mentioning God or church might stir up anger or division. Maybe you’re afraid that the person you invite to church won’t come; or maybe you’re afraid they will come and you’ll feel responsible for them here.

    There’s no end of things to be afraid of . . . for the twelve disciples back then and for us today. But Professor Garrett also points out that while we might think the main obstacles to sharing our faith are human opposition or potential criticism, Jesus teaches that the chief obstacle (as Tommy Thompson has been telling me) is fear itself. Of course things may not turn out the way we want. Of course there’s risk in anything important you do. It’s not that there isn’t anything to be afraid of; it’s that Jesus calls us to share and invite anyway. That’s why he said it not once, not twice, but three times: Have no fear of them, Do not fear, So do not be afraid.

     

    In this gospel reading, Jesus does not promise to protect us from all harm. But he does give us two good reasons to face our fears of telling people about God’s love and inviting them to church:

  • First, we never do anything without God’s presence and care. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground, Jesus says, apart from our Father. That doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen—sparrows do fall. But whether the person you tell about God’s love is delighted or offended, whether the person you invite comes to church or runs the other way, you are still in the shadow of God’s love. Do not be afraid.

  • Second, Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before the Father in heaven.” I know Jesus loves us whether we’ve done well or failed miserably; forgiveness and mercy are his trademark. But isn’t your heart hungry to acknowledge him? Don’t you long for others to know the forgiveness and mercy that you know? Sharing and inviting is one of the things Jesus calls every disciples to do. Fearful or not, I want to say ‘yes’ to Jesus.

 

When Fred Craddock was a boy back in the 1930s his family lived near a railroad tracks. Fred remembers a number of mornings waking up and going into the kitchen for breakfast, and there’d be a strange, ill-kempt, poorly dressed man at the table eating.  He was scared of them.  So one morning when such a man left, he said, “Mom, who was that?”

She said, “Well, his name was Henry, and he said he was hungry.”

“Where’d he come from?”

“He came down the railroad tracks, honey,” she explained. Some people call them ‘hobos.’  They walk the tracks doing odd jobs, begging, whatever they can to stay alive.”

“But Mama,” Fred insisted, “weren’t you scared?”

She said, “Well, he’s hungry.”

“But I was scared!”

“Well, he’s hungry.”2

Fred remembered his mother’s lesson the rest of his life. What is our fear when one of God’s children is hungry?  What is our fear when a neighbor needs to know Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness?  What is our fear when a child needs Vacation Bible School, when someone is lonely or despairing and needs a church family, or has gifts and skills and nowhere to offer them?  That’s why Jesus said it not once, not twice, but three times: Have no fear of them, Do not fear, So do not be afraid.

 

1 Susan R. Garrett, “Matthew 10:24-33,” From Text to Sermon, Interpretation 47/2 (April 1993), 166-69.

2 Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories, ed. Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001), 109.

 

 

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