Saturday, June 23, 2012

Be not afraid

As an intentional break between sections of the sermon today, I invite you to sing the refrain from a song. 
Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me and I will give you rest.

The Philistines and the Israelites were at war. The Philistines had a weapon of mass destruction, and his name was Goliath. He’s nearly 10 feet tall and his armor alone weighs 126 pounds. Perhaps we could think of Paul Bunyan in size, though not in temperament.
Goliath challenges the Israelites to come and do battle with him, offering terms. Choose one person to challenge me. The loser of the duel will serve the winner; the army of the loser will serve the army of the winner.
The army was afraid. There was no single fighter able to defeat such a giant. They imagined losing the battle and losing their identity as Israelites and losing contact with their God. But when David heard about the contest, he was energized, and he was angry that this man was defying his God’s people, and his God.
He claimed, “I know how to defeat this man. I have plenty of experience fighting off lions and bears. I can handle one single human.” Saul, a much bigger man, hoped to protect David with his armor, but the armor only hindered David’s ability to move as he needed to move.
“I want you to know,” David proclaimed to Goliath, “that God does not win battles with sword and spear but with divine power. God has already defeated you.” Trusting in God to protect him and to guide his throwing arm, David selected some stones and loaded his slingshot. The giant fell, and Saul’s army – the army of the Lord – was saved by a boy with a slingshot and a powerful trust in the Lord.
When the army quivered and quaked in fear, David drew his courage from his faith that he was not alone and that God would save God’s people.
When we are afraid, intimidated by someone or something that seems much larger than ourselves, we can imitate David and trust that we do not face the situation alone. God is there with us. Always. Let’s sing.
Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me and I will give you rest.

One day, Jesus needed to escape from the crowds so he asked the disciples to get in the boat and head out across the lake. Apparently, those who had boats went with them. Even on the water, Jesus could not totally escape the crowds. A storm came up, but Jesus slept through it.
These waters can be wildly dangerous. The disciples are terrified; “We’re all going to die! Don’t you care about us?!” Jesus awoke and spoke to the storm. “Peace. Be still.” And the storm ended. Then he questioned the disciples, who I’m sure are sitting there speechless. “Don’t you trust in me?”
Whether they trusted in him or not wasn’t the issue for the disciples. They want to know how he could control even the weather. It was the best magic trick they had ever seen. They were still afraid, but in a different way. If this Jesus could control the weather, what else could he do? What could he do to them?
When we get scared, we want to know that our God is not asleep in the bottom of the boat, but right there with us, helping us steer the boat, and maybe even helping us bail out the water. Jesus promises that we can trust in him to always be there with us. Let’s sing.
Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me and I will give you rest.

The Apostle Paul is writing to the Corinthians, who have been causing a lot of trouble. They are a rebellious lot, as some would describe them. They have followed other leaders who are sharing a gospel that differs radically from the one Paul is sharing. They believe the lies told about Paul, Timothy, Titus, and others. Their actions are not what Paul expects from believers in Jesus.
Paul declares that his own behavior has been exemplary and filled with tolerance for the tortures that have been imposed upon him. He has faced calamity and blessings with the same passion for the mission of Jesus. He urges the Corinthians to do the same.
Whether facing hardship or kindness, all believers should hold firmly to their faith in Jesus, trusting in him to help them in any situation. “Open your hearts,” Paul says, “and receive the Lord Jesus. He will pour out blessings upon you, even in the midst of struggle and challenge.”
When we are faced with conflict, we have two built-in, instinctive, responses: fight or flight. Paul is describing the situation of the Corinthians as flight. They have chosen the easier, more familiar pattern of living and believing. They have not chosen to fight for the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and they have believed the lies others have told about him, Paul.
Paul insists the right response is to fight for what they know is true, as he has done. Paul does not give up the fight for what is right and true, even though it has meant serious hardships for him and some of those with him. Repeatedly using himself as a role model, Paul hopes the Corinthians will follow his model of living and loving and join him in putting all their hope and faith in Jesus, their Lord.
When we are facing conflict, we have the same choices, fight or flight. It can be hard at times to determine whether we should fight or flee. We often think first of self-preservation – we will fight to hold onto something we know is ours. “That’s MY chocolate chip cookie!” And we will flee to keep our bodies out of harm’s way. “MY! That’s a really big fist you have.”
But sometimes, it’s best to put Jesus and God’s purposes first. We can fight for what we know is right – declaring ourselves Christian even when facing a threat to our safety. We can fight for what we know is right, by voting and speaking out against those who defy God’s purposes, God’s justice for all people. When we choose to stand and fight for God’s purposes, we join David and Paul and Martin Luther and Martin Luther King and Bishop Oscar Romero and the nuns in El Salvador and the martyrs of Uganda, and so many, many more. We join them in trusting that God will be at our side, always, even if our lives are threatened.
Let’s sing.
Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me and I will give you rest.

When we face challenges, when we are afraid, we can run and hide. We can beg Jesus to take care of the problem for us. Or we can stand up against whatever it is that is threatening us – cancer, memory loss, death of a loved one, increasing physical disability, financial problems. We can stand against those things that threaten us because we know that God is by our side – no, going before us – to help us be victorious.
Even so … We WILL lose the battle against death – that is a given for humans. But it is not the last word, because Jesus has gone before us to prove that God is more powerful than death. We know that at the last, and in the meantime, when we follow Jesus, trust in his presence and power, he will sooner AND later give us rest.
Let’s sing.
Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me and I will give you rest.