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Final Sermons: Fear Free (Video and Manuscript)

Today’s post is another sermon from the series leading up to the final worship gathering of the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church.

One of the things my congregation (including myself) was experiencing during this time was the emotion of FEAR.  That’s normal when facing the death of a loved one – including a beloved institution like a congregation.  So, I took that emotion to the text for the day and the result was the sermon, published below.

Please excuse the fact that the camera was off-kilter that morning.

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Here’s the video.  Below that, you can read the manuscript.


Fear Free
Matthew 10:24-39

24″The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
26″So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32″Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34″Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law- 36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
37″Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

The title for this morning sermon is a bit of an overstatement. It is neither possible nor preferable that we live life “fear free.”

Fear is a divine gift. It’s something give us by God to move us toward safely during dangerous circumstances. It’s the ability to feel fear which keeps us from doing stupid things; like vacationing in North Korea; hiking across Iran; or flying United Airlines.

Fear is a defense mechanism that kicks in and tries to lead us toward security. And there are numerous things that should prompt us towards a healthy fear.

A couple weeks ago, I took my brother, David, to St. Mary’s for a medical procedure. As we were walking from the house to the car, we saw a four foot long snake in front of us. It wasn’t just any snake – it was a Water Moccasins. I don’t know if it came from the stream of water behind my house; or if it had traveled from Fort Lee in the back of David’s truck. It didn’t matter. It was a big, dangerous snake in my front yard.

My brother, David, being a big army man, decided he would get rid of the snake. He grabbed a yard rake and started poking the snake. The problem was that the snake did not like being poked. He curled up, bowed back, and began to strike the rake. He repeated move in an aggressive manner toward my brother, who tossed the rake and jumped on top of the air conditioner to the side of my house.

“Hey, get me that rake and bring it over here,” David said.

“Ummm, that will be a ‘NO!’” I said from a safe distance of about 20 feet. I was already contemplating the words I would say at his funeral.

David muttered some unkind words, which I ill not repeat in worship, and the snake scurried into some bushes.

“He won’t bother you anymore,” David said, as though he had achieved some great victory standing on top of my air conditioner. That was about two weeks ago. Every day since, I look carefully around the yard while leaving or returning to my house; and I have not been anywhere near those bushes.

That fear of snake is primal – at least for me. I do not like snakes. When we conduct our final worship gathering and I move forward to the next chapter in my life, I can guarantee you that I will not become the pastor of one of those snake handling churches in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia.

Some fears are a divine gift. They are given us by God to warn us of danger. When I titled this sermon “fear free,” I was not suggesting that we jettison those types of fears.

Fears come from a sense of insecurity. We are afraid of what might happen. We are afraid of what might not happen. Basically, we are afraid of the unknown. And such fear is also understandable. The problem is not that we are afraid, but that we allow those fears to dominate our thoughts until they paralyze our lives. Those fears always come to us in the form of a common question.

We discover that we will soon be out of a job, and you ask: What will become of me now?

The doctor gives us the diagnosis of a debilitating and terminal health condition, and we ask: What will become of me now?
We come home from the cemetery after burying a loving spouse, and we ask: What will become of me now?

All the questions we ask in moments of fear, distress, and unrest, are linked back to our sense of insecurity. Such fears are natural, normal, and commonplace to our humanity, but they ought not dominate our thoughts to the point where they stop us from living.

I understand that MANY OF US ARE FEARFUL RIGHT NOW. We are asking: What will become of us now? This is our spiritual home place. Those around us in worship this morning are our spiritual kinfolk. And as we move closer and closer toward August 20th, it is natural that we might ask: What will become of us now?

That insecurity is natural, normal, and should be expected for a time. But that fear should not dominate our thoughts or redirect our lives from the course that is set before us.

A few weeks ago, we acted in a fashion that is consistent with our mission, vision, and purpose. We acted in a way that is a reflection of a focus on the primacy of God’s Kingdom. That’s actually the kind of behavior Jesus was addressing in the sayings recorded in today’s scripture lesson from Matthew’s gospel.

In the passage prior to today’s scripture reading, Jesus has been telling his disciples about the dangers of being Kingdom faithful and mission focused. In essence He is telling them that doing the right thing is often fraught with hardship and difficulty. He continues along this track of thought, saying in today’s lesson: “What do you expect? A student is never greater than his or her teacher. If the world gives me a bad time, it will give you a bad time, too.” (Matthew 10:24-25).

Then he tells them not to be afraid. Don’t be afraid of enemies, hardships, dangers, difficulties, conflicts, or critics. Don’t run. Don’t hide. Don’t let the fear take control. Instead, he tells them to “speak up; shout it out; stand up and deliver” (10:26-27).

One of the difficult things of our western religious culture is that we have not had to be heroes for the faith. I know that the politics of some faith communities like to whine and moan that we are somehow being persecuted. But really, we’ve had it pretty good. We say our prayers, read our Bibles before bed, conduct our devotions, and witness to our friends and neighbors. Then each Sundays we attend a worship gathering unhindered by our society. No matter how much we lament the decay of society, those basic freedoms have remained consistent throughout our culture’s history. We have never had to become heroes for the faith. We’ve just gone about our religious routines.

But now we’ve been force to act bravely and heroically. The biggest challenge to our faith came just a few weeks ago when we had to decide, “Will be faithful to the ultimate vision of God’s Kingdom even if it prompts grief, sorrow, frustration, and fear?”

That’s the same decision that the disciple’s were facing. No longer would it be enough to go along to get along. It was time for them to step forward in faith. It was time for them to fulfill their mission, even in the face of danger, hardship, and difficulty. It was time for them, to “speak up; shout it out; stand up and deliver.”

For that to happen, they would have to heed Jesus’ instructions to “Stop being afraid.” They would have to life courageously and “fear free.”

Notice, Jesus does not discount the reality of their fear. He acknowledges they are afraid, as he then he says: “stop being afraid.” In fact, he repeats the command and adds a qualifier: “Stop being afraid of people who can kill the body but not the soul.”

The worse thing that could happen to us is death. But even that is temporary. God overturns death with life. Easter ended the lie that death is ultimately victorious. Life comes from God. As we DIE in the service of the Kingdom, Jesus tells us that God is there to welcome through the resurrection into the embrace of divine grace.

This is an important point. We spend a great deal of our time focused on the words and instructions of Jesus. That’s good. I would never be critical of that. But Jesus is more than a teacher. Jesus is the actual human revelation of God. Jesus doe not just tell us what God is like. Jesus shows us what God is like. Jesus reveals how God sees us. He shows us the heart of God toward us.

“Aren’t sparrows the most common and least significant of birds?” Jesus asks. “Yet not a single one of them dies apart from God your Father.” (10:29).

“If that is true about the sparrow, HOW MUCH MORE does God care about you. God knows every hair on your head.“So stop being afraid. You are much more valuable than any sparrow” (10:30-31).

Wow. Jesus shows us that nothing escapes God. We gave ourselves away totally, even to the point of death, it that did not happen outside of our eternal inclusion within the grace of God. God never lets us go.

We are never left orphaned. You and I will never be deserted or abandon. God is not some great big deity out there somewhere. Jesus repeatedly reveals God to be loving, caring, inclusive, and welcoming. Jesus refers to God as our Abba – as a loving Papa who always includes us in the safety of divine grace.

This is the solution to our fear problem. The secret to overcoming fear is to realize how much God loves you. It’s trusting that the God Jesus reveals as Abba actually care for you and will take care of you.

Early in the spring of 1905, Civilla Martin and her husband were spending some time in Elmira, New York. They developed a close friendship with a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nearly twenty years. Her husband was confined to a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives.

One day while the Martins were visiting with the Doolittles, Civilla’s husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” The beauty of this simple expression of faith gripped Civilla Martin’s heart and she wrote a poem which she mailed the next day to Charles Gabriel, who put music to it. The song was recorded and made famous by Ethel Waters. Perhaps you have heard it:

“Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,

Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,

When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,

For His eye is on the sparrow. And I know He watches me.
“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,

And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;

Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

Fear is a gift from God. There are some things of which we need to be afraid. But there are some things we should never fear.

We should never fear that we might be deserted by God.

We should never fear when doing the right thing. We should “speak up, shout out, stand up, and deliver.”

We should never fear the hardships and difficulties of discipleship.

We should never fear that the enemy of death will have the final word.

Instead, we should always live with the fear that offsets fear. “For His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me.”

 

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