Summary: Fear can be a powerful motivating factor that can keep us from living out our Christian faith, life and responsibilities. Jesus assures us that we do not need to be afraid and releases us from fear’s bondage.
Pentecost 5 A
Do Not Be Afraid
During his years as premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of the policies and atrocities of Joseph Stalin. Once, as he censured Stalin in a public meeting, Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience. "You were one of Stalin’s colleagues. Why didn’t you stop him?" "Who said that?" roared Khrushchev. An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle. Then Khrushchev replied quietly, "Now you know why." The point was well taken.
Fear is a powerful motivating factor. It can render people unmovable. It can lead them to do irrational things. People wonder why Elizabeth Smart’s sister didn’t alert her parents when her sister was abducted; but we’re learning now that she actually did. She got up to tell her parents, but saw the kidnapper still in the house and ran back to her bed. She was undoubtedly frozen in terror, frightened into inaction. Fear can control our every thought, our every action; even as we try to live out our life of faith.
And I’m not talking about a fear of losing our lives. Jesus’ disciples – they obviously had a legitimate fear of this happening. It was not at all uncommon that those espousing faith in Christ would be dragged out of town, beaten, stoned and left for dead. Stephen and Paul are but two examples of this in the Scripture. There are some today who are living under the same threats. Just two weeks ago we heard how a missionary lost his life and his wife nearly lost hers after they had been held captive for over a year in the Philippians. Those threats aren’t nearly as relevant for us in the relatively safe and free environment of America. Nevertheless there are still fears that grip us and stop us short of living out our Christian faith and our commitments to live for Christ.
We fear the crowds. Here in Matthew we see several examples of such fear with the Pharisees, the chief priest and elders of the people. In chapter 21, for instance, it’s clear that they want to arrest Jesus, but they fail to take action because “they’re afraid of the crowds” (21:26). We say, “Good, they were on the wrong side anyway.” But the truth is we who have the truth of God’s word, and the assurances and promises of God, and know that we are His children still bow to public pressure. We waffle on issues like abortion and assisted suicide. We close our eyes to the growing problem of sexual immorality in our nation. We talk privately about the growing depravity on TV and our movie screens, but then pay good money so that we can see it like everyone else. We fear the crowds.
And we fear for our relationships with our children as well. Our kids are growing up with these same pressures, and we’re afraid to put our foot down. We don’t want to be seen by them as too oppressive or out of touch, and as a result we miss an opportunity to teach them that such values are of importance to our Christian walk and that the world need not have such a sway on their thinking. We fear that we’ll lose their love if we do this, but we end up losing their respect and our position of authority that enables us to be the mentors and providers that we’ve been called to be.
Funny, we fear that too; our providing that is. We noted last week the very real threat that faces us as a people in the U.S.. We know that terrorist will strike at us again, and who’s to know. The next time we or our loved one could be in the line of fire. Financially it’s a hard time as well. Some are struggling to make ends meet. Others are facing layoffs. And some of you, though ok yourselves, are watching investments which you had hoped to pass along to your families diminish in the wake of rising health care costs and vanishing stock returns.
In the wake of that our church is facing its own struggles. Giving is down as you can see in the bulletin, driving a fair amount of this parish to yet another fear as we’ve used up what we can borrow and have been forced to dip into a quickly depleting “housing” fund to make ends meet. So much potential, so many opportunities to reach out in Christ’s love, to share the life changing word of God; but we’re afraid to act. We’re fearful of stepping up to the plate, fearful that we’ll fail, fearful that we’ll be wasting our time, fearful that our community and our schools and our congregations are just going to fold up in the future anyway.