Traditional Sermon Pentecost 9
What are you afraid of? We’re all afraid of something. Maybe you have nyctophobia, a fear of darkness or arachnophobia, a fear of spiders. Maybe your fear is a little more unusual like Arachibutyrophobia – the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. I know for a fact that many of you have nomophobia – the fear that your phone is not connecting you to the world, due to not being charged, or away from cell service, or worst of all … LOST! We have lots of fears and worries these days … and these phobias are just a few of the silly ones. Our other fears can be far more serious.
Many of us worry about the treatment that some refugees are receiving at our borders, and the way that treatment compromises a core value in this country … namely, that we are a nation that has been built through immigration, and whose identity is grounded in the appreciation of a variety of cultures that make up our populace. Lots of people are worried about gun violence. And in using that term, I’m not talking about the Saturday Night Special in your gun vault, but the semi-automatic assault rifles that are created for military combat situations, but which are showing up in the hands of civilians, along with their capacity for mass destruction achieved in just seconds or minutes. Others around us are worried about the level of anger present in our culture … and the level of violence that anger engenders … and the ways that anger divides us from people that we need to be in communication with so as to negotiate healthy solutions to our country’s problems. And probably most of us are worried that our elected leaders at the highest levels of government seem incapable of talking civilly to each other, and thus neuter the bi-partisan political system that is integral to the health of our democracy. Yes, we have lots of worries in our lives … small and large issues … personal ones, national ones, and global issues. So our hymn of the day, which our wise Director of Music selected for us today, may be a key offering of advice and counsel in taking down the energy in the room that surrounds our worries and our fears. Let’s sing together Verse 1 of our Hymn of the Day, Have No Fear, Little Flock, #764 in your hymnal.
Have no fear, little flock; have no fear, little flock, for the Father has chosen to give you the kingdom; have no fear, little flock!~~ELW Hymn 764, Have No Fear, Little Flock, Verse 1
God gifts the Kingdom to you and me … but what does that really mean? Does it only mean that heaven is real and that when you die you can be sure that there will be a place and a community waiting for your arrival? I certainly hope it is more than that … for the Kingdom of God should never be only a future “pie in the sky, by and by” kinda place. The Kingdom of God is present among us here and now … it binds us to each other every time we celebrate the sacrament of the altar … or baptize a new believer … or hear God’s word of absolution at the end of our confessional rite. The Kingdom of God is what God brings to the world in part … until that great day when time as we know it ends, and God’s Kingdom reaches completion. The Kingdom of God is what inspires us to believe that there is a Holy Spirit at work in our world, and that Jesus’ death on the cross was not a failure, but a victory of life over death. Yes, the Kingdom of God is here … and it’s presence should instill in us hope, instead of fear. It is why God reveals to us what the Kingdom looks like, through the words of Jesus. So that we may be people who have hope.
But of course, we are also human … and sinful … and broken. And so the gift of the Kingdom often seems too far out in the future to be of much help to us. Thankfully, God does not desert us. But finds ways to remind us that we are people of hope and not despair, no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Let’s sing about one of those reminders, in our second verse of our Hymn of the Day.
Have good cheer, little flock; have good cheer, little flock, for the Father will keep you in his love forever; have good cheer, little flock!~~ELW Hymn 764, Have No Fear, Little Flock, Verse 2
So how does God remind us that we are people of hope? By pointing us to the gift of love. We are loved by God … You are loved by God. Some days we struggle to believe that, because the world treats us so poorly … or because the world treats those we care about poorly. Some days we struggle to figure out where love can be found. But recognize that our inability to love each other, does not mean that God does not love us. And our inability to express this love of God in our world, does not mean that God does not love this world. The hymn is right … God’s love is forever … and no matter how badly we behave, or how imperfectly we communicate that love to others … God’s … love … is … forever. The hymn gets it right … and the hymn invites us to rejoice over that truth, even at times when we may not be able to see the fruits of that love at work in our actions, or in the actions of others around us who are also God’s children. Yes, the Father keeps us in in the center of God’s love, whether or not we can always perceive it … and whether or not we can always give voice to that love. Because without that love … we are lost indeed. God’s battle against our fears does not stop with the offering of love, however. Let’s sing verse three of our hymn
Praise the Lord high above; praise the Lord high above, for he stoops down to heal you, uplift and restore you; praise the Lord high above!~~ELW Hymn 764, Have No Fear, Little Flock, Verse 3
What does God do when we cannot comprehend God’s Kingdom among us … when we cannot sense the love of God around us … when we do not feel the healing touch of God’s love? God heals us anyway. Because the potency of God’s love is not dependent upon our ability to manage it well. Instead, God’s love is a power unto itself. It achieves God’s purpose for us, when we cannot achieve it ourselves. Don’t take my word for it … ask Abram, featured in our first lesson from Genesis, when he could not believe the love of God would bring him children in his old age. What does God say? … Fear not! Count the stars in the sky if you can … that is the number of your descendants.=
Or ask Moses when he was about to lead the Israelites through the Red Sea and out of Egypt … Fear not! I’m taking you to the promised land. Or ask Joshua, when God summoned him to topple the walls of Jericho. Or ask Joseph, when he found out Mary was pregnant, and God told him, the child was conceived through the Holy Spirit. Or Ask Mary herself, when Gabriel told her she would birth the Son of God … Fear Not! It is what God says each and every timer we cannot believe God’s promises. Fear not! For God’s love is a power unto itself … it heals because decides that it will heal … whether we always understand it or can comprehend it … or not.
If by now it feels like we are called to blindly stumble through life, waiting for God to take charge of our lives and our world, leading us around by the nose … fear not! … we do have something we can consistently strive to do. We may not be the orchestrators of our salvation. But we are given one very active role in this godly drama. Verse 4 of our hymn identifies what God calls us to do … lets sing this final verse.
Thankful hearts raise to God; thankful hearts raise to God, for he stays close beside you, in all things works with you; thankful hearts raise to God!~~ELW Hymn 764, Have No Fear, Little Flock, Verse 4
Giving thanks … the premier response of the Christian … one of the primary callings of the Christian. Being grateful allows us to acknowledge that God is the source of all good things in our lives, and yet still respond actively in a way that does not turn God’s gift into our action and work. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” … is how Jesus presents this calling to gratitude in today’s Gospel Lesson. We typically turn this into an event driven by fear …fear that we don’t give enough … fear that God will not love us because we don’t give enough … fear that we treasure the wrong things in life. What God is calling us to is gratitude not fear … gratitude that recognizes the real treasures in life and gives thanks for them … gratitude that compels our hearts to make choices which celebrate and affirm the true treasures with which God blesses us. Gratitude, that by its nature leads to a sharing of these blessings with God and with others.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his brief life of 39 years, often wrote about gratitude. Some of those writings come from the final book that Bonhoeffer saw published during his lifetime, entitled, Life Together. Note that the setting for that book was Bonhoeffer’s experience leading underground Christian seminaries for 4-5 years in the late 1930’s right up to the start of WWII. During this time, he knew his resistance activities could lead to his imprisonment and ultimately his death … which eventually occurred in April 1945, in Flossenberg, Germany, just two weeks before US soldiers liberated that concentration camp. One of Bonhoeffer’s reflections during what had to be a fearful time, was this:
“I’ve had a remarkable life. I seem to be in such good places at the right time. You know, if you were to ask me to sum my life up in one word, gratitude.”~~ Life Together,, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
There is not much more to say. Have no fear … know where your treasure really is … and give thanks. Amen.