August 7, 2016 – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 12:32-40
Ordinary 19C; Proper 14

Jill Duffield's lectionary reflections are sent to the Outlook's email list every Monday.
Jill Duffield’s lectionary reflections are sent to the Outlook’s email list every Monday.

To fear or not to fear. That seems to be the question.

Political speeches on all ends of the spectrum have talked about fear or assumed fear or trotted out a litany of things, people, places of which we should be afraid. Metal detectors at sporting events, pat-downs at airports, resource officers assigned to schools, cameras mounted on churches, lamp posts and department store ceilings all convey the reality of ever-present fear.

I used to get the neighborhood watch emails and they were filled with fear. Be on the lookout for strange cars and suspicious people. Lock your car doors. Be aware that bicycles were stolen from a carport last week. Mail has been taken. Don’t raise that little red flag when you put your outgoing envelopes in the box because it, well, raises a red flag. People with bad intentions are afoot. Beware.

During this election season I have been barraged by emails with incendiary subject lines that include words like “desperate” and “warning” and “urgent” all in bold.

A section on I-95 with which I am very familiar is festooned with billboards asking me things like: Heaven or Hell? If you die tonight do you know where you are going?

I have received repeated snail mail from a company that promises me protection, security and peace of mind from all that threatens: burglary, break-ins, fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. The monthly fee for this invaluable service is minimal. I mean… can you really put a price on peace of mind or the safety of your children?

The elevator that I take when I can’t bring myself to climb the stairs in the parking deck near my office bears a flyer that warns me to “put my junk in my trunk.” I am instructed that even hoodies and spare change will entice a would-be thief.

The message is clear and ubiquitous: Be afraid, be very afraid. Life and limb and sweatshirts are in peril. Report suspicious activity. Keep your guard up.

And the thing is, there is plenty of proof to back up the rhetoric. (Maybe not the heaven or hell rhetoric as no one has come back from the grave to let us know where exactly they ended up, but we can certainly speculate!) The news is grim. I did think twice about taking a group of teenagers to a super hero movie. What if someone came in and started shooting? I did start taking my outgoing mail to the post office rather than put it in the box at the end of my driveway. I do wonder when and where the next terrorist attack will take place. I do not, however, wonder if it will happen.

There are plenty of things to fear. There are nights when sleep doesn’t come and fear rules my thoughts. Does fear rule you, too, sometimes?

And yet, here we are in Luke today with Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock.” Little flock, Jesus seems to acknowledge our vulnerability. We are sheep, small in number, not well equipped to stave off wolves. Unable to control whether water will come or grass will grow. Helpless, really, if we are left to our own devices. Shouldn’t all of that add up to being legitimately afraid?

Yes, except for the part that comes next: “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

We aren’t left to our own devices. We aren’t just any flock. We are our Father’s flock. We are under the protection of the Good Shepherd, sought out, rescued, given green pasture, comforted, fed; therefore, we need not fear.

Imagine if we embraced that reality. Imagine how freeing it would be if instead of being afraid, we were confident that all we hath needed God’s hand hath provided?

The church’s embracing and living out of this trust may be the most important mission of our time. Anxiety is on the rise. Tensions are mounting. Divisions are being highlighted. Scarcity sells. But for us, for Jesus’ little flock, we recognize a different reality. Ours is not a fear-based economy. We traffic in trust. Our neighborhood watch is on alert not for crime but for the kingdom. We are awake at night not with worry, but with joyous anticipation. We aren’t afraid of a burglary; we are ready for an in-breaking of heaven. We aren’t huddled in a back room; we are waiting by the front door to welcome the One who comes with goodness and mercy.

This Sunday imagine with your congregation what it looks like to live without fear in a world that is truly frightening at times, but nonetheless, in the end and always, God’s.

This Sunday consider what it means to be this little vulnerable flock living amongst wolves, but protected, guided and provided for by the Good Shepherd.

This Sunday consider what it means to have faith. David Johnson in his book, “Trust in God” writes, “Faith in God is not just believing that there is a supreme being. It is trusting in God; it is entrusting one’s life to a trustworthy God.” What does that kind of faith and trust look like? How do we live it out?

Peter Steinke in “Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times” quotes Henri Nouwen, “The more you feel safe as a child of God, the freer you will be to claim your mission in the world as a responsible human being.” Knowing we are safe in our Father’s flock, how will we claim our mission in the world?

We hear through the prophet Isaiah, “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God.” Remind your hearers that we are not alone – whether in the valley or on top of the mountain.

Jesus asks us, “Why are you afraid?” Knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord, of whom or what shall we be afraid?

In the midst of all of the purveyors of fear, we are called to live fearlessly. Not because the world isn’t scary. Not because we are invincible. Not because worry and anxiety don’t run rampant in our minds. No, we can live fearlessly because we have Jesus. We belong to God. It sounds simplistic. Maybe it is trite to some, but it is truly powerful. Living fearlessly in faith enables us to free our energy, our imaginations, our intelligence for the present and coming Kingdom. It allows us to keep our lamps lit in order to dispel the darkness. Living unafraid makes us ready to act in ways that please the Master.

Placing our trust not in our earthy purses but rather in the treasures of being reconciled to God through Christ enables us to open our hearts in ways that the world desperately needs embodied.

Moving from fear to trust has the power to turn what was intended evil into good. I heard this story last week: “She offered the robber a glass of wine, and that flipped the script.” One of the dinner guests described what happen as a miracle. The reporter says it wasn’t a miracle. What do you think? It seems to me an example of the transformative power of putting aside our fear and sitting down to eat together. Where have you experienced that power?

This week:

  1. What do you fear the most? Why? What relieves those fears?
  2. Look up “fear” and “afraid” in a Bible concordance. What passages do you find? Is there a consistent biblical message about fear?
  3. How can your little flock be a non-anxious presence in your context? Where do fearless Christians need to go in your community?
  4. We anticipate and prepare for all kinds of things: college tuition, retirement, vacations, presentations, etc. How do we anticipate and prepare for Christ’s coming (not just at Advent, but daily)?
  5. Where is your treasure? Is your heart there? Or vice versa, where is your heart? Is your treasure there, too?
  6. When have you moved past fear (individually or as a community) and trusted that God would provide what you needed? What happened?

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