Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tell me why I SHOULDN'T be afraid

FOR I AM YOUR EXCEEDING GREAT REWARD

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Fear not, little flock for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.  Make purses for yourselves that don't wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in the heavens where neither thief can steal, nor moth destroy.  For wherever your treasure is, there also your heart will be.  Luke 12:32-34

LATE in the afternoon of September 11, 2001, the City of Cleveland held a  meeting of its political and community leaders in order to obtain their assistance in keeping people calm during the crisis.  War had broken out in our land in three different cities and no one knew where the enemy would strike next.  One of the speakers that afternoon was Cleveland's police chief who came to the podium to assure people that there was no need for them to be afraid because the Cleveland Police could protect them.  Some believed it, others did not.

Possibly the most comforting words in the Bible, employed more than sixty times, are the words we hear twice today, once by the Lord to Abram, and now by Jesus to His disciples, the words Fear not!  Don't be afraid!  While people often use these words loosely, God never does.  Instead, whenever He says to us, "do not be afraid," He means it.  He means it and He always backs it up.  He always gives a reason usually starting with the word FOR.  Fear not Abram, for I am your shield.  I will defend you against all danger and guard and protect you against all evil.  I will be your shield against sin, death and the devil's fiery darts.  I will prosper you.  I will bring my good and gracious will to pass in your life and fulfill My promise for the world's salvation, through you.  Jesus says the same to us today.  Fear not little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom, to be your shield in life, your light in darkness, your calm in life's storms and your great reward in eternity.  Therefore today let us learn once again that faith in God's promises, trust in God's word, is the antidote for all of our fears.

We must be careful with such a theme lest it become nothing more than a religious pep talk.  The difference is in the grammar, in the nouns, the verbs and the objects of the sentences we hear this morning.  If you were to hear this message on so-called Christian radio, YOU would be the subject of every sentence and doer of every verb.  You would be encouraged to try hard to believe, to cast aside all doubt, to work hard at tuning out the world and tuning in to God; all this, mind you, without the use of liturgy or sacraments.  You would then be given a recipe that will change your life from drudgery to glory if only you will put it's principles into practice.  It would sound so noble as to make you cry repentant tears and resolve to be a better Christian, but it would be the road to perdition.  However, here in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church things are very different.  Here God, Who was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, is the subject of every sentence, the doer of every verb, and we are the blessed objects, the happy recipients of God's love, God's salvation, and His beautiful word Fear not!  In holy baptism we receive the gift of holy faith, divinely generated faith, that overcomes the world, and is the only sure cure for the many fears that are part and parcel of this world.

To name all of the individual dangers, toils and snares that frighten us would take a long time, but in short we can say that in a world populated with only sinful persons, and where the devil roams freely, nothing is sacred, nothing safe and nothing sure.  Yet all the things we fear: poverty, pain, illness, loss, death and judgment spring from the same cause, our sins.  Jesus talks the way He does because He did something about it.  He deleted our sins from existence!  He removed death's sting.  He separated our sins from us as far as the east is from the west by His death on the cross and promises us the greatest treasure of all, the kingdom of the Father.

This is not just a future reality, but a present one.  It begins when we are baptized and continues throughout our lives.  We have God's word richly imparted to us in the church's liturgy, prayers, sermons, hymns, creeds, confessions and sacraments.  We have the consolation of the gospel, heaven's own word, to overcome our fears and anxieties and to give us courage, wisdom, comfort and good hope at all times and in all places.  

How surpassingly desirable is this heavenly treasure?  No earthly riches can compare to it.  This is why Jesus says: Sell your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.  Over the centuries more than a few people have taken this command literally.  They took vows of poverty, entered monasteries and dedicated their lives to love God.  But that is not the best way, nor is it as tidy as it all appears.  Indeed, we need not sell anything to gain the kingdom any more than we need to pluck out our eye, or cut off our right arm to gain life.  As God's people we must put first things first.  Our chief pursuit in life is the Kingdom of God and the righteousness He bestows upon us by faith.  In plain English, this means to come to church to receive the treasure that God has for you here.  That is basic.  Then to live your life each day to the glory of God and the love of your neighbor.  It means to give alms, to remember those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and in prison, and to understand that whatever you do for them, you are doing for the Lord Himself Who gives you an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that will see you through eternity, and that can never be taken from you.  Amen

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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