Courage despite Fear
1st Sunday after Trinity
I am sure you have seen the slogan on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and hats - I had one on my hat when I went with Alison down the coast for the first time: ‘No Fear’. It was created as an advertising gimmick but it has caught on with a generation that thrives on taking risks, living on the edge, pushing the boundaries to the outer limits. The thrill-seeker has no fear of jumping off bridges attached to a bungee cord, jumping out of an aeroplane, sky diving strapped to a snow board, climbing El Capitan, the highest point at Yosemite National Park, or some other sheer-faced granite rock. They tell me that danger generates an inner rush; risking and surviving produces an inner satisfaction, and overcoming a great peril brings a sense of gratification.
The slogan ‘No Fear’ holds a strange bit of irony. While advertisers attempt to project a fearless attitude we live in a society that is plagued with fear and haunted by phobias. One of the fastest growing industries in our country is the security business. People are buying home security alarms, motion detection devices, and gadgets to protect themselves from danger. Psychologists are identifying more and more types of irrational fears and phobias. Besides the more common ones such as claustrophobia, the fear of small places, they have classified several others. Phonophobia is a fear of loud noises. Photophobia is a fear of light. Decidophobia is the fear of making a decision and finally there is Pantophobia, the fear of everything.
People who suffer from one or more of these irrational fears develop feelings of intense anxiety sometimes causing the person to panic and hyperventilate. They will go to great lengths to avoid the situation. Their avoidance behaviour disrupts their normal social functioning.
We may not have such severe and disrupting fears but, if we were honest, we would all have to admit that we all are plagued with certain fears. Some worry about having enough money to pay all their bills. Others are worried about their children who seem to keep making the same mistakes over and over. And which one of us can really say that they are not troubled by a fear of the unknown, or in a small way the fear of being rejected by others. I wonder if people today are wearing the ‘No Fear’ insignia more out of wishful thinking than bravery. (I can assure you that was definitely the case when I wore my hat!)
Before sending out his disciples, Jesus gave them instruction on overcoming their fear. He was commissioning them for a very dangerous mission. They would not only be rejected and scorned but their very lives would be threatened. They would face hardship and trials. They would have to live on a meagre allowance of food and they would never really be certain where they would be laying their head at night. Yet, through it all they were to have no fear. Each of us knows that those words are easier to say than to do. So how were the disciples to do it? How could they put aside their anxiety?
If you look closely at Jesus' words in the passage, there are clues for the disciples to help them to deal with their fears. First, they had to have confidence in his promise of the power of the gospel message.
Any sales person knows that selling an unknown product can be quite challenging. But it has been proven that simply by increasing the familiarity of a product name, sales will increase. It is much easier to sell something that everyone already knows about and even wants. The entire advertising industry is based upon that principle. So that is why we get the same adverts over and over again.
But here we have the disciples, just 12 ordinary guys, and they were to tell people about an entirely new way of understanding the law and a new way of relating to God. Jesus wanted those uneducated men to go out and persuade people that their old beliefs and customs needed to be replaced by a new set of beliefs and customs. He commissioned his disciples to go out a sell a new idea with absolutely no advertising whatsoever. It was an extraordinary thing that he was asking them to do.
To re-assure them he gives them a promise that what has been hidden will be revealed. The things that he had shared with them in secret would eventually become known to everyone. This is his promise. The gospel will have a powerful force in every area of society. It will not remain hidden. The message will not remain unknown.
It doesn’t matter where we live, or who we are, ministry of any sort in a small church or benefice can sometimes be discouraging. It can consume a lot of time and when finished for the day you wonder what was accomplished. When we look around, Sunday School is no longer viable .Even after everyone has signed up to serve on a PCC, there can still be vacancies, and it is easy to become disheartened and fearful of failure. Jesus' promise to his disciples is a promise to us. The message will penetrate into unknown places. People will hear about the gospel and it will have an impact in their lives. This promise gives us confidence in overcoming any negative feelings and fears we may have.
Jesus also hoped to calm the disciples' fears by reminding them of their value in God's economy. His words have been used by Christians for reassurance since he uttered the words: Sparrows are of such little value that you can buy two for just one penny. Yet, valueless as they are in the human economy, they are so treasured by God that not one of them falls to the ground without God knowing. It is mind-blowing to know that the death of every sparrow is known by its Creator. Contrary to some teaching I have heard, the hand of God does not move the steering wheel of a drunk driver causing his car to swerve and miss the oncoming vehicle. The hand of God did not cause people to be late for work on the morning on 9/11 thus missing the attack. Those things are just part of life. As much a God loves each one of us he does not alter the course of our lives, for we would become puppets and no longer have free will.
The disciples discovered that their infinite worth in God's eyes would not protect them from suffering and persecution but they knew that whatever was going to happen to them, good or bad, God was with them and that their infinite value to God was their true security. When the going gets tough remember we are of more worth than a sparrow.
Jesus is telling the disciples that the gospel teachings are so radical that when a person decides to follow Him they may encounter conflict in relationships. Francis of Assisi was one who discovered this sad and painful truth. St. Francis was the monk who preached to the birds of the air and the animals of the forest. He was the epitome of a calm, gentle and humble spirit. What father would not be proud to have a son follow in Francis' footsteps? Well, his own for one!
His father was a well-to-do merchant, who was greatly disturbed by his son's vow of poverty. Francis' decision to give away his wealth to the poor may have been noble, but the great bulk of his inheritance still belonged to his father, so he resorted to imprisoning Francis in the family cellar, but to no avail. When he recruited the Bishop to help him, Francis stripped himself of all his fine clothes, handed them to his father, stood before him naked and said, "Up to today I called you father, but now I can say in all honesty, "Our Father in heaven, He is my Father, and I put my faith in him."
The gospel demands a radical lifestyle. It runs opposite to the status quo. It frees us from the social chains of greed, status and success. Living the way Jesus taught us should fill us with a spirit of love even for those we think we hate. The life of discipleship requires following Jesus to the exclusion of all that would stand in the way of faithful obedience, and that might be family or friends. There are countless Christians today who have been shunned by family and friends for their faith.
If we are honest we will probably never be truly free of all our fears, but we can still live as people who have no fear. No fear of being rejected by others for our witness to the truth of God's amazing love, no fear of what calamity may befall us, because we know that Jesus will be with us in it, no fear of suffering for the sake of the gospel - now that one is the hardest, and we cannot face that in advance. Sometimes life requires us to act as if we are more confident than we know we are, - I do it all the time! There is a little chorus that says: "Be Bold, Be Brave, for the Lord your God is with you." I do know that God will always be with us, whatever the future holds.
Receiving these promises from Jesu,s and walking with determination, the disciples went forth and boldly proclaimed the love of God; my prayer for us all is that we will walk through each day with the same determination and confidence.