Don't Be Afraid ... Trust.
I think that some of the last words we would want to hear someone say just before they send us out on job would be, “Don’t be afraid, but ….” Don’t be afraid, but I need you to give the lion it’s medicine. Don’t be afraid, but I need you to put on your scuba gear and go fix the hole in the hull. Don’t be afraid, but we need you to teach Sunday School. When someone tells us. “Don’t be afraid,” it’s because there is a lot to fear.
When God meets and calls people, the encounter often starts with God telling the person, “fear not.” Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Mary all meet God or God’s messenger in frightening ways — burning bushes, visions of glory, still small voices, angels in the house. “Don’t be afraid,” God says. Then it seems that God goes right ahead and terrifies us by lifting the veil just a little. The prospect of meeting God face to face in all God’s glory is so frightening that I always thought that God’s reassuring and grace-filled word, “Don’t be afraid,” were intended to calm people within the vision and the call experience.
Yet, the work God sends us out into is often even more frightening than meeting God in all God’s glory and power. God sends Abraham to a new and unseen land; God sends Moses right back into pharaoh’s palace; God sends Mary into a dangerous pregnancy; and God sends Jeremiah into an unpopular, unpatriotic prophetic career.
It’s Jeremiah we hear from in our first reading today (Jeremiah 20:7-13). God called Jeremiah to serve as a prophet when Jeremiah was just a teenager (see Jeremiah 1). God called him with one of the most comforting and loving calls you could receive. The word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah and says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; appointed you prophet to the nations.” When Jeremiah objects to the call — saying he is only a boy and doesn’t know what to say — God reassures him. God will give him the right word for the right time, and it will be God’s word. Then God tells Jeremiah, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” Now we know that Jeremiah is in trouble. There will, in fact, be plenty to fear. By the time we get to today’s reading, Jeremiah knows two things — God has kept God’s promise — he speaks God’s word, and he has suffered greatly for it. He’s done.
We hear a couple of important things in Jeremiah’s story. First, God knows us deeper and better than even we ourselves know ourselves. God has chosen us in Christ Jesus as his own. In baptism, he has called us to himself. Actually, St. Paul tells us that Jesus has gone through death for us so that we might live forever with him, and we participate in that death and resurrection in our baptism. God knows us, chooses us, dies and rises for us, calls us God’s own, God’s precious children. What grace! What love! What comfort!
Yet, we have God’s promise, closeness and comfort in the face of ridicule, rejection, hatred and violence others have for God and God’s people. The stark contrast between the promise and the actual experience of being God’s own leads Jeremiah to complain that God has tricked him. Don’t we often feel the same, as if God has deceived us, tricked us with such loving promises, only to find that life with God is more difficult than we imagined. We come to God, to God’s people seeking relief, healing, comfort and the promise of a better life — the abundant life Jesus promises. In that life, however, we find that God has sent us out into the worst the world has to offer — controlling, greedy bosses; abusive family members; deceptive and back-stabbing friends. This world, dangerous and violent as it may be is the place where God sends us, equipped with God’s word and promise; The Holy Spirit’s gifts of love and peace; patience and grace; and our weakness and brokenness.
The call to a new life we receive from our Lord Jesus in our baptism is not the guarantee of trouble-free days. It is the guarantee, the promise, that in his death and resurrection God has overcome the world and all its troubles. We are safe and sound in God’s own heart. Yet we are sent out into this world with a message of hope, renewal and new life many — even many in our own families — have no desire to hear.
Sixty years ago, Pastor Ken Shirk and other mission developers went out to share the good news in these new neighborhoods in Edison, Metuchen, South Plainfield, and so on. They would go door to door, basically choosing the people God had called to be the start of this congregation, this mission outpost. Over the years, we have celebrated the charter members who answered the call and were formed into St. Paul’s, but I am sure there were some not so pleasant moments and encounters out there. More rejected than accepted. Some ridiculed and scoffed at him.
Where is God sending you out to share the good news of Jesus Christ? Is it into your neighborhood? Is among your own family? Is it going to door-to-door like Pastor Shirk? Is it a simple loving, servant witness to the lost, hurting and hopeless friends in your life? We can talk about it, if you like, but I can tell you one thing — you will know you are there when you feel vulnerable, awkward, and maybe even a little embarrassed. It is small price to pay to deliver so great a message. There are those who have given their lives and livelihoods to deliver the message … and we’re afraid of what? That we’ll look silly?
Don’t be afraid. OK, you're going to be afraid, but trust Christ more than your fear — trust his death for you, his life for you, his call and now the grace in his sending you out to with him in his work for the sake of the world. Don’t be afraid of any of them, instead stand in reverent awe, in ultimate trust, in complete confidence in the one who sacrificed his body and blood for us so that we might never lose our soul. Amen.
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