Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 18, 2013
I am trying to be a good father. Maggie and I recently purchased a couple of books about pregnancy and birth. And let’s just say this: I am terrified. See, these books are set up to scare new parents. What to do if your wife goes into labor early. What to do if your baby has a fever. Fine, that stuff seems important. But then these books take it to a whole new level of fear factor. Like, why the shampoo you use could kill your kid. Why you should use anti-bacterial soap, but then why anti-bacterial soap is the worst thing ever. Or, get this. Nordstrom’s sells safety baby nail clippers for 35 dollars! “Sure, you can use the nail clippers that you buy for 99 cents; but if you really love your kid, you’ll spend 35 bucks for nail clippers.” And just think for a moment on how odd it is to “baby proof” a house.
From what I’ve learned, the parenting industry is not built on love – it’s built on fear. Because fear sells.
And we live in a culture of fear. We are told to be afraid of just about everything. Whenever a “new study” is published, you know it’s going to be about what you should fear. A study says egg yolks are great for you, and the newest study says they’re terrible. Somebody says to drink as much coffee as you can, but somebody else says that coffee is the worst thing ever. Even NASA gets into the culture of fear. It doesn’t help when scientists start talking about giant asteroids headed for the earth. And I always laugh when, just before a commercial break, the TV news anchor will tease you and say: “Do you know what’s in that can of soup? Because it might just be killing you.”
And because we succumb to those fears, we start doing whatever it takes to be safe. We start buying whatever it takes to be safe. Even nail clippers for 35 dollars. Living in this culture of fear, all we want to do is find some security and safety.
See, what fear does, is cripple us. Whatever it is that we fear, it always drives us into our shells. Think about the things that you fear, big and small. Asteroids. Spiders. Saying, “I love you.” Fessing up to what you’ve done wrong. People who don’t look like you. Each one of our fears cripples us because it drives us inside. It drives us away from what we really ought to be doing. Fear, is what creates anxiety, it makes us suspicious of strangers, and it leaves us wanting more and more safety.
So we come to the church. “Here,” we think, “here we can find some security.” We breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, we’re safe and comfortable here. Everything is going to be alright.
Except it’s not alright, because we read about martyrs who were tortured. Mocked. Flogged. Stoned to death. Sawn in two. Killed by the sword. All because they followed God.
Or think of the first Christians. Peter and Andrew were crucified. Paul was beheaded. John the Evangelist was poisoned. Thomas was killed by a spear. Next Saturday we celebrate the feast of Saint Bartholomew. On the back wall of the Sistine Chapel Saint Bartholomew is pictured at the final judgment. And Saint Bartholomew is pictured holding up his empty skin, because Bartholomew was skinned alive for his faith. I don’t know about you, but I would rather take my chances with egg yolks than doing whatever it was that got Bartholomew killed.
Because it all boils down to this: Christianity is not safe. Christianity is not a religion of security. The God we follow was crucified. When you step out and follow the Lord Jesus, do not expect to be safe.
There is a wonderful passage in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Young Susan is speaking with Mr. Beaver about Aslan the lion, who is a sort of Christ figure. Susan doesn’t know if she wants to meet this lion. After all, he is a lion. Susan asks if Aslan is safe. Mr. Beaver says, “Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” Of course Jesus Christ isn’t safe. But he’s good.
In our culture of fear, even in the Church, we want to do whatever it takes to be safe. But I tell you, living in fear is no living at all. Our fears cripple us, because they stand in the way of love. The saints who have gone before, the martyrs of old, they knew how to live, because they had cast out their fear.
I can’t take credit for this idea. It comes straight from the holy scriptures. In fact, the most common commandment in all of the Bible is this: “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. Those words were ringing in the ears of Saint Bartholomew, those words inspired the prophets of old. And those words are for you.
I ask you to face your fears. To really address them. And consider if those fears are worth living for. Is it worth checking the news all the time to see who might be lurking in your neighborhood? Is it worth wringing your hands about that next study that has just come out about Greek yogurt? Is it worth your time and your energy and your life – to be afraid? It is not.
Jesus did not come to make us safe. Jesus came to love us.
And that is the final image we are given in this passage from Hebrews. Imagine that you are standing in a stadium, and you are about to run a race. And that race, is a race against what you fear. Terrorism. Losing your job. Preaching the gospel. But that stadium, that stadium is filled with fans. Filled with the saints who have gone before, cheering you on to the finish line. It says, “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Lay aside the sinful fears that beset you, and look to the great cloud of witnesses cheering you on. Witnesses who have been crucified, and speared, and tortured, and killed. Their example is pushing you on, cheering for you, as you race against your fear. And remember, in a race against your fears, Jesus may not necessarily make sure you’re safe. But Jesus will make sure that you are loved.
“Look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus too, has run this race. He ran against his fears, the fear of crucifixion. The fear of death. And because of that, he was given a crown and a trophy. Driven onward by his example, inspired by the Holy Spirit, cheered on by the saints of God, our fears can be put into their place.
Do not expect to be safe. Expect to be loved. Because at the end of the day, even in the worst possible situation, even if your darkest fears come true, then what? Well, then, you are still loved by God. And that’s all that really matters. Do not be afraid.