We are still at the beginning of the season of Pentecost, this extended amount of time in the Church year when we work through many of Jesus’ parables and teachings. Sometimes the way our lectionary is set up seems fairly random, but there is a method to the madness!
The first half of the lectionary year – from Advent to Ascension – is called the “Season of Christ” and attempts to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” The second half of the year – from Pentecost to Christ the King Sunday – is the “Season of the Church” and addresses the question, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” We are, scripturally speaking, in the heart of that question right now: what is the character of our Christian life, together and individually? What do we need to let go of, what do need to move toward, how are we supposed to get ready and stay ready to follow Jesus?
Over the last two weeks, Luke has focused on the importance of prayer and just how seductive – and complex – the idea of wealth is. Today we turn to the kind of holy trust that should characterize our lives, the kind of trust Jesus has in God. Jesus and the disciples are on the road to Jerusalem. After sharing the parable of the rich fool, Jesus tells the disciples not to dwell on earthly worries; it’s almost like he’s saying, “Folks, don’t sweat the small stuff.” Except the things
the disciples are seemingly worried about don’t seem so small: clothing, food water and probably shelter. There must have been anxiety about what really was going to happen in Jerusalem—the fear of the unknown must have been the worst. They are, after all, walking toward Jesus’ death and the end of their lives as they’ve known it. It would have been impossible for them not to be afraid. Jesus is about to leave his companions, his brothers and sisters. He needs them to understand what to do when he is gone. Will they continue to cower in a room, afraid of everyone and everything? Or will they risk, push aside what holds them back? Brené Brown says, “We’re all afraid – we just have to get to the point where we understand it doesn’t mean that we can’t also be brave.”
Does Jesus really intend for his disciples to give all they have away? And how are we as 21st century Christians supposed to interpret this instruction? The answer comes in what is actually the beginning of our passage: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” “Do not be afraid” is the rhetorical signal in scripture that there is good news coming; it’s an announcement of God’s mighty power and converting love. And it is the starting point for everything else in this passage. It is God’s pleasure – God’s intentional, delightful pleasure – to give you God’s whole world, God’s whole being, God’s whole identity. If this is true, then disciples of all generations can resist the seduction of wealth, not succumb to constant anxiety about their worldly needs, share what they have with others and then wait expectantly, even eagerly, for the coming of the Son of Man.
But isn’t it good to be afraid, or at least wary, of some things? How else do we learn not to touch a hot stove. Don’t we benefit from a certain amount of appropriate, healthy fear? Yes! But these are not the kinds of things Jesus is talking about fearing, as he and the disciples make their way to Jerusalem and to the cross. What Jesus is teaching about is faith! The faith that allows us to live generous lives; that enables us to leave anxiety behind and trust in the new life that happens every day if we’re living in Christ and he in us. The faith that engenders hope about a future not achieved by human beings but by God.
Fear is a destroyer of that generous expectancy. Even the littlest kernel of fear inside us can take root and grow. Ultimately, what takes root is hopelessness and helplessness. If we let it, it will make us un-well, it will make us ill. There were those in Jesus’ life, in the lives of the disciples, who took advantage of and used fear as a tool; they created insecurity and confusion and anxiety in order to control wealth and power and to control all those without wealth and power. So to hear the words “don’t be afraid” and to be reminded that God was filled with delight to give them everything they could need or want – was to know the true power of love, not fear.
So what’s your deepest fear? Maybe you fear being alone or unloved or of not having someone to love. Maybe you’re afraid of losing your job, paying the rent or mortgage, being ready for the future, having enough money for retirement or the rest of retirement. Maybe the thing that keeps you awake at night is the fear of losing someone or something precious to you. Maybe it’s the fear of death that won’t let you sleep?
We certainly have much to fear in the larger world. Unfortunately, I don’t have to detail for you the specifics of all the pain and uncertainty we see, read and hear about every day. We know them well and they hurt us more than we probably know. But remember, “Don’t be afraid” is a signal, an announcement of good news. What would it be like to live from a place of love and abundance rather than fear and insecurity? Jesus offers that. How can we change our minds and our hearts, our lives, to move out of that place into the generous kingdom of God Jesus is talking about. Jesus offers that. Can we hear the hope in his words and reject the fear and hate and terror that are so rampant in our world? Do not be afraid. For God is delighted to give you the kingdom.