Don’t be Afraid!

Do you have any idea what the most common command is?
Jesus commanded – Do not be afraid more than any other.

And while I didn’t bother to go back and check up on this, it may be right there are, certainly many examples and it that I can think of in a hurry.

And today’s reading is no exception. There are two commands not to fear on those few verses.
In between those commands are some strong reasons to fear! Fear. Is there any more persuasive or powerful motivating force in human experience? Advertisers use fear as a motivator – fear of missing out is the basis of many advertisements.

And around election time, especially, politicians use fear of what their opponents have done, may do, or are planning to, do, to encourage us to vote for themselves instead. Many whole societies live in fear of what others can do to them. Often with good reason. There are millions of refugees in our world because they know they are not safe at home – they have very good reasons to fear those in authority. In our society we teach our children to, at the very least, be wary of strangers.
Jesus knew that his disciples had many things to fear in their world. Yet, he constantly to1d them not to fear.

In order to emphasise that we don’t need to fear, Jesus gave a couple of examples.
God cares for you – God knows all about you – God can even count the hairs on your head. Now I know there are some here whose hairs are more easily counted than others, however, this is still quite a feat, and if we think about it, it does imply a loving God who knows us all intimately.
The second example was that God even knows when a common sparrow (or budgie) is injured and/or dies and falls to the ground- and that we are all so much more valuable to God than a sparrow.
I’m wondering how much these examples give us encouragement and strength in the face of danger, fear and or life’s trials.

When our car brakes fail – do we suddenly think of sparrows?

If someone verbally abuses us – do we think about God counting the hairs on our head?
These thoughts can be comforting when we are trying to recover from a difficult time, however, I’m not sure that they. help me in the middle of a crisis.

There have been times of crises when I have felt peaceful and safe, and did not fear the consequences- however, I’m not sure how much of that has been faith and how much has been me burying me metaphorical head in the sand and refusing to admit the dangers ahead.
I found an Australianised version of the Matthew reading, which I quite liked – and I hope you will too – here it is:

New recruits do not get more credit than their coach, and the workers do not get more credit than their boss. But when everyone, is doing their job: recruits and: coach, workers, and boss – they are all lumped in, together and judged as a team. So, if people have been accusing the team leader, of being the Prince of Evil, you can imagine what they are going to be saying about the rest of the team!
So don’t be intimidated by them. The time is coming when the truth will be exposed and all that has been done behind, closed doors will be on the public record. So don’t bother keeping the lid on things in the meantime. Broadcast the world anything I tell you in private. Release to the daily news anything I whisper in your ear. Don’t be silenced by fear of those whose ability to hurt you is only physical. The only one to be afraid of is the one who would destroy your humanity entirely and suck you, body and soul into the fires of hell.
Think about it. What does a pet budgie cost? A couple of bucks? And yet if a·budgie falls off its perch, God is there like a concerned parent. God’s care extends to every last hair on your head, so don’t let anyone put the wind up you. You are worth far more than a tree-full of budgies to God.
If you stick up for me in the face of public opinion, then I will have no hesitation sticking up for you when my Father in heaven asks the hard questions. But if you pull your head in and go all quiet when people mouth off against me, why shouldn’t I speak up in your defence?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m here to make everything peaceful and nice on earth. I am not here to paper over the cracks, but to drive a wedge into them, opening them up for all to see.
I am here to drive a wedge into the cracks between father and son; between mother and daughter; and between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. When it is flushed out into the open, the most dangerous hostility often turns up within families.
If you are more committed to your parents than you are to me, you don’t deserve my commitment to you. If you are more committed to your children than you are to me, you don’t deserve my commitment to you. Unless you are ready to risk defying the death squads to follow me, then you don’t deserve my loyalty to you. Those who are focused on getting a life for themselves will lose whatever life they had; while those who give up their life, for me, will find that they have really got it made!

©2002 Nathan Nettleton

Now I’m not sure how accurate that translation is – and I’m sure Elizabeth and John, and others here today are likely to criticise it for its lack of accuracy, but I liked it!

As part of my preparation for today I read that, while Jesus spoke about love, and commanded us to love – it is not the most common command attributed to Jesus.

However, as our faith grows, we do learn to trust more and more on God, and to step new and different directions. Our Romans reading talked about leaving our old selves and habits behind and moving forward.

Faith causes us to look to new missions to be willing to try new things – to turn our backs even on. our traditions – sometimes even to give up everything that is familiar and dear.

And when we do -what happens?

Sometimes our families look at us askance and wonder about our-sanity.

Sometimes our long friends try to keep us on the old paths – the safe and secure places – away from those dangerous radical ideas.

Sometimes people refuse to associate with us for fear of being contaminated with whatever it is that is inspiring us. Sometimes – often – we are called on to stand up and be counted.

And when we do, it is good to know that we matter a bit more to God than a budgie -even a beautiful green budgie – maybe even more than a colourful parrot!

It’s easy to stay safe and secure – and I must admit that I like being comfortable.

However, Jesus did not encourage comfort. I can’t think of any example when Jesus encouraged his disciples to choose tradition over care for others, including the oppressed. In my experience Jesus likes us to be uncomfortable. I often wonder if our seating arrangements in church make Jesus happy- as I’ve said before, I suspect that we won’t be sitting in rows in heaven – I don’t know how things will be, and what we will be doing, however I doubt that we will be. allowed to be comfortable there either.

However, that is not our problem today.

Today, we are called to listen for God’s direction, urging and/or gentle pushing – and to act accordingly – regardless of the opinions of _others – even of those we are really close to, and value in our lives.

We are called not to fear the condemnation of our peers. If we are known for being a bit different – a bit unorthodox – if we are ridiculed – or even ostracised by those who cling to tradition and the status quo – then maybe, just maybe, we will be better people – and a better church for doing so.

Photo of Jen Flanagan

Written by Jen Flanagan

Jen is a lay preacher in training at TUC. As well preaching, Jen often assists with leading the 10:30am service and is a member of the Thursday Community Fellowship ministry team. Jen is Secretary of the Church Council.

More from Jen Flanagan