555 North Commercial Road #1Palm Springs, CA 92262 • 760-778-8950 • Every Sunday: Sung Mass 10:30 AM
BE NOT AFRAID
TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
June 25, 2017
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, Palm Springs, CA
Jeremiah 20:10-13 Psalm 69:8-10,14,17,33-45
Romans 5:12-15 Matthew 10:26-33
Rev. David Justin Lynch
BE NOT AFRAID
Today’s reading are about fear, and how we deal with it.
What exactly is fear? According to the magazine Psychology Today, fearis an emotional response induced by a perceived threat, which causes a change inbrainand organ function, as well as in behavior. Fear can lead us to hide, to run away, or to freeze in our shoes. Fear may arise from a confrontation, or from avoiding a threat, or it may come in the form of a discovery.
Some fears are good-to prevent danger, like being afraid to touch a hot stove or to cross a street while cars are coming at us. However, fear in many contexts is not productive. It doesn’t build bridges and it doesn’t bake bread. It gets in the way of ministry.
Our present age is marked by lots of fear – of immigrants, of LGBT persons, of anyone that is “different.” It’s natural for people to fear the unknown, something that clashes with their view of the world, or with the possibility of something that may invade their comfort zone.
However, absent a clear and present danger, there is really no reason to be afraid of people that are different from you and ideas that are different from yours. Be not afraid! Why? God is here for you. Our God is a God that loves you, down to the tiniest detail.
Let’s compare the situations of Jeremiah and Jesus to see how that plays out.
Today’s First Reading is the fifth of the prophet Jeremiah’s six so-called “confessions,” where Jeremiah laments his situation in prayer. Jeremiah expressed his doubts about whether God was really on his side and thought about abandoning his prophetic ministry. The six confessions were Jeremiah’s admission that things were not going well for him. He was clearly distressed. His close friends were denouncing him and watching for him to stumble. They were looking to defeat him and exact revenge.
But God said, no, Jeremiah, don’t listen to your fears, because you have a job to do. Jeremiah chose to listen to God and do his job, rather than give in to fear of his persecutors. He realized that ultimately his persecutors would be the ones to stumble and would not succeed in stopping him.
Jeremiah was “between a rock and a hard place”, because God was pushing him to preach a message that was not well received by the people who heard it. Today’s psalm reminds us that speaking prophecy is not easy, but that nonetheless, God is here to help us.
Jesus picked up where Jeremiah left off. Let’s look at the events in chapter 10 that precede today’s Gospel. We have the calling of the 12 disciples, the commissioning and sending them out, and telling them that that sometimes they would not be well-received. Today we have Jesus reminding them, “Don’t be afraid, because God will be there for you.”
Jesus told us to shout, not whisper, what’s needed to be said, and definitely not hide the message because those who hear it may not like it. Jesus reminds us that proclaiming the Word of God is never easy.
Clergy are often in that situation. We who are ordained are first called to be prophets. We start out as Deacons, but we remain Deacons even if we are later ordained as priests and consecrated as bishops. Yes, the word Deacon comes from the Greek word “diakonia” meaning servant, but the Diaconate is also a prophetic ministry as well as one of service.
Part of the ministry of Deacons is to articulate the concerns of the laity to the church. Deacons are called to be prophets to the church. However, the role of a prophet goes beyond foretelling future events. It also includes giving insights into what is happening right now. That’s what Deacons do for us.
Deacon Charley is more than just a servant of our congregation. He gives me insights into what’s going on in our congregation, and believe me, he’s right, most of the time. And Sharon is following in his footsteps. God willing, she will be ordained a Deacon next year. Charley shows us a really good role model for Sharon to follow.
Deacons have another important role. They proclaim the Gospel at Mass. Jesus tells us to not to be afraid and to proclaim what is hidden. That’s what Deacon Charley does for us, and what Sharon will be doing for us in the future.
Those of us who preach the Gospel in a prophetic manner are usually not popular, whether we are predicting the future, or giving insight into what is happening now. Much of the Gospel was meant to be a message of truth, not something to protect our comfort zone.
I grew up in the 1950s and 60s, and in those days, clergy took very unpopular stands when they insisted on ending racial discrimination in churches and elsewhere. Some of them lost their jobs when they ended separate seating of different races in Southern congregations and marched in demonstrations to integrate public facilities. They refused to compromise the Gospel to please the people around them.
The same was true for clergy in the 1970s who spoke out against the Vietnam War, who assisted draft dodgers, and marched in peace demonstrations. They were branded as unpatriotic traitors, disloyal to the United States. I personally think those are good qualities for any member of the clergy to have. As Christians, we owe our loyalty to Jesus alone, not any government. When what Jesus says collides with our civil religion of authority figure worship, Jesus must win, every time!
The same has been true down through the years, as clergy have spoken out against sexism and homophobia, and in recent years, against cuts in aid to the least among us. These days, the presenting issue is the basic right to health care, which, reduced to very basic terms, the right to life itself.
Clergy often fear to speak out to support the least among us or to call out injustice on healthcare and many other issues. Why? Clergy often are worried about being unpopular (clergy are human; we crave having people like us, just like anyone else). And the church is often concerned about economics as well, like a loss of contributions when it takes unpopular, but just, positions. And indeed, many have abandoned churches that do what we do here, like ordain women and marry same-sex couples.
But it is beyond argument that Jesus was on the side of the least among us, and the side of the oppressed. He was not a pillar of the social establishment of his day.
Consider Luke 4:18 to 19, where Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah as His mission statement:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
And consider Matthew 25:40, where Jesus said,
“…Whatever you did for one of these least sisters and brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Those particular messages of Jesus then were unpopular then, and in many areas of the United States today, they are unpopular now….because of fear.
The people of Appalachia, and in the rural areas of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and elsewhere, fear the message of progressive Christianity, because they, quite inaccurately, think that immigrants, LGBT persons, and persons of different races are going to take their livelihood and take their lifestyle away from them. They are simply scared to get the heck out of their coal mines, give up their guns, and to change silly literatist interpretations of scripture. Rather than trust God, they fear what is new and different. Unfortunately, they acted on those fears at the ballot box, and we have what we now have in the White House.
And because of the popularity of their views, many, clergy in many churches tell them what they want to hear so their congregations don’t get mad at them. Clergy are scared to call out what needs to be called out, like the total lack of compassion for people exhibited by those presently in power.
But Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel not to hide the message of love, the message of liberation, the message of good news for the poor. Jesus tell us not to whisper it, not to keep it in the dark, but to proclaim it on the house tops.
We have got to attack fear itself to bring about change!
The message from Jesus is, BE NOT AFRAID. Jesus calls us to ignore our fears of what others might think of us, and to proclaim the Gospel without apology, and to accept that some of the people to whom we preach it are not going to like it. In one of the pericopes that precedes today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that, if we are not welcomed, not to change the message, but to shake the dust off our feet and move on. Unfortunately, the usual response is to change the message so we can stick around.
Like Jeremiah, we today are between a rock and a hard place. Like Jeremiah, we have two voices in our heads. We have Jesus urging us to proclaim the Gospel, as a moral imperative, and we have people in our world getting all over our backsides for doing exactly that because they don’t like what we have to say.
So do we ignore Jesus and refrain from proclaiming the Gospel? Or do we instead give in to our fears of what other people think and feel about what we are saying?
Given this choice, I go with Jesus. I will ALWAYS go with Jesus!
The answer Jesus gives us, when faced with fear, is that God is there for us to care for us. And because God is in our lives, we can respond to threats with, “make my day” instead of turn tail and run. Because that’s what Jesus did. However, it got him killed. But the Romans killed only His Body. They did not kill His soul. They did not win, because on Easter Day, Jesus conquered death.
Yes, Jesus made a hard choice, but that’s what He’s calling us to do as well.
Today’s Gospel tells us that God cares for life as small as a sparrow and cares for us in such excruciating detail that God can count the hairs on our heads. You see, we are very valuable to God because we, indeed the people of God, are worth more than many sparrows, because we are called to build up God’s kingdom.
We are able to overcome our fears and build up God’s kingdom because God is there for us to care for us. God is our mighty fortress. God is the reason we are not to be afraid. I find this best expressed in the Coverdale version of Psalm 46. Here are some of the verses:
1 God is our hope and strength * a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved * and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea. 11 The Lord of hosts is with us * the God of Jacob is our refuge.
The big take away for this Sunday is don’t let fear get in the way of your ministry. We banish and drive out fear by trusting God. It’s trusting God that enables us to say, “make my day” when we are threatened.
What is trust? According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, trust is,
“Holding a conviction that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, or effective.”
So how do we trust God? Here are some practical hints along those lines:
First, surrender to God. In God, you have a supernatural power on you side. Don’t think you can do it all by yourself. You need God. Once you stop trying to do things in your own strength, God will take over and lift you to new heights.
Second, replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Your thoughts are extremely powerful and they can affect things like your mood, your attitude, and yes, even your actions. Think positive thoughts about God, like those found in the third chapter of the Book of Proverbs:
Trust in theLordwith all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; 6 In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.
Third, be patient. God will come through for you at just the right moment. God will never fail you. During your trial, ask God to give you patience and to help you trust that God knows what’s best for you. Remember, God is never a second late, He always shows up on time.
Today’s Second Reading refers to Adam’s sin. However, trusting God is the exact opposite of what Adam did. Adam made the mistake of trusting the devil in the form of a serpent instead of God. The consequence of the sin of Adam was bringing death into the world. Jesus, however, leads us away from evil and back to God, by, among other things, restoring our relationship with God, by reminding us, as Jesus does in today’s Gospel, that God is always there for us.
Just as God was present for Jeremiah, and encouraged him to get on with his ministry under God’s protection, Jesus reminds us today that God is present for us, too, once we cast out fear and replace it with trust in God.
BE NOT AFRAID. That’s what the angel Gabriel said to Mary at the Annunciation. And because She listened to God, we have Jesus.
God will always hold you in the palm of His hand. God is our hope and strength, our very present help in trouble. God is our mighty fortress, a bulwark that will never fail us. AMEN.