“Don’t Be Afraid!”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
These words of the pre-school children often ring in my ears. “Don’t be afraid!” they tell me.
It’s often when I tell them a particular Bible story.
When the angel came to Mary, before Jesus was born – and what did the angel say? “Don’t be afraid!”
They all shout.
Or when I am telling the story of when Jesus walked on the water, late at night. It was the middle of a storm, and they all thought he was a ghost.
But what did Jesus say? “Don’t be afraid!” they shout.
Or when I tell the story of the angel at the tomb, after Jesus rose from the dead, except that no one knew it yet.
And what did they angel say? “Don’t be afraid!” they all shout.
I have to admit that I admire their enthusiasm.
They don’t whisper; they shout.
They don’t walk; they dance.
They are confident that there is nothing to be afraid of, because Jesus said so.
They remind me of the time I witnessed a class trip to a place called “Pump it Up!”
You might think that this is a venue for body builders, but in truth it is a special playground for children, where everything is built like a bounce house. No hard edges.
All landings guaranteed soft.
No danger of being hurt. Nothing to be afraid of.
And the children – all trusting – played hard that afternoon, running and taking risks and living unafraid.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to play and live like the children?
In truth, we know that life is more dangerous than the children know;
that there are no guarantees of soft landings, that we will be hurt, that being a disciple of Jesus is no guarantee of an easy life.
Disciples will face storms and illnesses and tragedies just like everybody else.
That’s what Jesus means when he says that “A Disciple is not above the teacher.”
There are dangers, there are risks in life – and there are risks involved in being a disciples of Jesus.
There ARE things to be afraid of.
And yet, I couldn’t help noticing, three times Jesus tells his disciples, “Don’t be afraid.” “Have no fear of them.” “Do not fear.” “Do not be afraid.” He must mean it.
I have to wonder why he even says it.
We can’t help how we feel, after all.
And there ARE things to be afraid of in life.
He says, sometimes our faith is going to cause division, we will be misunderstood and we will be mistreated sometimes when we take a stand, when we go where the love of God leads us.
There are things to be afraid of.
I can’t help but remember back to words I learned when I was in school. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Who said them? Franklin Delano Roosevelt. When did he say them?
During the Great Depression – another time when there were many reasons to fear.
And he said those words, I believe because he knew that we could only go forward as a country by NOT giving in to our fear, but instead living by our hope, even in the darkest of times.
He knew that out of fear – people would do the wrong thing, take actions that hurt rather than helped – themselves, and other people.
So Jesus says it too: he says it three times. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Don’t be afraid! What are you afraid of?
Then he tells them about the sparrows.
Perhaps this is one of the most beloved passages of scripture, partly because of the song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow…. And I know he watches me.”
He tells them that two sparrows are sold for a penny. They are cheap and abundant and not valued much.
Even today, I think that sparrows are not valued.
I was looking on Amazon for those stuffed birds that have the bird calls in them? Do you know about those?
And they have all kinds of birds – they have the cardinal and the robin and the bluejay and even the northern mockingbird (I want one of those!)
But you know what they don’t have? Sparrows
Many of Jesus’ first disciples were sparrows.
They were the poor. They were the ones who were not valued by society.
They were easily thrown away.
And Jesus didn’t promise them that they would never be hurt, but he did say to them, (all evidence to the contrary) they were valuable to his Father.
They not one of them fell to the earth without his care.
Do not be afraid, he tells them. Follow me.
It’s going to be hard, and you will suffer, but you will ALWAYS be in my hand.
That’s what he wants us to know.
That’s what he wants us to do. He wants us to stand up for the sparrows, to go where his Gospel leads us, hanging on to those promises like the children who bounce off the walls and slide down the slides and dance and jump as high as they can – because they believe they cannot be hurt.
They are right you know.
Even though it’s hard for me to believe, and hard for me to follow sometimes, hard for me to trust.
I remember when I was a little girl, one of my uncles, Roger – like to play games with the children.
In many ways he was a big kid himself.
He had had polio as a teenager and his legs were weak, but his arms were strong because of all of the exercises.
It was a great game, but I was afraid to play.
All of my cousins and my sisters and brothers did it, but I would hang back. Because I was afraid.
But when I look back at the pictures of the children in his hands – (there’s so much joy. )
He could have dropped us, but he never did.
There’s danger in following Jesus. I won’t deny it.
We will find ourselves on the side of the little ones, the sparrows. We will stand up for those who are misunderstood and mistreated.
We will tell about the one who love the whole world so much that he died – and the life that is in his name.
And we will live as if it’s true. Despite our fear.
You know why? Because there’s also so much joy. There’s so much joy when we follow Jesus.
That’s what the children know.
So jump as high as you can, sing as loud as you can, run as fast as you can.
Be like the children, who know that no matter what, they are in his hand.
Listen to their voices, speaking the truth, and “Don’t be afraid!”