Fear Not

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Second Sunday in Lent/Year C/March 17, 2019
Gospel: Luke 13:31-35

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?” (Ps 27:1). This first verse of today’s psalm, David’s triumphant song of Confidence, is a timely message in light of Friday’s massacre in the Muslim mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and in light of Jesus’ words in our gospel passage.

We live in a world where pure evil thrives and seems to have a contagious hold on those who fear that which they don’t know and those whom they don’t know. Fear is the fertilizer for man’s inhumanity against man. The helplessness felt by so many is exacerbated when lives—here and around the world are tragically snatched away at the hands of evil.

And, the shock, horror, disgust, and broken heartedness that many may feel in the wake of any mass murder hits home for those of us who gather to worship on our holy days, perhaps fearful for our own safety in places where we choose to be vulnerable. Sadly, history has shown that houses of worship, regardless of religion, are under attack. For those with ears to hear—humanity itself is under attack.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?” (Ps 27:1).

Fear is a powerful instrument of the devil. In the face of perceived or real fear, human beings can respond in dangerous ways. Whether or not it’s in the form of confrontation or avoidance, the fertilizer of fear is enriched.

In our gospel passage we are not given clues as to why some Pharisees came to warn Jesus about Herod’s murderous desires toward him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you” (v. 31). Anyone learning that they are in mortal danger might be extremely fearful and act accordingly. Jesus did not flinch or stutter. He commanded the Pharisees to tell Herod that he would continue to cast out demons and heal the sick in his own time—today and tomorrow, and on the third day his work would be finished—the third day, of course, references his Resurrection.

For context, Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great. This Herod is ruler of Galilee and Perea, and had no jurisdiction in Jerusalem. But, Jesus’ public ministry took place on Herod’s turf, and this prophet, whom he had not yet encountered in person, struck fear in him. Herod feared that this “rockstar” prophet, Jesus, might have been a resurrected John the Baptist, the prophet whom Herod had beheaded (9:7-9).

Neither Herod, nor a fear of death, had the power to move Jesus from his journey to Jerusalem. Jesus did not run from Galilee in fear for his life; he used Galilee as one part of his journey to Jerusalem in obedience to God’s will.

“I must be on my way,” Jesus said, “because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem” (v. 33). There’s an urgency and a certainty of Jesus’ knowing who he was, what he was sent to do and where the completion of his work must take place. Jesus stood in a long line of fallen prophets, killed by the very people God sent to help deliver his own people from destruction.
While Jesus was a prophet, he was much more than a prophet; he was the Son of God. Jesus would die like a prophet, and be resurrected as the Savior of the World. Jesus knew this and he lived in obedience to God over the fear of man. And, God’s plan for human salvation kept moving forward.

After his bold statement of purpose, Jesus lamented Jerusalem’s unwillingness to be obedient to God. Time after time, God’s chosen people killed his prophets, leading them on the path to destruction. In his lament, Jesus uses the maternal image of a hen for God. “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you were not willing!” (v. 34).

Now, I’m a city girl. Thanks to Youtube, I watched what happens when a hen gathers together her brood of chicks. The hen calls; the chicks recognize the call; and without hesitation, they instinctively know where to go. The hen’s wings at once cover the chicks so they cannot be seen and shields them from the dangers of the outside world.

The hen uses her own body in service to the helpless chicks. In these videos, chick after chick would find a place to be gathered close to the body of the hen. Just when I thought, “there’s no more room,” the body of the hen seemed to expand to make room enough for one more.

What a beautiful image for God’s abounding love for his people—the gathering of His beloved to himself. That in Jesus, God, himself, came to us in human form and gave his life to save the eternal souls of his beloved children. It is this selfless, unbounded love of God that no political regime can suppress; no weapon can kill; and from which no one can hide—even those who are not willing to respond to God’s loving call.
The children of Jerusalem were not willing to be gathered by God. That unwillingness and rejection of God is not foreign to a 21st century people either. Jesus still calls for his people to repent and to turn to God, not only in times of fearfulness, but in all times and in all things, all the while making room for “one more.” This turning to God, an instinct of the soul, that humanity must urgently reclaim, is our challenging work, particularly in Lent.
In the dark, dangerous times in which we live, it is hard not to feel like helpless chicks. But as followers of Jesus Christ, we are never hopeless, for our hope is in Him. We must resist the tugs of fear when this temporal, human life is threatened, so that we, like Jesus, may be fixed on our obedience to God who, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, sin and death have no dominion, and in whom the eternal life is promised.
In the words of the Afro-American spiritual, “Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again. If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus, and say, ‘He died for all.’ There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul” (1982 Hymnal, 676).

Sisters and brothers in Christ, there is a balm for this sin-sick world, and this healing balm is Jesus.

With the Lord as your light and your salvation; whom then shall you fear? With the Lord as the strength of your life; of whom then shall you be afraid?”