Sunday, August 10, 2014

Proper XIV+A 10, August, 2014 The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+

 
A little boy was afraid of the dark.  One night his mother told him to go out to the back porch and bring her the broom.  The little boy turned to his mother and said, "Mama, I don't want to go out there.  It's dark."

The mother smiled reassuringly at her son.  "You don't have to be afraid of the dark," she explained.  "Jesus is out there.  He'll look after you and protect you."

The little boy looked at his mother real hard and asked, "Are you sure he's out there?"  "Yes, I 'm sure.  He is everywhere, and he is always ready to help you when you need him," she said.

The little boy thought about that for a minute and then went to the back door and cracked it a little.  Peering out into the darkness, he called, "Jesus?  If you're out there, would you please hand me the broom?  FEAR!

 

I find the readings appointed for today very frustrating.  Why?  Because any of the three are resplendent with themes that can be preached on with fervor and importance so you'll forgive me if I try to say too much or too little on any of them. One thing is clear: they speak of God's desire to share his character and purpose. The other is how important faith and belief are in our participation in God's great plan.  In all of the readings there is one answer: God.

 

Think back to a time when you were afraid.  We deal with fear in many ways, many of them less than helpful.  There are myriad examples of people afraid in the Bible.  Fear is a great motivator.  It gets us to take action. It can also immobilize us and stop our ability to function. We use phrases like: I froze, I trembled, my heart-stopped to describe the effects of fear on human beings. It is the character traits to overcome these circumstances that are described through words like: courageous, fearless, heroic.  We look up to people with these qualities.  But the Bible talks about a good kind of fear. .Proverbs tells us: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

 

Throughout the Bible you find the righteous and godly described as "fearing God" and the unrighteous as having no fear of God.  Clearly this is a different kind of fear from the stories of Elijah and that of Peter. This fear is a healthy respect, an acknowledgement of who God is and what his authority entails.  This reveals to us a very important principle: the opposite of faith is not doubt.  The opposite of faith is FEAR!

 

We come to find the prophet Elijah, Elijah hiding in a cave.  At least he was at "Horeb, the Mount of God", so he was moving in the right direction. The Spirit of the Lord comes to him and says: "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  What we hear from him is not the fiery rhetoric of a fiery prophet, but more akin to that of a child being picked on by bullies. "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."  It hardly sounds like the same guy who had confronted the 450 prophets of Baal and challenged them to prove whose God was real in a trial of proof by fire in the previous chapter!  Elijah was in a bad way. He afraid and depressed. He saw his circumstances more than the God he was called to serve.  Remember how he challenged them to prove who really was God? They cried for Baal to consume the sacrifice without the prophets lighting it.  All day they cried.  Elijah said, "cry louder, perhaps he is asleep". He then rebuilt the altar of God, had them drench it with gallons of water on it and then cried out to God.  The fire fell, consumed the wood, the sacrifice and even the very stones! He has seen God's power. Then forward to Mt Horeb. Here God gives the prophet a glimpse of his power in a profound experience as his "shekinah" glory passes by. . But the profound experience was not in this. It is seen in the powerful wind or the earthquake,  or any mighty act of power but in what other translations do not translate as 'silence' but as a still small voice, the voice of God.  The opposite of faith is FEAR!

 

Then we see a scenario where Peter the "rock" asks the Lord to prove if it was "really him".  Peter steps out of the boat but rather than keeping his eyes on Jesus, he begins to look everywhere but at the Lord.  He really wasn't looking in the right direction. When he sees himself all alone trying to do what he had asked to do, he forgot to look at Jesus. He saw circumstances, not Jesus.  He then began to fail. He could not do it without God's help. The "Rock" became a "sand-pile." But he then cries out to the Lord.  This was the good kind of fear, fear that turned him to the source of security. The opposite of faith is FEAR!

 

The Collect says this: "Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right,…"  How does anyone find "right thinking"?  I would suggest that it comes through being "rightly related to God".  This is what is also translated in Holy Scripture as "righteousness". Righteousness is not the abundance of "good deeds." It is believing God, believing 'in' God, depending upon God.

 

Paul addresses this important point in our Epistle reading today.  This is the remedy to fear. Paul writes to the Church at Rome: "because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved."  How did the later Christians marched into the Coliseum singing hymns do so? The opposite of fear is FAITH.  They could have looked at their circumstances and let that overshadow their faith in Christ, One of the ancient Fathers, Tertullian, wrote:"the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."  When the Romans saw this spectacle, what did many of them do?  They became Christians who could stare death in the face without fear.  For this they were immediately declared 'saints' by the Church. As we see our sister and brother Coptic Christians being slaughtered my Moslem extremists, let us remember them in our prayers. May they keep their eyes on Jesus!

Salvation is effected by confessing or professing with the mouth and believing in the heart.  Have you noticed the new rites for Baptism and Confirmation?  They each ask: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? and the candidate says: I do. Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? I do. Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord? I do. Being a "secret disciple" is really not an option when we must profess with our mouths.

Paul then writes a verse that many if not all of us are familiar with being from the South: 'For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."  This is also a quote from the Book of the Prophet Joel (2:32) who writes: "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved;" This text seeks to recruit us into the sharing of this "good news."  But do we or does "fear" (there's that word again) keep us silent?

The presupposition here seems to be that calling on the Lord for salvation is a sign of faith in the heart.  God wants desperately be in relationship with humanity, that is why Jesus died!  But God does not pound on the door of the heart, he speaks in the still small voice that the loud din of the world tries to stamp out.

The Apostle John wrote: " Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me." (Revelation 3:20)

French Hermit Religious, Charles de Fould wrote this: "the one thing we absolutely to God is never to be afraid of anything."  That is the Way of Jesus.
 

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