Do not be afraid, little flock

Preacher: Nathan Hosler

Scripture: Isaiah 1:10-20, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

That there are reasons to be afraid, both for ourselves and our future generations and for our neighbors we don’t yet know—those stranded at borders or snatched from work, on our streets, in war zones—that there are reasons to be afraid and distressed does not need reminding. I even hesitate to rehearse these things since I know that most of us are acutely aware of what has happened and continues to be happening even as we speak.

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

Mass shootings laced with racism and protected by love of guns.

Detention centers at our borders which a writer in Foreign Policy recently shows do not even meet Geneva Convention standards for prisoners of war—much less families fleeing violence.

And an environment so disrupted by humanity’s abuse that it lashes us with storms and drought and fire that increase in ferocity so as to disrupt and threaten the disruptors.

That there are reasons that to be afraid does not need reminding.

But Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.”

This week I will have worked as denominational staff of the Church of the Brethren for 10 years. I know I may seem old to my BVSers but 10 years at my age is quite some time. I have been afraid and have worried. Not generally, and not necessarily all that often. Sometimes for myself—perhaps while in an area of violent conflict—but usually for others. Recently I have been afraid for the future of the denomination.

This is general—I care about the church but more importantly think we have important work to do in this world. But also, afraid and worried due to the feeling of instability as an employee. I have also been afraid when think about this and that strife wondering if we can live together. This past week, after a call with someone I love from a church that will likely leave the denomination, I felt a shift. I felt distressed and then went outside to add our coffee grounds to the compost and pick peppers. I then came back in and got to work. I looked at the draft new website for WCCOB that Jenn was working on, I designed and the prepared for printing the bulletin—looking at the call to worship which read:

If we just talk of thoughts and prayers And don’t live out a faith that dares, And don’t take on the ways of death, Our thoughts and prayers are fleeting breath.

If we just dream of what could be And do not build community, And do not seek to change our ways, Our dreams of change are false displays.

If we just sing of doing good And don’t walk through our neighborhood To learn its hope, to ease its pain, Our talk of good is simply vain.

God, may our prayers and dreams and songs Lead to a faith that takes on wrongs — That works for peace and justice, too. Then will our prayers bring joy to you.

(hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette)

I did these rather mundane things and felt my spirit begin to lift. I began to (again) see the way that Spirit is moving. I felt oddly freed from fear and worry.

And Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock.”

My basic points in this sermon which we see in our scriptures are:

1. Do not be afraid. Do not worry. Trust God

2. This trusting does not allow us to be complacent.

3. This freedom from fear allows us to radically, energetically, and with great vigor follow the Spirit of God.

4. As we follow God into justice our worship will not be in vain.

In Luke, in the face of a question about economic sharing and the greed of those in power who suck up life, Jesus asserts, Don’t worry about life—what you will eat or wear. God clothes the lilies even more resplendently than the fabulous King Solomon could manage. God the one who creates and sustains, who paints the world with wild flowers and cultures—this God whose glory and creative force is seen in the faces of the peoples of the world—This God who has bestowed on us gifts that we so often neglect and abuse—this God cares for us. Because of this we are not to worry but to trust God

Trust in God, do not be swept up in worrying about yourself. “27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;[e] yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his[f] kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

Rather than worrying and being distracted, trust God but also be ready. This trusting does not allow us to be complacent or idle.

#2 This trusting does not allow us to be complacent.

Trusting God is not a new form of self-focus and self-preservation. Trusting in God is not simply another form of selfcare, the ultimate insurance plan. Those that the Bible holds up as exemplars of faith are not those whom live in ease and wealth and no worry that they claim is simply a blessing of God. No, those lifted up are the ones who put faith into action. Wendel Berry, poet farmer from Kentucky writes,

“And so people who might have been expected to care most selflessly for the world have had their minds turned elsewhere—to a pursuit of ‘salvation’ that was really only another form of gluttony and self-love, the desire to perpetuate their lives beyond the life of the world. The Heaven-bent have abused the earth thoughtlessly, by inattention, and their negligence has permitted and encouraged others to abuse it deliberately.” (Wendel Berry, ”A Native Hill,” World Ending Fire, 27)

This trusting does not allow us to be complacent. Trusting in God does not separate us from the earth but put us into direct contact with it—to care for it. For Wendell Berry, this is a “few square miles of Kentucky.”

#3 This freedom from fear allows us to radically, energetically, and with great vigor follow the Spirit of God.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible

“8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. “

Trust and faith push us out into the unknown. Faith frees from fear and puts into action.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom…. where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit;”

This freedom from fear allows us to radically, energetically, and with great vigor follow the Spirit of God.

#4 As we follow God into justice our worship will not be in vain.

The prophet Isaiah asserts –worship without correct living is worthless. And correct living is defined by justice and care for others—the prophet Isaiah outlines this saying “learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed and defend the orphan.” What we do matters. We are saved by grace but not for ourselves. Christians cannot support separating children from families—in essence, creating orphans rather than defending orphans cannot claim their worship of God is true, no matter how “orthodox” their words may sound.

While it is important for me to say this as a preacher in a time while this is happening, it is also easy because it doesn’t directly implicate me. It places the need for correction somewhere else. The more difficult question is, how haven’t I, or we, learned to do good, sought justice, rescued the oppressed and defended the orphan? Or how have we done this halfway or distractedly? Or how has our fear led to inaction? Which brings us back to the beginning.

Do not be afraid. Do not worry. Trust God. This trusting does not allow us to be complacent but this freedom from fear allows us to radically, energetically, and with great vigor follow the Spirit of God. And as we follow God into justice our worship will not be in vain.

The God who calls us into a big calling, into something greater than we can imagine, also provides what we need. This is why the difficult word is actually in invitation into an abundant life. However, this abundant life is not defined by self-indulgence and consumption, but one closely bound to God’s beautiful creation and woven with justice and mercy.

Lord have mercy.

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