Monday, November 15, 2010

Be Not Afraid!

Have you ever had one of those weeks when all you received was bad news?
I had one of those weeks.
It was filled with one bad thing after another.
It was filled with bad news about death, sickness, and destruction.
My week was filled with stories of a husband that allegedly killed his wife and daughter, a former co-worker of my wife’s that was hit by a truck, a colleague whose house caught on fire and husband lost his job.
Yesterday was a great day until I received the news that my godfather was dying.
It is weeks like this that make me yearn for the end.
The end of the struggles that we face in this life.
An end to the bad news that often crawls across our televisions on a nightly basis.
It makes me want to shout out “thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
This is what the end of the world is about.
It is about our desire to have God come and take over for good.
It is about our desire for the hardships and heartache to end and for us to live fully with God.

All end of the world literature is written by people who are facing extremely difficult situations.
The book of Revelation for example is written by a community of people being persecuted by the Roman Empire because of their Christian faith.
In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus talk about the end.
He is talking to a community that will face extremely difficult times.
It is a community that will see the Roman Empire destroy the Temple in 70 AD.
Jesus words are meant to be of comfort to a community in fear and disarray.
“do not be terrified” Jesus tells his disciples.
Jesus tells them that he will give them the words they need to have to defend their faith.
Jesus tells them that although they will be hated and reviled they will gain their souls.
When we read these words about the end time our imagination gets ahead of us and we focus in on the horrors of wars, earthquakes, famines, plaques, and dreadful portions.
There have been lots of books written about the end of the world and how horrible it will be.
We have the obsession with focusing on the end of the world and making ourselves and others afraid of it.
It would be better if we focused on what Jesus tells us about living in times of wars, earthquakes, famines, plaques, and dreadful portions.
In such times we should focus on not being afraid.
Passages like this bring us fear and dread, but their intention is to bring us comfort and hope.
The Gospel is not about fear and dread but about Good News that is brought to us by Jesus Christ.

So on weeks were bad news is all around us.
On weeks when nothing seems to go our way perhaps we should remember that in all these things God is there with us.
Perhaps instead of focusing on what awful things went wrong we should remember that these things are inevitable in our world.
There are wars, earthquakes, famines, and plaques.
There always has been.

We would be hard pressed to remember a time when we were not threatened with something.
There was never an idyllic time or place to be alive.
Each generation faces its own difficulties.
In generations passed some of you fought against fascism, economic depression, in the cold war we fought against communism and lived under the fear of nuclear annihilation.
Recently, we have been fighting against terrorism.
Against fanatics hell bent on destroying people to bring fear into our hearts.
Thomas Friedman in the New York Times last Sunday wrote in an Op-ed that we have been lucky that five terror plots have not succeeded in the last year.
“But one of these days, our luck is going to run out because the savage madness emanating from Al Qaeda, from single individuals it inspires over the Web and from its different franchisees — like the branches in Yemen and Iraq — is only increasing.” Friedman ominously predicts.
We live under constant threat.

Into the midst of the threat of terrorism Jesus comes and tells us not to be terrified.
In the Gospel this morning Jesus is discussing all of the things he knows his disciples will face.
Jesus is talking to us about all the things we will face too.
And telling us not to be afraid, not to let those things overtake us.
Because what Jesus calls us to in these times, as in all times, is faithful living in the midst of difficult times.
Faithful living involves witnessing to our faith, and helping others not to be afraid.
This week on more than one occasion I have offered prayers and thoughts to those whose lives have been turned upside down by death, sickness, economic travesty.
I believe in those prayers, because I have faith that God will not let a hair on our heads perish.
I have faith that God is with us all the time and there is no reason to be afraid.
We can face all the things that come at us in life because God is always with us.
This is the true comfort that Jesus offers us today.
He is not trying to scare the disciples, but tell them that in the midst of horrible things he will be there with them.
That is what faith is about.
Trusting in God even among difficult and contradictory times.
Living in fear of the end times is not a real faith it leads us to stop living.

In 1533 in Wittenberg Germany a preacher by the name of Michael Stifiel who was also a mathematician told people that he had figured out that the world was going to end at 8:00 am on October 19, 1533.
All of the people of Wittenberg believed him and spent the last week eating and drinking everything in town.
On that morning they all gathered at the Castle Church to wait for the end times.
It didn’t happen, and Michael Stifiel was put in the Castle jail for his own protection because the towns people of Wittenberg were so upset that they had squandered everything they had that they wanted to kill him.
Having the end of the world as the focus of our faith leads us to do some pretty crazy things.
Instead the focus on our faith should always be the present moment, the task at hand, and the thing in our lives that God has called us to at this moment.
Our faith should always be focused on the comfort Jesus brings to us in uncertain and difficult times.

The end of the world is not our concern because we don’t control it.
Jesus knows this and it is why he does not directly answer when the disciples ask for more specifics.
“When will this be?”
They ask Jesus.
We don’t know.
And we shouldn’t, instead we should live today with the faith that all things lie in God’s hands.
Martin Luther supposedly once said, “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today!”
It was a statement of faith in God.
That we should not fear but live in the promise of God, live with knowledge that God is always with us and keeping us.
As Martin Luther said in a sermon on the end of the world, “now we journey and know not just whither; yet we put our confidence in God, and rest in his keeping, and our faith abides in all its dignity.”

If you are having a bad week, a bad day, a bad year.
If you are afraid at what the world has become or what it will become.
Listen to Jesus, “do not be terrified.”
Instead live right now today and in faith trust the future to God.
And everything will be fine.

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