sermons

IN THE MIDDLE OF FEAR NOT

March 31, 2019

  

A couple of weeks ago I shared a few words on the 23rd Psalm. When I’m putting a sermon together, I try very hard to be respectful of our time together. I know that it is precious, valuable, limited and irreplaceable. So, sometimes, even when I feel I have more to say in a sermon, I consider what a wonderful old mentor said to me once, “As much as I like cake, I usually only enjoy the first few bites.”


This week’s scripture though, kind of allows me to pick up where I left off with that message.


You may remember that we talked about the devotion the Shepherd has for the sheep; how making sure the sheep is provided for, feels safe, and is free from tensions, aggravations, hunger and fear are crucial to the sheep’s wellness and survival.


You may remember too that in that message I mentioned a name… Brennan Manning.

Brennan Manning’s writings have done more to bring me back to the loving, caring nature of God than any others.


He grew up in New York City during the Depression. He fought as a Marine in the Korean War, then became a Franciscan Priest. He joined a religious institute that observed a contemplative life, he lived and worked among the poor in Europe and here in the U.S. He was imprisoned once in Switzerland, and spent six months as a solitary reflective, secluded and alone in a remote desert cave.


He was an incredible preacher. And as I’ve already mentioned, an amazing writer; authoring over 20 rich, powerful, and inspiring books. The one he is most known for is, “The Ragamuffin Gospel.”


Brennan Manning was an incredible man of God. He was connected with God. He was in tune with God. Some said he was like the Psalmist David, “a man after God’s own heart.”


He was also an alcoholic, a liar, an irresponsible preacher and priest, a terrible husband, and an unreliable friend.


Many times before or after ministry events, the self-proclaimed “Vagabond Evangelist” admits that he’d holed himself up in a hotel room and get drunk for days. He lay in his vomit, blacked out. Depressed. Filled with shame.


His selfishness that way even caused him to miss his own mother’s funeral.

Sometimes he’d disappear, his wife would worry sick, not knowing where he was and not able to get hold of him for many days at a time. When she finally had enough, she divorced him.


Brennan didn’t blame her. He’d divorce himself if he could.


He wasn’t proud of that part of himself.


In his memoir he confessed, “I’ve been a priest and an ex-priest. Husband, then ex-husband. Amazed crowds one night and lied to friends the next. Drunk for years, sober for a season, then drunk again.”


That’s who Brennan Manning was.


So we ask, “why would we trust someone with that kind of reputation?” How can we receive their words, their message when they are so “un-righteous?” 


We can trust them because Brennan Manning knew who he was. He knew himself well because he fought the mirror every day of his life. He was well acquainted with both sides of who he was, the best and the worst parts, and he knew that God had immeasurable grace that never, ever waned even in his lowest moments of regret.

Even when he was angry with himself and hated who was, he’d say out loud, “God is very fond of me.”


When he would fight with himself to do the right thing, and fail anyway he’d say, “I am not measured by the good or bad I do, but by the grace I accept.”


And the thing he preached over and over again, saying it every time he spoke or preached a sermon, “God loves me unconditionally, as I am and not as I should be.”


The one thing that Brennan fought as much as anything else, and the thing that brought him to the feet of failure as much as anything else was his feelings of fear.


Why did such a man of prayer, a man so in love with his God struggle with fear?


Why do we? Why do we struggle so with our fears?


In today’s scripture, tucked literally right in the middle of all the other words… do you seem them?


Luke 12: 29-34 NRSV
"And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and God knows that you need them. Instead, strive for God’s kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."


These verses are near the end of Luke 12. But this whole chapter of words and stories from Jesus to disciples and the crowds that gathered points to several things that can bring us fear.


In those verses Jesus says, “do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.” We fear death. I know people who say they don’t, and maybe they don’t fear the outcome of it, but the process of it is scary.


A little later in the chapter Jesus says, “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say;” we fear public shame. We all do. It chooses our wardrobes and our hair styles. This fear of public rejection prevents some people from ever taking the chance to express their gift, their talent to others.


And then Jesus says, “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” We know there are some who have no choice but to worry about their next meal. They wonder if there will be one.


It seems unrealistic for Jesus to tell his disciples and us to not worry about something like that. So we do.


But Jesus mentions another thing we often fear that goes right to the heart of God. It could be the deepest fear of all and the one that is possibly the foundation of all the others. Maybe that’s why Jesus kept it for last. We see it in verse 32: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”


This is the part of my last sermon that I didn’t have a chance to express.


What fear is Jesus speaking to here?


He is trying to eliminate the fear of an unkind God, the kind of God who taunts us and teases us with riddles and leaves us desperate.


Many of us have been taught to live in fear of a God that does not want to be gracious to us, a God that does not want to be generous and helpful to us, a God who is basically irked with us and angry.


Many of us have been taught to live not in respect of God, but in fear of God. But why would we fear the one who loves us so much?


Jesus wants to assure here that God really wants to be good to us in the same way a shepherd wants to treat his flock with care and love and attention and goodness. 


This verse is about the true nature of God. It’s about what kind of heart God has. It’s a verse about what makes God glad — not merely about what God will do or has to do, but what God delights to do, what God loves to do and takes pleasure in doing.


Listen, I know about fear. I know about the fear of God. I grew up terrified of an angry, fickle, temperamental God with mood swings that left you fearing for your very existence. 


Jesus knows that we struggle with fear. He knows that one of those fears is that God is the kind of God who is basically angry and delights most of all to judge sinners and only does good out of a sense of constraint and duty, not delight. But this morning we can rest in knowing the truth about God.


As Brennan Manning says, “I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery.”


This is why it’s smack dab in the middle of our text today… “Do not fear.”

Luke 12: 29-34 NRSV
"And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and God knows that you need them. Instead, strive for God’s kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

audio coming soon