Rev Kristin Schultz
March 2, 2014
Do not be afraid
These words echo throughout the Scriptures, appearing time and again in the stories of the lives of God’s people
We hear these words when someone is facing a particular challenge or change,
like Abraham waiting decades for a son in an unknown land,
or Joshua taking on leadership of God’s people after Moses dies.
Both Isaiah and Jeremiah, struggling with the very difficult task of bringing God’s call to repentance and faithfulness to the people of Israel, are told,
“Do not be afraid, because I am with you.”
And they in turn bring that message to the people –
Do not be afraid – times are hard, but God has not forsaken us.
Throughout the Psalms, there are images of God as hiding place, as protector,
as the one who cares for us and protects us from danger.
Do not be afraid.
These words also appear when God reveals God’s-self and God’s glory
When Moses sees a bush that burns and is not consumed, and hears the voice of God from the bush, God tells him, “Do not be afraid – I will be with you.”
When an angel comes to Mary and Zechariah to tell them of miraculous babies to be born,
they BEGIN with the words, Do not be afraid.
When an angel appears to the shepherds, and the sky fills with God’s joyful glory,
the first words are “Do not be afraid! I bring you good news”
Apparently, when one comes face to face with God, it is natural to be afraid.
Which is precisely what happens to Peter, James and John on the mountain top.
Jesus has invited them to come with him to walk on the mountain.
When they get to the top, Jesus is transfigured –
his appearance changes, his clothing and his face shine with light.
Moses and Elijah – the most revered religious figures in Israelite history –
appear with him and speak to him.
And there is a voice – I imagine the kind of voice that fills your ears and your mind at once
Like James Earle Jones, or maybe like Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings.
“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
The disciples, quite naturally, fall to the ground in fear.
And that’s when Jesus says it.
He comes to them, and touches them, and says,
“Get up and Do not be afraid”
Peter, James and John have come face to face with a new reality.
Jesus has just finished telling them that he will be killed.
They are struggling against the idea that their friend and leader will die – that their journey of faith will lead, not to comfort and safety, but to fear and betrayal.
Then they see Jesus filled with the power of God and are reminded of their task
to listen to him, to not just hear but to follow and commit themselves to him,
wherever that journey goes.
So it is no wonder that the words they most need to hear in that moment are,
Do not be afraid.
They are words of assurance that have accompanied God’s people through the centuries.
Do not be afraid, because I am with you
Whatever trials you face, I face them with you
I discovered this week a debate on the internet about whether the words, Do Not Be Afraid, Fear Not, or similar statements actually appear precisely 365 times in the Bible – once for every day of the year.
I didn’t follow up enough to make a judgment, but it struck me:
Both the number of times the words appear in scripture, and the internet debate about them now 2 thousand years after the scriptures were written, make me think that I am not the only person who struggles with fear.
Fear is a pretty natural human response.
Fear that we won’t have enough.
Fear that we will lose what is most important.
Fear that we will not be loved.
Fear that we are not good enough.
It has also been a time of loss and change at St Michael’s,
a time of uncertainty about the future and what will happen next. .
When we feel such anxiety rising, it is good to remember these words –
Get up, and do not fear. I will be with you.
My favorite preacher and blogger, David Lose, wrote this week that “this scene has been called by some a “displaced resurrection story” -- the dazzling white, the command to be raised, the injunction to fear not. It parallels the resurrection scene except in this scene it is not Jesus’ resurrection but that of the disciples, as they are pulled from their fear and failure to new life and courage.
“And what’s interesting to me is that Jesus doesn’t, at least at this moment, rebuke them for their failure, or call them to repentance, or grant them forgiveness. Rather, he calls them to be raised and to shed their fear, sending them forth into life restored and renewed.”
By their experience on the mountain with Jesus,
Peter, James and John are called more deeply into discipleship.
It is an invitation which comes to us also – to listen to Jesus, be attentive to his call,
and to follow him with all of our lives.
Sometimes, when we sense God’s presence and God’s claim on our lives,
we fall into fear.
Sometimes the circumstances of our lives overwhelm us and drive us into fear.
When this happens, God does not scold or rebuke or chastise,
but instead calls us to get up, to be raised, to be free of fear,
and to continue walking by his side.
God’s voice echoes through the ages, assuring God’s beloved people:
Do not be afraid, for I am with you.
Thanks be to God.