04/20/14 Sermon (April 20, 2014) Resurrection Sunday “Do Not Be Afraid”

posted Apr 22, 2014, 12:18 PM by David Hawkins

Scripture Reading: Matthew 29:1-10 (Liturgist)

“Listen for the voice of Jesus,

the good shepherd, who calls you by name.”

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

Thanks be to God

Sermon: "Do Not Be Afraid"             Rev. David Hawkins

“Don’t be afraid.”

If only it were so easy. If that was all it took for us not to be afraid.

But we need more than that, don’t we? And we always have.

When we were children, and there were monsters in the closest, it wasn’t enough for mom or dad to just say, ‘don’t be afraid.’ We needed to know that we are loved. We needed to be held close, we needed to feel the warmth of our parents’ arms, we needed to be shown that there was no need to be afraid. The door to the closest had to be opened, a night light needed to be turned on, just the right teddy bear needed to stand guard. Our parents would promise to be right next door. It’s not enough to just be told, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ Sometimes we need more than that.

As children, we fear things that go bump in the night, and you would think that as we get older, we get a hold of that fear, but we don’t. We may not fear the boogeymen of our childhood, but now we fear the more grown-up monsters of cancer, and heart-disease, and terrorism and unemployment and the dangers our children face simply going to school.

And saying “Don’t be afraid” doesn’t really cut it when we are watching someone we love struggling for their next breath, or anxiously looking for our child who has wandered off in the department store, or wondering if the next round of layoffs is going to take our paycheck away.

There are times in our lives when we have every reason to fear, and the well-meant, but useless advice to simply not be afraid adds more weight than it relieves. It can sound more like a commandment than a comfort. As though we are doing something wrong by being afraid, as though our faith is somehow suspect because we are afraid.

But the the reality is, there are times on this side of heaven that we have every reason to be afraid. There are things in the world deserving of our fear. Each of us know this, and to simply tell ourselves, or to tell others differently is not being honest. We live in a broken world, and there are times when a healthy fear is the only appropriate response. The words, “Don’t be afraid,” aren’t enough. We need more than that.

Appropriate fear is healthy. Fear keeps us alive. Fear is God’s way of equipping our bodies to stay out of danger. The problem is, we don’t always know how to differentiate between a healthy fear, and an unhealthy fear. We don’t know the difference between the kind of fear that preserves our lives, and the kind of fear that preserves our reputations, or protects our comfort at the expense of others. We mix these fears up, we conflate them, and then we make bad decisions because of them.

And you know, there’s  lot of money to be made from fear. Fear is a great motivator. Especially fear of the unknown. Fears sells: fear sells products, fear sells ideas, fear sells ideologies, fear sells religions, fear sells political agendas.

And fear leads to unhealthy behaviors. Fear leads to anger. It leads to hate. Fear is what leads us to steal, to kill. Fear is what leads us to to invade, to torture. It leads to promiscuity, drug abuse, and greed. Fear is not rational, and we don’t deal with it rationally. It’s hard to fight fear. It’s not enough to say, “Don’t be afraid.” We need more than that.

You know, it’s interesting in the stories of Jesus’ burial, that none of the ‘official’ disciples of Jesus are involved in any way. We read in three of the Gospels that it is Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the council, who takes Jesus’ body away and puts it in the tomb. In the Gospel of John, it is Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, a Pharisee of the Sanhedrin who take care of the burial. The actual twelve disciples are nowhere to be found.

They probably had good reasons for lying low. They were afraid of suffering the same fate as Jesus. It’s hard for us to imagine their fear, because we live on this side of the empty tomb. We live on the side of history that knows that Jesus didn't stay in the grave. We have a different perspective.

But the disciples lived on the other side of the tomb. For them, for three days of absolute terror, the leader of their group had been arrested for treason, for sedition, for blasphemy. The manner of his death was meant to send a message to everyone who might have wanted to emulate him in any way.

The disciples were hunted men. And they were afraid to go out, even to pay their last respects to their beloved Rabbi. And this was a legitimate fear. The whole town was looking for them. It didn’t matter how much they denied knowing Jesus, everybody knew who they were.

And so it wouldn’t have done much good to just tell them to ‘man up’ and face their fear. It wouldn't have done much good to just tell them to not be afraid. They needed more than that, because they had good reasons to be afraid.

But the woman also have good reasons, and yet somehow, they overcome their fear. They go out that early morning, with the full knowledge that their actions would brand them as followers of a traitor, of a heretic, of a criminal, yet, they go to visit Jesus in the grave.

We don’t really know why they go. There’s nothing really for them to actually do. They overcome their fear, they risk their lives in order that they might simply stand vigil with someone they loved, in the same way that we attend the graveside service of those whom we love. This is what love looks like. Love means showing up, even when it’s uncomfortable, even when it’s inconvenient, even when it’s dangerous.

And when the women arrived at the tomb, already full of fear and trepidation, they are greeted with an earthquake, and lighting and the brilliant flash of an angel rolling the stone away. The full power of God is on display, and it is overwhelming. The Roman guards at the tomb are paralyzed by fear, they fall to the ground, their terror strikes them unconscious. Probably the very best way to translate the Greek of this verse is to say the guards are scared to death.

And of course, the angel tells the women to not be afraid. It’s almost a cliche. If there ever was a moment to be afraid in your life, this would be it. They have watched their leader die horribly on a cross. Their group has scattered to the four winds, running for their lives. They are alone, vulnerable, and now, at the tomb, the world is coming to an end with a bolt of lightning, an earthquake, and a messenger from God.

It’s just not enough to tell them to not be afraid. They need more than that. They need way more than that.

And they get it: “He is not here,” the angel says. “Go tell the others.”

The women are able to see for themselves that Jesus is not in the tomb, that Jesus has been raised, that death has not won, that their beloved teacher lives. For the first time in days, the terror that has gripped them begins to ease, and their fear begins to turn to joy.

They run to tell the others, and on the way they meet Jesus. They fall at his feet in worship, and again, we hear the words, “Do not be afraid.”  But this time, they are being said by Jesus himself. It’s not a cliche. It’s not a rumor. It’s the real thing. And this is the message the women take to the disciples. Jesus is alive. He is risen from the tomb. He will meet us again in Galilee. Do not be afraid.

The women were the first to go from living in a world where Jesus lay in the tomb, to a world in which the tomb was empty. They were the first to not only experience the kind of love that casts out fear, they were the first to fall at the feet of the kind of love that defeats death itself. It was love that brought them to the tomb that morning. It was love that rolled away the stone. And it was love that raised Jesus from the dead.

Fear is not a rational emotion. But neither is love. The kind of love that Jesus showed us on the cross is not rational. The kind of love that God shows us by bending to us, becoming one of us, suffering with and for us is not rational. And yet, this is the Good News of the Gospel.

By all measures, we have done nothing to earn this love. We have every reason to fear the wrath of God, but here is the stone, rolled away. Here is the empty tomb. Here is our Lord, waiting with outstretched arms.

We live in a world consumed by by fear, and love is the only way to fight it. It is not enough for us to be be told to not be afraid, or to tell others to not be afraid. We need more than that. We all need more than that. We need love. Our neighbors need love. Our enemies need love. Everlasting, eternal, always reaching, always reconciling, always redeeming, always forgiving, always welcoming, always sustaining love.

“Do not be afraid.”  These are not my words. These are the words of God, who knew very well that they would not be enough. Because ultimately, they are just words and we need more than just words. God chose to become one of us, that we might know him, and trust him, and feel his hands and arms around us. Because He knew we needed more than just words, God sent us Jesus Christ, to teach, to heal, to feed, to give of himself, in order that we might know what true love looks like.

And Jesus rising from the dead is that the final proof of that love. When Jesus escaped the tomb, he once, and for all time declared victory over fear and death.

This is not to say that death will not happen. This is not to say that sickness and disease and evil and danger do not exist. There will always be things in this world of which we will be afraid.

But like the women in our scripture today, we live on the other side of an empty tomb. The fear that grips this world need not paralyze us. It need not confuse or confound, or strike us down. Because death is not the last word, anymore.

Love is the last word. And He is risen indeed.

Thanks be to God. Amen.