Be Not Afraid

Themes: Genesis Luke

Annette James

Sunday 17th March Sermon

Readings: Genesis 15: 1-12 & 17 -18. Luke 13: 31 – 35.

We come together today in deep pain for the people of faith who were killed in New Zealand’s Al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre as they came together for prayer in the city of Christchurch.…. we grieve for the 49 people who were shot dead and the 20 people who were seriously injured we pray for them and everyone who was impacted by this cowardly and devastating violence. Yesterday I was at the Cathedral and was moved by an installation ‘SUDARIOS’ by Erika Diettes, Women of the grief. I brought one photo which is very pertinent today. It is part of ‘Rise’ a season of extraordinary female artists, thinkers and leaders.

As I prepared for the service today, and thinking of the theme of the readings – I came up with three titles…

‘God’s good time’ this is especially pertinent to Abraham who thinks his time for an heir is gone –

‘Do Not be Afraid’ and ‘Being confident and strong’.

Right back in Genesis God is telling Abraham not to be afraid and grounding him in the cosmos.

Our gospel reading finds Jesus hard at work – Jesus is clear what his work is and why it is important, he is not going to be distracted. He was not distracted by temptations in the wilderness and he is not about to be frightened off by the Romans or the Pharisee’s. This gospel passage is full of hidden meaning.

When you think of Jesus, I wonder what words come to mind? – let people speak

Here is Jesus being outspoken, determined and not a bit hacked off by the message the pharisee’s bring him. I wonder is this a Jesus you recognise?

Many peoples view of Jesus is Gentle, mild, caring, loving, healer, we don’t often think of Jesus as this confident, authoritative figure. But…Jesus is not a wuss – he is strong, confident and perfectly capable of taking on the pharisee’s and the political leadership from Rome…

Jesus call Herod a Fox – tell that Fox - in Hebrew the concept of Fox is equated with contempt – it is not clear what Herod wanted from Jesus, for as the Easter story unfold’s we will learn that when Jesus came before Pilate it was not he who condemned Jesus.

Although the threat to Jesus seemed to come from the Roman oppressors who ruled over the Israeli people – Jesus saw the real danger to himself came from Jerusalem.

Jesus challenges the status quo – we see him despair of the leadership in Jerusalem and his longing for the people to learn a new way –

The Pharisee’s as a whole were hostile to Jesus yet they come to warn him that Herod wants to kill him (this is Herod Antipas son of Herod the great who wanted to kill Jesus as a baby) …it is not clear of their motivation - do the pharisees want to frighten Jesus and drive him underground or do they want to drive him away from Galilee to an area where he would be under their control, or as fellow Jews are they genuinely concerned for his welfare and want him to be safe. Whatever their motivation was, I am not sure they would have anticipated Jesus response.

Jesus is not about to obey either the Romans or the Pharisees – his mission is very clear.

Jesus is among the people working with them battling with them to heal and redeem broken bodies and minds, mental and physical health. Jesus is clear of his mission and he reiterates his agenda - and he is not going to be distracted

  • I am casting out demons – a reference to his fight against evil
  • I am performing cures – releasing the captives.

And we read that Jesus is looking toward Jerusalem – the Holy City, then as now, still and always the centre of a struggle. Yesterday I was at a conference led by the United Society Partners in the Gospel. The theme was rethinking mission. The aim of the conference was to focus on the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade and was deliberately situated in Liverpool because of the key historic role that Liverpool played. There were speakers from Barbados, Montego Bay, Ghana and the US, they were all very powerful speakers and told history from a black perspective.

A key quote for the day came from James Baldwin (1965) who wrote… The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.

I suggest that Jerusalem was a product of its history, there was chaos and friction within, and we see this played out as the Easter story unfolds from Palm Sunday when Jesus enters Jerusalem humbly on a donkey and Caesar enters with pomp and ceremony along with his political retinue – Jerusalem had killed the prophets and Jesus knows this is where he will come to die – and he is not afraid. Death is part of his purpose, but God had not given up on Jerusalem. In Psalm 61 verse 4 we read that God wants to give Jerusalem protection, but Jerusalem does not seem to want it.

And Jesus shares this concern as he likens himself to a mother hen…

We used to keep hens but of course we did not have a cockerel so although they laid eggs – which were delicious, they were not fertilized so we never had chicks. I don’t think I have ever seen a hen gathering her chicks. Usually when I see chick’s they are all together without their mother – the images are cute fluffy bundles yellow puffs of gorgeousness –However a farmer told me that chicks are wayward, curious and easily distracted with little care for their own protection. When a hen tries to gather her chicks, they often run off. She told a tale of one very cold night she threw some extra hay into the barn to keep the animals including the hen and chicks warm. The night was exceptionally cold, and in the morning when the family went into the barn there were several chicks that had frozen to death but under the hen’s wings were more chicks that were warm and healthy. The hen had tried to protect all her chick’s, but some just could not be restricted they had been distracted and wandered off.

Jesus has the same concern, wanting to gather people to himself, to keep people safe. Instead of being angry and frustrated with the people our passage tells us that Jesus reaches out to the city – Jerusalem, Jerusalem - he longs to give the people protection as a hen gathers her chicks -

John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford writes that - Jesus asked people to leave aside their dysfunctional world view of domination and violence that Rome and the Jewish authorities offered – he invited people to buy into a new kingdom where everyone was treated with dignity and where natural limits were respected. The kingdom of the common good. A new world order where everyone benefits, and everyone knows their limits. He quotes Martin Luther King who said – we can have a world of peace or a world in pieces. A question for us today could be.

With our government in chaos and disarray, with right wing fascism seemingly on the rise where do we see the peace, the love of God and the work of the kingdom?

Jesus is not afraid – our reading today is of a strong man. Every time Jesus comes to the disciples after his resurrection his first words are – ‘do not be afraid’, and he was not afraid for he knew that God was with him and he had a clear purpose which he knew would lead him to death as a young man, and he was not afraid.

Jesus stood out from the leaders of the day as he brought a different way to be – Jesus still offers another way – the western world believes in growth – economic growth above all else. We want bigger and better and faster and faster –

I read a Saudi Arabian saying – my father rode a camel, I drive a car, my son flies in a Jet but his son will ride on a camel…

Jesus offers another way to be – we find Jesus in the community, rarely in the temple, clear in purpose and confident that he is making a difference.

John Pritchard says that in our world today the brakes are off, but the road to infinite growth is suicidal…but what can we do?

Consider the 16 year old Greta Thurnburg from Sweden who has taken it upon herself to challenge the world over climate change – she is not the only one but she has captured the imagination of many as she speaks out, as she protests when she should be in school, and as she inspires young people across the world to fight for the environment – she has inspired a movement. She is not afraid, and her work is being successful – her voice is loud and clear. A voice bringing hope to young people that they can bring about change.

Jesus calls us to be courageous – to recognise we can be under Gods wings to stay with the hen analogy. And we should not be afraid - like Jesus we need to learn to persist in the face of adversity – and not be distracted from our mission by threats of earthly forces. We need to be confident and a bit thick skinned – wise as serpents (not foxes) and gentle as doves.

God acts in history and acts in all of life – we need to learn to see it. We travel with Jesus to the cross but not just to the cross – Jesus leads us to go beyond the pain and darkness to the resurrection…as we come together each week and as we continue our own journey, we rediscover the gospel and the work of the kingdom.

Winnifred Varghse – Senior Priest for Trinity Church, Wall Street in New York tells that the mission of the church is to re pair – re create and re store creation.

Jesus showed us the way to stand against evil – release those who are captive and that begins with us being awakened to God and the spirit which will impact on our language, our actions and all of our relationships.