Sermon for 4 Pentecost, Year A
Based on Matt. 10:24-33
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Fearů Every human being has one sort of fear or another. There are almost as many different kinds of fears as there are people. There are: physical, emotional, psychological, social and spiritual fears. Scores of pop-psychology, self-help books are sold each year~claiming to help and/or cure our phobias.
The movie industry of Hollywood thrives on fear~cranking out an endless array of horror-filled, violent movies. French writer, Albert Camus, once called this "the century of fear." Theologian, Paul Tillich, in his book, The Courage To Be, spoke of the twentieth century as being afflicted by and focussing on anxiety, meaninglessness and emptiness.
According to Tillich, anxiety comes from the loss of a spiritual centre; without an answer~however symbolic and implicit~to the question of meaning in our existence. People try everything, yet to no avail, for at the end of all human endeavours, there is still this prevailing emptiness. For Tillich, this is our contemporary predicament.
Fear is a universal experience of humankind. Fear of life. Fear of death. Fear for our children and our children's children. Today, with one world economic crisis after another, fear that there's no longer job security. With governments paying down the debt and taking a harder line on social programs; many citizens fear losing our healthcare system and our Canada pension plan. Cutbacks in education also leave us concerned about the quality of education our children are receiving in our public schools. Some more gloomy social prophets of our age fear that the whole society shall soon break down; resulting in massive chaos and war. You name it, the list goes on forever and ever, without end.
I believe that one of the worst kinds of fear is that of the unknown~especially fear of people who are different than ourselves. In Waiting For The Parade, Canadian playwright, John Murrell tells us the story of five women during World War II. The play gives us an understanding of and appreciation for the struggles of each of these women.
One woman, named Marta, is the daughter of German immigrant parents. Her father has recently been arrested and imprisoned. He was suspected of being a German spy. Marta is left alone to look after her father's store.
As the play develops, Marta is the victim of insults, she too is suspected of treasonous activities. People no longer frequent the store~she is also ostracized by many. Stink bombs were thrown in front of the shop door; swastikas were painted on the store windows and on one occasion, a dead dog is placed in front of the store.
Meanwhile, during all of her personal struggles, Marta insisted that she had been and remained a loyal Canadian citizen ever since she had arrived in the country, when she was nine-years-old.
Marta's struggle takes an even more ironic and tragic turn, when, shortly before the end of the war, her father is released from prison. When he arrives back home, he tells Marta that she really is not his daughter, but a spy waiting for him to slip up and be sent back to prison. He soon dies, without accepting the truth that Marta really is his daughter.
In real life situations, there are many Martas who have been victimized by other people's fears or prejudices, based on misunderstanding and ignorance. Marta was condemned and discriminated against by people who didn't even take time to know her. If we are going to conquer our fears and prejudices, then we will need to love, know and understand others.
I am convinced that there is no human being who understands our fears better than Jesus. On numerous occasions, Jesus instructs, commands and reassures his would-be followers, saying: "have no fear," and "do not be afraid." In our gospel today, three times he tells his disciples to have no fear. Jesus knew that fear can become all-consuming. It can control our whole life. We can become so paralyzed by our fears that we are unable to accomplish even the most simple, basic tasks of life.
Our gospel today challenges each one of us. In exhorting his followers not to fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul~and by comparing our worth as so much greater than sparrows in God's eyes; by reassuring us that God even counts our hairs on the head; it's as if Jesus confronts us with the question: "Who or what do you trust in the most~your fears or God?" God has more power over us than our fears. God is able to free us of our fears. God is able to give us that "Courage To Be" as Paul Tillich put it.
Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoeller, was on Adolf Hitler's most feared and hated persons list. According to Francis Gay: "To keep him quiet, Niemoeller was put in prison. Months later he was summoned before a special court, and he was suddenly afraid. He had no idea what to expect! And as he was taken along the seemingly endless corridor from the prison cell to the courtroom, he heard a low voice."
"As he listened, the voice was quoting in the Latin version, used by the German Roman Catholic Church, a verse from the Book of Proverbs: "Nomen Domini Turris fortissima" ~"The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteousness runneth into it, and it is safe."
"It was his jailer's voice. We don't know who he was, but what he said dispelled Niemoeller's fears and renewed his confidence in God."
May we, like Niemoeller, and countless other Christians, have the confidence in God to face up to and overcome or fears. May we trust in the power of God's Word and sacraments to win the victory over our fears. May we, by God's grace, not be misguided or enslaved by our fears; trusting that we are God's priceless treasures~and in so doing, depending on God as our only true security.
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