Sermon for Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 22, 2014
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Matthew 10:26-33
Sermon Theme: “The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 24, Part 3, Series A; original ideas and examples; Emphasis Online Illustrations)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” came the uplifting words from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first inaugural address in 1933. He described that fear as a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Of course, there would have been no reason for Roosevelt to assert his “firm belief” that there was “nothing to fear” unless there actually was something to fear. In 1933, our country was in the staggering economic crisis of the Great Depression. People were desperate, without jobs, food, places to live, and hostilities were already brewing that would lead to World War II in 1939.
In today’s sermon text, Jesus repeatedly tells His disciples to have no fear as He sends them out to proclaim the coming of His kingdom. Throughout Chapter 10 of Matthew, Jesus speaks about the opposition, persecution, and suffering His disciples were to expect, and, as Jesus Himself was maligned, so too would be those called by His name. Jesus wanted His disciples to have realistic expectations about how the world would receive the gospel. They would be met with great opposition, just like their Lord, and their goodness would be portrayed as evil.
‘That was then, and this is now,’ you might say. If you feel like that, then you need to hear some facts recently published by Susan Brinkman in the Catholic Standard and Times. Forty-five and a half of the estimated 70 million Christians who have died for Christ did so in the last century.
Today, in countries like Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, turkey, India, North Korea, and Indonesia, Christians are often arrested, tortured, and imprisoned just for converting to Christianity. Christians are, in fact, the most persecuted religious group in the world today, Brinkman asserts.
The Report from Freedom House’s Puebla Program on Religious Freedom states, “The most atrocious human rights abuses are committed against Christians solely because of their religious beliefs and activities – atrocities such as torture, enslavement, rape, imprisonment, killings, and even crucifixion.” Yes, we are talking about the world today.
Just as President Roosevelt understood the great fears people were weighed down with in 1933, Jesus understood that fear would come into the hearts of His disciples, so He said to them, “Have no fear of them . . . . Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.”
The Great Depression was world-wide; the building up of hostilities was world-wide, and these were enormous situations to fear, and yet, at the same time, the American people had the smaller worries of daily living, the vicissitudes of life to cope with. The persecutions and sufferings that Jesus’ Disciples would face in the world were huge issues, bigger than anything else in life; yet, the Disciples, too, would have had to face the daily anxieties and cares and vicissitudes of life. So the words of Jesus would have been greatly uplifting and comforting then as they are now.
I don’t know what the disciples were thinking, but I know what is going on in my head, — which is that soon there are going to be seven or eight billion people populating the earth, each soul adding personality, ideas, and discoveries to the collective mind. It might have once seemed simple for God to number the hairs on our heads when the world had only tens of millions of people, and now there are so many, many more. How can God care about each one of us, much less count the hairs on our heads?
And the sparrow is such a common bird and so numerous that often it is considered a pest. And yet Jesus said that not one of them would fall to the ground without His Father’s will! Truly His eye is on the sparrow, and we can know he cares for each of us!
As unbelievable as this seems, we must accept God’s Word on this. In God’s sight, the lowly sparrow reminds us that God’s care is personal and real. The hairs of our heads are numbered and not even a sparrow falls without our heavenly Father knowing and caring and reaching out in love. With amazement, we realize that God has remembered the smallest and simplest of His creatures with care and concern. Are we any less than such small creatures?
I think this answers a question we all have about prayer. When I was on the way to the Emergency Room not too long ago, I knew that it was OK for me to ask God to be with my wife and me, to find what was wrong and to heal me, and so I prayed earnestly to Him, just as I did before going into surgery, — gall bladder surgery was no small thing!
But, about a week before that, when our new floors were being laid, and things were piled high in other parts of the house, and Peggy was boxing things up and taking them to Goodwill or the Crisis Center, and old books to the used book store – so much that we needed to get rid of – something came up that I hesitated to pray about.
My treasured books on Van Gogh’s paintings and sketches were missing! Did they unintentionally get put in the giveaway boxes, and are gone forever? You’d think with these missing books, I had lost my best friend. And yet I hesitated to pray about them, because it was such a tiny problem compared to the big issues in our life. God doesn’t have time to mess with insignificant problems like that, I thought!
Then I remembered St. Paul had said we should pray with thanksgiving in everything, and everything means everything! So I prayed about my lost treasures. The next day, while moving some accumulated debris from one corner of the room to the other, I found my much treasured books! God not only cares about the sparrows that fall and the hairs on my head, but also my precious books!
Amid the heavy issues of life, it’s good to know that our personal God cares about even the little problems of life.
As a child, I well remember World War II, which came a few years after Roosevelt’s speech about fear. After Pearl Harbor, it was a time of enormous fears, daily fears, — even the fear of survival itself. But at the time the small vicissitudes of life were always with us. And yet we prayed about those things, too, as small as they seemed compared to the War.
One of my favorite movies, The Sound of Music, by Rodgers and Hammerstein, is based on the true story of Captain Georg Von Trapp and his family. In the stage version, when the von Trapp family escapes the Nazis and leaves the abbey to climb the mountains, the Mother Abbess quotes Psalm 121 and Isaiah 55:12, — “The mountains and the hills before you shall burst forth into singing.”
It’s a true story that could be a sermon on today’s sermon text. It’s about the Captain’s courage to stand up for what he believes (against Hitler) and his ability to change when confronted by truth (about caring for his children). Mother Abbess’ words to Maria are so true: “Whenever the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” It’s a sermon on courage from God to make the right decisions and live the “holy life” even when it is not popular.
God promises that as we are sent out into the world, to sow seed, to live holy lives, to do the right thing and care for others, God walks with us.
Indeed, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” From God’s point of view, we have nothing to fear. Why? Because Jesus has faced the sources of every fear, has overcome every enemy that causes us fear, has promised to be with us and watch over us in every fearful situation and to guide us safely to our heavenly home, where fear will be banished forever and ever. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Jesus.