The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
“Do not be afraid,” says Jesus, “the Father’s pleasure is to give you the kingdom.” That’s great – but fewer people, even church members are interested in an unseen kingdom touted by a bunch of preachers. Worldly kingdoms attract more followers these days, heralded by huckster messiahs, praying on your fears as to how they will fix the world just as you want it to be, whether they know what they’re talking about or not. By paying homage to these lesser gods, maybe we do need to fear.
I’m not sure we can be totally fear-free. Fear motivates. Just saying, “terrorists, illegal immigrants, Muslims, gays, atheists, people of color” revs up latent emotions. Fear sends some into overdrive, making us judgmental, more likely to blame, victimize and ostracize those different from us. Fear blinds us to facts. Fear paralyzes. A French police chief says your chance of getting killed in a crosswalk is much greater than by terrorists. But how many really believe that?
If you haven’t yet noticed, this is one of those years we have a race for the White House in progress. Both sides will fight for you, and I fear they actually will this time. I don’t want a fight. I prefer civility, conversations – a return to values like working together for the common good. We’re becoming our own home-grown terrorists. Preachers can be fear masters. So can Christians – righteous believers, angry and mean. Do not be afraid? We let fear grip our hearts tighter than we allow God to hold us.
Some fear is helpful. God doesn’t call us to be dumb. Fear alerts us to possible dangers. I confess that as I creak my way toward retirement, honestly, I notice when the Dow drops, my fears rise. “Where is my treasure, really?” I ask myself. Heaven may have a nice retirement program. I’m not yet ready to draw that pension. My heart’s set on having enough to live here for a while. And then Jesus says, “Sell your possessions, and give alms. What you think lasts, doesn’t. You won’t take it with you, unless you’re planning on not going.” Even then, you can’t keep it. So plan just as if you’re going. You will be. Jesus offers us a different world.
Choose the world you live in carefully. In Jesus’ world the Father wants you to receive the kingdom he has for you – not earned with good deeds or right beliefs – but a gift. Hear that – a gift! Just hope you have sense enough to reach out and receive what the Father delights in giving. Granted, Jesus’ way is strange, risky in a world where we rely on bullying, guns, bombs, walls and border guards to protect and secure us. So far it’s not doing such a great job. Think about it – which reality will?
Giving life and love delights the Father. And receiving what the father gives, delights us, right? If that exchange happens, the gift flows naturally through us to others. Neither death nor hell prevails; neither loss nor theft destroys the Father’s gift. God’s already won. So feel free. Sell your possessions – give alms. It’s hard to hold so tightly to what doesn’t last, and be able to receive what God is trying to give us. Fix your heart on treasure that lasts, the father’s – who delights to give the kingdom to you, me and everyone. This present world, your fears and insecurities – let them be lifted into and shaped by the one God gives.
Some of you have voiced some anxiety about the near future to me. Anxiety, uncertainty, and even fear are natural reactions to changes in our lives. Some tell me, “We need new members, young members, contributing members, participating members, go beyond our walls” – and that’s true. But that’s not to be your goal, focus and mission. Listen to Jesus. Instead, give away freely what you receive from the Father. In giving away the life and love of God you receive, new life and love will come back to you.
Here’s what to do. Love people without smothering them. God’s pleasure is to give, not force or coerce us. God gives us a choice. Choose to simply love others, because God does – and let them choose to receive or not, because God does. Listen to others without lecturing them. As a wise sage once said, “God gives us two ears for a reason.” Love listens deeply to the other – not trying to fix or correct them, but to understand, be attentive and be present with them and hear their concerns. More people have been run off from churches by members who say, “We don’t do it that way here.” How rude and arrogant! And learn from others who differ from you. Hear their stories, their perspectives – they’ll enrich your life, and they’ll know if you’re being genuine – if you are compassionate and caring. Look for ways to incorporate them and their gifts. Some may be a bit messy – but aren’t we all? And teach them without a spirit of condescension. Any stranger who wanders in, meets the Book of Common Prayer Book and tries to follow it on their own, and still comes back is someone willing to help us take down walls. Look for ways to love, listen, learn and help one who’s looking for life that lasts and matters – God’s kingdom.
An old friend – a Bishop, who is contemplating of all things – his retirement, tells me about a book I need to read about aging. I don’t know why he’d think of me. He says it can accompany me for such a time in my life. William Martin writes that we don’t automatically become wise with age. We are so conditioned to become self-protective, and thus isolated – we rarely get beyond those stages. Martin says: “Our hearts have longed to love, but never have been free of fear. So we have always put aside our natural compassion and bowed before productivity and security and safety. Do you want to spend your years in ever-increasing fear and isolation? When our fears lift, we begin to see everything through the eyes of love. There are people waiting, next door and around the globe, waiting for the power of your love.”
And Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom of divine love and life.” And where our treasure is, our hearts will be. May God be at the center of our lives and be the treasure in our hearts in the days and for the years ahead. Love casts out fear, so “do not be afraid.” I say that on behalf of Jesus – to you and also for me.