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Do Not Be Afraid: Where Calm Confidence Comes From

(Re-posting a sermon today from 2010, because something/one prompted me to...)

Today I have a very simple question to ask.

The question is, “where does calm, joyful confidence in God’s care come from? – how can we get it, make it our own?”

As far as that question is concerned, in some ways we’re picking up from where we left off a few weeks ago:

You may recall on All Saints weekend, we were looking at the Beatitudes, and we looked at the notion of beautitudo, (beatitude), and I suggested the best definition for “blessed” is “a condition of life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of your outward conditions.”[1]

I said I think we’ve all tasted that at one point or another in our lives.

Even if it’s just for a fleeting moment, we’ve had a sense that all is well…a powerful sense of bliss.

(We have this giant tire swing in our back yard – literally a truck tire tied to a rope on a branch two stories high. My daughter Elizabeth, who is 13 ½, still loves to swing on that swing with her friends, back and forth, and because she can swing a lot higher with a good strong push, she still allows her dad, every once in a while to push her on the swing. The other day I was out there pushing her and she said “L.M.L!”

“LML” – a little code  word for “Love My Life.” She (and I) were having a “love my life” moment. All is well.)

Those, obviously, are great moments to have.

But what’s critically important to remember is that beatitudo, blessedness, comes not because of any external circumstances, but often in spite of external circumstances.

Again: this state, this condition, this mindset (or more accurately heart-set, spirit-set!) has almost nothing to do with what we normally think of as “things going well.”

We can have this sense that all is well –
when things are not well, and perhaps at their worst: 

  • At times of death and dying,
  • At times of major upheaval or life-changes
  • in the young man in prison for drug addiction just knowing he had been healed

but still a sense of peace.

Well, you might ask, but what about in really difficult or tragic circumstances?

What about in times of war, natural disasters, political chaos?

What we do learn from the Gospel appointed for today is what we ought to do in times of chaos or destruction.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers who are admiring Herod’s great temple that one day it’ll destroyed – the enormous, beautiful smooth and apparently indestructible stones, in effect, the symbol and center of your security -- all toppled.

When they ask Jesus what he’s talking about, Jesus goes on to describe the most horrible circumstances imaginable:

·         first, false teachers, imposters, will mimic Jesus, misuse his name, and try to trick the faithful;

·         second, there will be wars and insurrections and earthquakes and famines and plagues (it doesn’t get a lot worse than that); these conflicts and disasters will rage on and intensify;

·         and third, just when it seems it can’t possibly get any worse, it gets personal: YOU will be arrested, YOU will be persecuted, YOU will be jailed and hauled before the authorities. (Feasting on the Word, p. 311)

And then he says the most amazing thing: “This will give you an opportunity to testify.”

So – imagine:

  • everything that gives you a sense of security, gone.

  • The worst kind of social turmoil and political chaos swirling around.

  • False prophets and dozens of people claiming to be the messiah

  • with war and insurrection devastating much of the land
earthquakes, plagues, and famines devastating the rest of it, with no place to turn

·         you’re in jail or under house arrest, having been betrayed by your own dad or daughter

Tough times! To say the least!

And what does Jesus say about these tough times?

“You’ll have them right where you want them.”

This will give you an opportunity to testify.

The passage reminds me of what they say about fighter pilots.

Apparently when a fighter pilot finds himself in an impossible situation – outnumbered 10 to 1, surrounded by enemy aircraft, what does he do?

He radios back and says “I’m in a target-rich environment.”

A target-rich environment. !

You are in the toughest circumstances imaginable, and what is your attitude to be?

 Wow, lookit my opportunities!   Which one to pick first?

That brings me back to the question I want to ask:
“where does calm, joyful confidence in God’s care come from? – how can we get it, make it our own?”

Part of the answer lies in the Collect appointed for today: (turn to it, read along)

“Blessed lord who has caused all holy scripture to be written for our learning: grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ…

1)      God has caused scripture to  be written.
a)      Not just an another book, another collection of writing. God caused it, helped bring it about.

2)      God has caused it to be written for a purpose: our learning. That’s why it’s there; that’s why it exists. For us to read and know. Episcopalians are famous for having beautiful, leather-bound, revered but unread Bibles. We’re trying to change that. We want you to have a copy of the Bible that you’re reading from, every day.

3)      We pray that we may
a)      Hear it: lessons read in church; a lot of scripture gets read each Sunday in church and our entire liturgy is marinated in scripture. Let yourself hear it. 
b)      Read: there are dozens of translations. Some good, some bad. But a bad translation you’re actually reading is better than a good translation left unread.
c)      Mark: there is nothing at all wrong with writing in the Bible. The Bible is the word of God; be in relationship with it. Underline, highlight, make margin notes. 
d)     Learn: get a study bible…Study…use our brains; wrestle with it. Engage it. (as you read it, think of advice given to hikers: if you get bored, speed up, if you get winded, slow down. Join, or find a Bible study. You don’t need an expert, need only a desire.
e)      Inwardly digest: wonderful expression! To make it part of our interior. It comes out of us….we’ve interiorized scripture.

And that is the answer to our question. To the degree that God’s point of view is our point of view, to the degree that our spirit is in harmony with God’s spirit, we have beautitudo…he calm, joyful confidence in God’s care.

The bad news is, during bad times, God’s peace and calm is not automatic. It isn’t a magic pill, it isn’t automatic, you don’t drive up and get it as fast food.

The good news is, during bad times, God’s peace and calm IS available: it comes, over time, from continuing to do what you’re doing:
hearing,  reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting  God’s word, merging your heart, mind and spirit in God’s heart, mind and spirit. So that we too may hear

“Do not be afraid,”
“not a hair of your head will perish,” and
“by your endurance you will gain your souls”

You can be quietly and confidently safe in a hand that carries you.


[1] Amplified Bible, Matthew 5:3

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