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Fear not, little flock. It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.
Someone in a Q and A this year asked me: When do you feel the least afraid. I had never thought about that question but it didn’t take long to answer it. I said, I don’t think I am afraid when I am singing hymns.
I had a wise friend who I’d call when I was filled with fear, worry and anxiety and she’s always ask – what are you afraid of exactly? Your inadequacies? The truth being known? Failure? Not having enough? Losing control? Drinking again? Being rejected? Being abandoned? Like, what is your fear of choice?
And then she’d say now, is that thing or dynamic or event actually happening right now, here in the place, here in this moment? Is that what’s real?
If the answer was no, then she’d ever so gently invite me to consider that Fear is not real. I mean, the fear is real, but the thing you fear may not be. Maybe you are here today and you are struggling with fear. And if you are, know that you are not alone. More likely than not, the thing you fear or the thing you are worrying about is not what is actually happening right now unless hearing another sermon on fear is what you fear. Trust me, I wouldn’t preach on it so often if it weren’t in the Bible so often.
Seriously, one of the most common phrase in the Bible isn’t God helps those who help themselves (which spoiler alert isn’t in the Bible at all) but what does show up basically all the time is “do not be afraid”.
I kept wondering this week why it’s such a big deal. Like, why does God say to not have this one feeling. The bible doesn’t say “be not resentful” or “be not douche-y” or “be not stupid” I would love it if Be not stupid was a thing God says to us over and over but, no…it’s be not afraid. But why? Why this one emotion?
Because I’m pretty sure that when over and over God or God’s messengers say Be Not Afraid, maybe it isn’t just one more thing for us to feel bad about – like add not being fearful to the list of things I need to change about myself – like, floss more, watch less TV, eat more Kale and be less afraid.
See, I think when God and God’s messengers say over and over be not afraid it’s because, people of God, fear just isn’t good for our hearts. If, as Paul says, Perfect love casts out fear, then perhaps we could say that fear is the enemy of love. All I know is that fear steals things – it is a thief of love, and joy and generosity for starters. Fear even takes things away while convincing us that it is actually protecting us. Fear makes me feel less safe and feeling less safe is not the same as protecting me. And fear steals these things because fear convinces us that it is more real that what is actually happening. The only time fear isn’t a liar is when you are actually about to be attacked by a bear or asked to do the chicken dance at a wedding or some other imminent threat.
And since I really want you to not feel alone with this fear thing, here’s a glimpse at fear the liar visited me this week.
A couple years ago someone made what was called the Judgmental Map of Denver. It was an offensive and also kind of perfect re-naming of Denver neighborhoods based on stereotypes of the people who lived there.
The first building House for All met in for liturgy was in Baker. On the Judgmental Map of Denver The Baker neighborhood, a grungy-hipster area of Denver was re-named You Probably Haven’t Heard of This Neighborhood Yet.
I loved being in a run down 100 year old church building in the You Probably Haven’t Heard of this Neighborhood yet neighborhood. And for a while it felt as though all we needed God’s hand had provided.
But then House for All Sinners & Saints was evicted from that space.
There were only maybe 40 of us then, It felt fragile at the time, since we were so small and so new and to be honest, I was afraid. I was afraid that the community might not hold together after the move. I was afraid that we wouldn’t find the right space to meet in and that we’d end up having to rent out a middle school cafeteria and stare at plastic trays and food pyramid posters while chanting the Sanctus. I was afraid that if I didn’t do everything right that this church would die.And what happened? St Thomas Episcopal church took us in almost immediately and proved to be an amazing and loving adoptive home. And again all we had needed God’s hand hath provided and yet I was STILL afraid.
Because even though it was a great move, I resisted being at St Thomas located as it is in South Park hill with it’s tree lined streets and historic homes. A neighborhood that the Judgemental Map of Denver re-named the “People’s Bosses” Neighborhood.
I was afraid that the people who felt comfortable in the You Probably Haven’t Heard of this Neighborhood yet neighborhood wouldn’t feel comfortable if people’s bosses started coming to the church.
And now, 5 years later, those exact same people who I was afraid would mess up our church did just that. They made our church much weirder and much warmer. And now it is impossible for me to imagine being House for All Sinners and Saints without them.
And so, now we have moved neighborhoods again, and I would love more than anything in the world to stand here and say that having experienced the greatness of God’s faithfulness so many times that I just totally skipped the being afraid part, but I cannot lie.
Because this week we moved out of the “People’s Bosses” neighborhood and now we are right off Colfax, a street that the judgmental map of Denver re-named drunks/homeless/drunks/homeless/drunks/homeless.
What if People’s Bosses don’t want to follow us to Drunks/Homeless? What if all the people in this church who work for Denver’s non-profits – who as I like to say, hold the world’s most broken realities together all week with Scotch Tape and need to have one hour of their week in which they get to be what’s broken…what if by being in this location they feel like they are back at work and not actually at church? What if people feel icky each week walking in because they feel so guilty for not being able to help each person on the steps? None of this was happening of course. What was actually happening was that so many people expressed their excitement about the move, and tons of people helped and planned and prayed and by listening to fear and not to love I almost totally missed it all.
So your pastor is such a spiritual giant that recalling God’s faithfulness to this church in the past didn’t seem to be enough to prevent my fear in the present. And like I’ve said before, while I hope some day to trust God in the moment, and not just in retrospect, I’m not quite there yet.
But what I did realize by thinking back about this church’s history is that I’m pretty sure God would have taken care of us whether I had or had not been filled with fear. See, God isn’t waiting for us to worry enough about a situation before giving us the kingdom.
Jesus, says fear not. For it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Maybe God always says fear not – not to make us feel bad for our worrying but to invite us to lift up our hearts to the presence of God and others’ love in this present moment. Because this life is a gift. This moment is a gift. And this gift originates in the goodness of the gift giver not in the worthiness or fearlessness of the gift receiver.
As our psalm for today says, God the giver of this life and this moment sees you. Not in the creepy surveillance system way, but in the intimate way the person who loves you the most sees you. God sees you in this moment, in what is actually happening. God sees you and fashions love in your heart.
And while maybe I wasn’t fearless this week, here you all are. We moved. And whether we are afraid or not, this church will continue to be the freak show in God’s Carnival at always has been and I mean that in the best most affectionate way possible. I may have failed at being a paragon of faith this week and yet when I sing hymns to God with you I am not afraid. And even though we have fear there is so much love it breaks my heart. God is good. And here we all are. And thank you Lord for this much love. All we have needed his hand hath provided. Be not afraid, Little Flock. Lift up your hearts.