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Fear Not
Mark 4:35-41; 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2
Sue in Cuba, Ks

In the Gospel lesson, the disciples found themselves in a boat when rough weather came up. Can you picture the scene? Jesus, asleep on a pillow while the others panicked, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" From his grumpy reaction, they must have had the capacity to do as He did when He rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Peace! Be still!" Hear his words echo down the centuries to us, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

I know about fear, I know how fear can cripple, I have felt a sickening dread rise within, I have felt fear many times. I repeat many, many times, "Psalms 27:1-3 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" The answer comes back, "No one, Lord."

The task of the preacher is to present the word of God both prophetically and pastorally which reflects the needs of all present. Those needs are several, remember that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God which is why we need Christ. On sinful condition is due to our weaknesses and our strengths, our loves and our hates, what or who we place our faith in and what we fear. We humans have a remarkable capacity to see the world only in the terms of our singular experience and too often we are quick to judge others on the basis of that experience. Remember God's grace is the remedy for our sin. Remember to live in an attitude of faith, not one of fear. Remember accept one another with the same measure of grace extended to us by Our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is the preacher's to be both caring and confrontive as needed, speaking to conditions in the congregation while remembering that the preacher is also as human as those present.

The General Assembly News, June 1988 article about the Moderator of the 200th General Assembly, Kenneth Hall, provided a way of speaking to the issues that faces us now while reminding us that we are a part of a larger church. Reverend Hall told the Assembly that ever since he was ordained in 1954 "there has been an issue before the church that caused us to focus in on ourselves." His hope was that "before I retire I could spend some time in the church which is free from all this internal preoccupation." The church should "turn its energies outward to being a beacon to the whole world of the love, justice and peace of Jesus Christ." Sorry, Ken, 9 years later and we are still a contentious bunch. Our task is to be a beacon to our community.

Kenneth Hall's message to the church is one of hope and reconciliation. We all need reconciliation. Hall said, "There is a great alienation in the church. People feel their voices are not heard." It is more frustrating to me when people are silent. It is hard to interpret silence. Paul Simon's song, Sounds of Silence says,

Fools, said I, don't you know/That silence like a cancer grows? Hear my words that I might teach you./Take my arms that I might reach you. But my words like silent rain drops fell,/Echo the sounds of silence.

I say to you, "Hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you." Do not let these words fall silently away. These words contain the hard currency of faith. Share with us your concerns, your hopes, your fears, talk to us when we visit you. Call us. Together as pastor and people we will learn again that our hope arises out of our knowledge of God's grace and care for us all. All faith, all hope is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gives us a ministry of reconciliation.

A concern of this congregation has been to grow or fear perishing. Our Presbyterian Church USA and other denominations face these same concerns. Rev. Hall tells us that our caring for others in our communities, our nation even our world, is the key to turning around the loss of members. "People need to know they're accepted and cared for. No one ever joined a church to help our the budget." What has been the outreach of this congregation? What is our mission here and now? Have we been so focused on internal issues that we fail to ask, "Lord, what would You have us do?" Kenneth Hall tells us to "turn our energies outward to being a beacon to the whole world of the love, justice, and peace of Jesus Christ."

This isn't new information, it reflects the human condition. Consider the story about the one who wrote the Epistle lesson. In Scripture when we first meet the Apostle Paul he is Saul of Tarsus standing by and approving of the stoning of Stephen. Saul believed Stephen to be a blasphemer deserving death. Saul had let his conscience be his guide. That is dangerous because we humans have an enormous capacity for self-justification.

Paul explained his zeal, "I have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless." (Phil. 3:4-6) I believe that part of Saul's enmity to the follows of Jesus, the Son of David goes back to the first Saul of the tribe of Benjamin who had been anointed by Samuel to be King over Israel over a thousand years before. This King Saul was a weak man who lost his Kingdom to another, also anointed by Samuel, David, son of Jesse. Saul of Tarsus. If you think this is far fetched, consider the Irish still fighting over events that happened 900 years ago.

It is no accident that Saul of Tarsus, a Benjaminite was such a bitter foe of the followers of Jesus, Son of David. Saul believed himself to be justified in persecuting the saints, the followers of the way. I suspect that he had dreams of being the Messiah and could not abide the claims of another. The dramatic events from a thousand years influenced Saul of Tarsus. King Saul in Samuel's day failed again and again to be obedient to God. Saul of Tarsus believed himself to be righteous before God only to learn that he too was a sinner. For Saul of Tarsus the outcome was different by the grace of God. This Saul changed and became a loyal subject of the Davidic King, Our Lord Christ Jesus. This Saul changed so much that his name was changed to Paul, the apostle who ended the above boastful passage, "but whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ."

Listen again to Paul's confident, triumphant words from this morning's lesson, 2 Cor 5:17-19 If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us."

Thanks be to God! Not count our sins against us! Good News! I wonder why God is so gracious to cantankerous, self-righteous people who are quick to judge and slow to forgive. Why bother with us at all? As Linus says in the Peanuts comic strip, "I love humanity, it's people that I can't stand." Personally I have sometimes found it easier to deal with convicted felons who know that hey are in need of God's grace than it is to deal with people who are certain that they have the "truth" and give no grace to anyone. And yet, God does not give up us cantankerous, self-centered people, even Saul of Tarsus, splattered with the blood of the martyred Stephen was redeemed by the grace of God.

I believe that God goes to such great lengths to communicate God's love and grace to us because we grow best in an atmosphere of love and acceptance. Perhaps we can only grow in an atmosphere of love and acceptance. i believe that judgmental attitudes and critical spirits block the growth of the one who holds such attitudes and of the people who live with them. I have seen people change and grow healthier in the loving atmosphere at Prairie View again and again. When the dark secrets that held people in a death grip were finally confessed to another human who continued to accept and love the person confessing, the power of those secrets was broken. In that brokenness it is possible for love, acceptance and forgiveness to seep in and begin healing the wounded heart.

Multitudes came to Christ Jesus and He healed all who came. He accepted the broken sinful people like the woman at the well or Zacchaeus the tax collector. His anger and scorn was heaped up on the Pharisees who in their zeal for the law failed to love the ordinary people in their society. This lesson for us is that we are to love one another, care for one another, accept one another, build up one another. We are to be a community of redeemed people who serve God joyfully, in open celebration of God's grace and God's glory. The church can then "turn its energies outward to being a beacon to the whole world of the love, justice and peace of Jesus Christ." Amen.