God is With Us. Be Not Afraid.

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

[Sermon preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Marble Falls TX, November 8, 2016.]

These words from Julian of Norwich have carried me through this year, and this season. I have a heart full of hope today. The world will not end today. The sun will rise tomorrow, and we will remember, again, that God is in the midst of us. We will remind each other—in the coming days—that where two or three are gathered in God’s name, God is there. As people of faith, we are actors in a great drama, the story of God’s people. We are the people to whom God says, over and over: Be not afraid. Do not fear. I am with you.

It has helped me, during this season, to remember history: to take the long view. Humanity has seen fearful times before. In every generation, someone—or some entire group—has hated or imprisoned or gone to war with another someone or another entire group. The victims of hunger, fear, injustice and oppression (for whom we pray every Sunday in our Prayers of the People)…these have always been among us. Sometimes WE are the victims of hunger, fear, injustice and oppression.

History is on our side, my friends. Remember this today.

Nearly 3000 years ago, the Jewish people of Palestine were conquered and carried off into captivity in Babylon. They were not only captives, but exiles from their own country, cut off from their home and from their religion. In Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7, the prophet Jeremiah is sending word from Jerusalem to the exiles. The prophet speaks an encouraging word from God to the exiles, telling them, in essence: All shall be well. “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters.” In other words: you might as well get on with your lives, because this is going to take a while. But while you are settling in, seek the welfare of the place you live, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. In other other words: Bloom where you are planted.

The Babylonian Exile lasted 60 years. That’s nearly two generations, or about the length of time it has been since the post-WWII era. Think how the world has turned since then: in wonderful ways, and in other ways. When the wheels of time and history are turning, as they are now, it’s easy to feel pinched in the gears. But remember that time does turn. History is on our side. God is with us. Be not afraid.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that we are all one in Christ Jesus. We belong to God, and we are one people. Paul is talking about unity: not unanimity. We are one body, one people. We are not all the same, but we do not let our differences divide us. This language “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” was not poetry when Paul wrote it, it was not scripture.  This was a letter written in anger to the church at Galatia, whose priorities were in the wrong places. He’s banging some heads together here, reminding them to re-focus their attention from divisions and theological arguments back to their unity in God.

And then we have the reading from the Gospel of Matthew. I encourage you to read it over and over today and in the next few days. This is typical Jesus, who said “Be not afraid” over and over. Here he says Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Our greatest fear, as Franklin Roosevelt once said, is fear itself. The anxiety in our nation, and the world-wide anxiety caused by our national anxiety, is just an outward sign of our own individual fears. It is the fear that reverberates.

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) has a book on creativity, which contains this: It is her Letter to Fear: “I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still—your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”

Perfect love casts out fear. We are a people of love. We are a people of the resurrection. Do not allow fear to cause you to forget who you are.

Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song. Know this: The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise; give thanks to him and call upon his Name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his faithfulness endures from age to age.