God’s Most Persistent Commandment
Easter Sunrise Sermon
I was recently listening to a pastor who asked the question, “Do you know what God’s most persistent commandment is? Or in other words, do you know what one commandment God makes most frequently?” I kept offering up mental answers in my head, playing my own sort of guessing game…well it’s love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind and strength…or love you neighbor…maybe it’s go and sin no more… or go and do likewise…well slowly but surely I started to run out of guesses. And that’s when the pastor said, “The answer is Don’t Be Afraid!” Don’t be afraid!
So what is it that causes God to continually remind us not to be afraid? Maybe it is because many us live our lives in fear. We are afraid of failure, of isolation, of rejection, of meaninglessness, and of death. Did you know there are at least 527 different types of phobias? Claustrophobia, fear of closed in spaces. Homiliphobia is the fear of sermons. Ecclesiaphobia is the fear of church. And phobophobia is the fear of fears. There was a study in which 500 people were surveyed and asked to list their fears. Only 500 people mind you and the combined list referenced more than 7,000 different types of fears. This may seem staggering, but for me the interesting piece is that we have all of these fears, yet we rarely talk about them. I think that’s one reason I really enjoy children, because although we adults may live in denial and pretend like we are not afraid, children talk about fears all of the time. They are constantly talking about the boogieman or the monster that lives in their closet or under their bed. I’m reminded of the story about one little girl who was being tucked in by her mother one summer night. There was a severe thunderstorm approaching with lightning flashing all about. Her mother was about to turn off the light switch, when the little girl said. “MMMommmmy could you sleep in my room tonight? Smiling the mother gave her daughter a warm and reassuring hug and said, “Honey I can’t. I have to sleep in daddy’s room.” A long silence followed, but just as the mother was about to leave the room, she heard her daughter say, “That big sissy!”
Well from Genesis to Revelation, the advice that the children of God hear most frequently is Don't be afraid. It goes back to the 15th chapter of Genesis. God appeared to tell Abraham that his barren wife Sarah was going to conceive, and the first words out of God's mouth were, "Don't be afraid." God says the same thing in encounters with Isaac and Jacob. When you get to the New Testament, the angel of the Lord appears to Mary. She's a little bit troubled. The first words he says? "Don't be afraid." The same thing happens to Zechariah. Whether it’s the disciples in the boat during a storm or even the women at the tomb…the same phrase is uttered more than 360 times in the Bible…”Don’t be afraid!”
Well this don’t be afraid stuff is nice and all, but my problem with it is that fear in many cases is a good thing. Being afraid of heights, being afraid of hot irons, of vehicles traveling at 100 miles per hour not only saves a great deal of pain and suffering, but it also saves lives. Fear is also a good thing as far as our economy is concerned. Modern entertainment thrives on it. We spend billions of dollars a year to be terrified. Haunted Houses, scary movies, roller coasters, and outdoor adventures such as white water rafting, sky diving, or bungi-jumping are just a few of the things we fork out the cash to experience. Let’s face it folks…we like fear and we like it a lot!! Many of us would get bored without it. So why is it that God wants us not to be afraid? Could it be that God is concerned with those who live in fear because it paralyzes them? We all know people who are so afraid that to take a risk, and those who live their entire lives by merely going through the motions…so much so that they never really learn how to live. Just look at the two Mary’s who went to the tomb…they were afraid. Both the angel of the Lord and Jesus have to say to them, “Don’t be afraid.” They had discovered that Jesus had been resurrected, but they still had no idea what was going to happen next. Would there be more arrests? More crucifixions? Sure great it was great that he had risen and all, but now what…now what were they supposed to do? By the way you do you know what they did don’t you? For the next 50 days the disciples and some of the women hid…and they lived their lives in fear. Pretend you’re a disciple for a moment. What would you be thinking? I know what I would be thinking. Hey Jesus, like we are glad you are back and all, but you’ve really ticked off some people and if they know you aren’t dead, they are probably going to come looking for you and then they might hunt all of us down and kill all of us. Yeah, so maybe I gave up the fishing gig to follow you around, but I certainly didn’t think this was going to cost me my life. And that’s when I think Jesus would say, “Hey folks let’s face it we are all going to die, aren’t we…so don’t be afraid that your life is going to end; but rather be afraid that it will never begin. Be afraid it will never begin!
I’m reminded of a story about one life that had the potential to never begin, it’s more of a Christmas story, but it still has an Easter message: It takes place in an old downtown church that's been in business for well over a hundred years. And unlike some downtown churches, it continues to be vibrant. For many in the church the climax of this downtown church's year is the Christmas pageant. And the way it works is that on Christmas Eve everyone gathers in this huge sanctuary, and at the end of the worship service the pastors dim the lights and then the pageant begins down the center aisle. And so on this one particular Christmas Eve pageant the congregation begins to sing "Silent night, holy night" and the procession begins, of course led by the angel of the Lord, followed by Joseph and Mary who place the baby in the manger, and then the shepherds and the wise men, and all of the little angels who take their places.
Sitting near the center aisle is a family known to everyone in the church, a huge family. Their name is the Brinkers. And they're well known to all in the church because the Brinkers are world-class foster parents. Many a child who has been unwanted, abused, or just plain hurting, has been placed in the Brinker home by the state. And sitting at the center aisle, in the pew that people pretty much reserve for the Brinkers is a little 4-year-old girl with two broken arms and a bruised face. It's the first time she's ever been in church. And when she hears "Silent Night," sees the candlelight, and then sees the procession led by the angel of the Lord and followed at the very end by little angels, she is so swept up in it all that she just steps out into the aisle and joins the procession towards the baby Jesus. Well, in the back of the sanctuary is this church's head usher. And this usher has been in charge of things for about 150 years. I mean the pastor only thinks he runs the show. And when he saw this little girl step out to join the pageant, he kind of panicked and thought, "Oh, my goodness," and began barreling down the aisle. Well, the angel of the Lord, seeing it all, stood forward, and although she didn't say, "Halt," you knew the way she held out her hand - that the head usher was supposed to stop. Not even the head usher can argue with the angel of the Lord. And so the angel of the Lord stepped down into the aisle, and she reached out for the hand of this 4-year-old battered child, and she said, "Don't be afraid. It's okay. Come up here. I have something to show you." She leads this little child up to the manger, and she says, "This is Jesus' birthday, and we're a church, and we're celebrating his birthday, and you're perfectly safe here. You don't have to be afraid." And then the 17-year-old angel of the Lord said to the little girl, "The first time I came to this church I came with the Brinkers, and I was hurting, and I was so scared. But I learned that the Brinkers are a safe family and that this church is safe and that here you don't have to be afraid."
She then asked, "Would you like to hold the baby Jesus?" And the little girl’s eyes just lit up. So the angel of the Lord lifted this 4-year-old girl onto Mary’s lap. She reached into the manger, took out the baby Jesus, and the angel of the Lord placed the baby Jesus into the arms of a battered child and said, "Don't be afraid." And it was one of those moments when the church became the church.
Friends, it’s Easter Morning and Christ has risen, and he's aware that many of us bring fears with us today…shattered hopes and dreams, the loss of a job, the loss of a relationship, or the loss of a loved one. Some of us come to this place carrying a whole truckload of guilt, Some of us come debilitated with grief, and many of us come concerned about what the future holds, perhaps it’s about a job, or about a health situation, and for many of us it’s about the economy or the war, or our global situation. And God’s words are the same for us today as they were on that very first Easter morning…"I'm with you. I will be with you always. I'm here to deliver you into the world of hope, so don't be afraid." The message of Easter is that there is no tragedy that God cannot redeem, and there is no loss the Risen Christ cannot overcome, so whatever your situation, and whatever your circumstance hear the words of God…don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid!
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