Sermon: Do Not Be Afraid
Matthew 14:22-32; Isaiah 43:1-3a
Preached on November 25, 2018
Rev. Elizabeth Aguilar
Well, as you can see these scripture verses are about trusting in God and not allowing fear to over- take us. The context for the first scripture reading of Isaiah was during the Babylonian exile- meaning the Israelites were being held against their will, in a different land, with none of their possessions, in a different culture, surrounded by different religious customs, and laws as well. Now, lets remember these were the chosen people. So they had to have been wondering why they were suffering so much if God had promised them so much. But now, they are in captivity, instead and not just for a short time but for many year. So yes, they had much to fear.
Thankfully, there was the prophet Isaiah and his words of comfort, wisdom, and warning and here we have his words of deep comfort for them. Here in this portion, we hear him telling them that even in their bleakest moments- no matter what happens to them, they will STILL belong to God and God WILL be with them.
Lets hear it again:
But now, this is what the Lord says- he would created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel; Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you a blaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (and verse 5 says: Do not be afraid, for I AM with you. )
Dont you love that? God the creator of the universe used his prophet Isaiah to remind them that they are NOT alone. They BELONG to Him. He knows them So well, he calls them by name. AND no matter what tragedies, what calamities, what persecution, what suffering they will face- He will ALWAYS be with them.
I work with people who need this reminder every day. They are on hospice care. They and their care givers need to be reminded of this truth- that God is still with them, has not forgotten them and that they have nothing to fear because of that.
I do feel it is my job as their chaplain to remind them of this truth; that these words of Isaiah are for them as well, today, in their own situation. Yet, I do not tell them they are crazy or that have little faith if they do feel fear.
In fact lately, I have been in awe at the fact that God has created us with the capacity to FEEL so much. Think about it. How many different emotions do you experience in just an hour, a half hour, or less? Probably hundreds. I mention this because I do not want us to think that our fears are unjustified or unfounded or that that they are a sign that we are somehow emotionally or spiritually, weak. No, God gave us the capacity to feel deeply and sometimes we do have much to fear. And those fears are real.
What do you fear the most? I know that lately our country has been experiencing much fear, collectively. This is on top of our own personal fears, of course. We have the Ebola epidemic in Africa which has now reached our shores. Some of the fear can be of course media driven but nevertheless there it is. I have a close friend who works as a flight attendant with United Airlines. Recently her and her colleagues were given a document explaining how they are to treat passengers with suspicious health issues. I have some friends who are chaplains in hospitals. They too have had to go under extra training with their infection control department to make sure they know how to protect themselves should they come in contact with a patient with Ebola or some other highly infectious disease. We are now in conflict with this new terrorist group, Isis. And of course, we have the media telling us that we are to fear our borders and those wanting to cross it because they will take all that belongs to us. The list goes on and on, doesnt it?
So yes, we have much to fear- whether it is as a country, as a group of concerned citizens and as individuals too who must face our on-going personal difficult situations as well: serious illness; job loss; under-employment; family conflict and discord; etc
Notice that Isaiah stated when you pass through the waters when you walk through the fire I take this to mean that we WILL face trouble. We will struggle and yes we will suffer at times.
The pain that some of my hospice patients feel IS real. The fear of losing their loved ones which their care givers are feeling is also real.
So what is it that you fear? And how are you handling that fear? Are you like Peter in our Gospel story of today, who, trusts Jesus just enough to go out to him but then when he loses his focus he begins to sink? For me this story is precisely about keeping my focus on Jesus. There is so much to distract us from our faith in Him. Some are clamoring for our attention. Our problems, the media, problems our family and friends face as well Much of it is legitimate. However, the key is to keep our gaze on Him.
When I was a youth I used to take Mexican folkloric dance lessons. I remember learning that what my instructor had told us was true. Her instruction was that we needed to keep focus on a certain object as we made our quick turns. If we did not, we would get dizzy and fall.
I dont know about you but I must admit that sometimes I do not keep my gaze on Him. I tend to talk a good talk. I am a stable source of assurance for my patients and their care-givers that God IS with them, no matter what and I believe it as I say it but when I am in the middle of my own crisis, I can easily feel overwhelmed with worry and concern. But it is harder to remind ourselves that yes, God meets us in OUR fear as well.
We limit God, however. We forget that Jesus said that he came to give us ABUNDANT lives. So, instead we settle for very small lives. Why? Because we fear and do not trust.
Friends, I am here to remind you that the God of the Universe, the God who stopped at nothing to show us His love and even sent His SON for our salvation does not want us to live in fear. He wants us to live in trust. You might have every reason to fear. BUT it is how you handle that fear that matters. Do you hold on to it, do you use it as an excuse? Do you allow that fear to identify you? OR will you release it and take the risk of finding out that God is really with you and will really help you with that problem/ that Thing that you fear and that He will actually help you not only to overcome the fear but to conquer it AND to find a solution.
My prayer is that whatever stands in the way of your fears as individuals and as a congregation- that you leave those fears at Jesus feet and that you allow Him to help you conquer and get to the other side of it. Amen.