During his first inaugural address in 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt knew he had to provide hope to a nation that was deep in the middle of the Great Depression. The words he spoke then still vibrate today.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Roosevelt attempted to express his desire that fear would not hinder the nation’s growth, even when situations produced so much fear. His words apply to our personal lives, as well. Of course, for these words to be applicable, we have to believe them to be true. Fear can define us, and it prevents us from doing some amazing things in our lives.
When we think of fear, we thinking about the emotion that can overcome us when we are faced with difficult situations or challenges that seem unbearable. It is the feeling of dread when we face the unknown or the feeling of uneasiness when our beliefs are challenged by our peers or the world.
Each of us have faced fear at some point in our lives. Fear can be a distraction that becomes a hinderance to us. It prevents us from taking steps forward. Fear keeps us from taking on new challenges. When it comes to our faith in Christ, fear prevents us taking the next step in allowing the Lord to be the Lord of our lives.
Fear is common in our society today. It seems that everywhere we turn, something brings about fear in us. We seem to be fearful of everything and everyone. This is especially true within the church. I believe fear defines much of the church in North America and the United States. We are called to be missional communities who seek to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ through our words, service, gifts, and presence. Yet so often, we are fearful of this mission. We are fearful of being stretched beyond the comfortable, of being ridiculed by those who might disagree with us, and of a world and culture that is continually changing.
When the body of Christ, the church, is overcome with fear, it prevents us from being used by God to proclaim the Gospel and serve others. It prevents the church from being the witness of Christ to a world in need of hope and love. The results of this fear-based mission are common to us. Worship attendance is in decline. Church giving is in decline. Communities of faith are closing.
Fear is an element that is found in our passage from Luke 13:31-36. Here, Luke tells us of a group of Pharisees who come to Jesus with a message. The Pharisees were a group of religious leaders who sought to maintain obedience to the Law of Moses. It was a group that Jesus had confronted throughout his ministry, but also a group that saw some of its members align themselves with Christ. We’re not sure who these Pharisees were or their reasoning for visiting Jesus. Were they trying to trap Jesus? Were they wanting to warn him? No matter their reasoning, the intent of the message was to produce fear in Jesus that Herod was intent on killing him. Herod had already killed John the Baptist and wanted to see Jesus. Of course, when Herod has the opportunity to do just that, he doesn’t kill him. It seems, then, the Pharisees are delivering this message with the hope that it would produce enough fear in Jesus that he would stop teaching and leave the area.
Jesus’ response to this question of fear is important for us this morning. His response keys us into something about his ministry and also God’s desire for us. Jesus essentially tells the Pharisees that the mission is too important for fear to overcome it.
He tells the Pharisees to send Herod a message. It comes with Jesus calling him a “fox,” which is Jesus saying he wants nothing to do with Herod. His message to the Pharisees, to Herod, and to us is this: So what? So what if Herod wants to kill him? Jesus is telling the Pharisees, Herod, and us that he has work to do and he intends to fulfill that work.
Today, tomorrow, and on the third day, Jesus was going to continue the work he was sent to accomplish. The mission was the work of bringing forth the Kingdom of God and bringing people back into a relationship with the Father, through faith in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. It was a work that was fulfilled through Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing. Jesus’ earthly ministry was about fulfilling the work that God sent him to do – teaching what it means to love God and to bring forth justice and redemption to all.
The mission is too important for Jesus to allow Herod’s threat to prevent him from fulfilling it. The fear of death was not going to stop Jesus, because death was central to his mission. It wasn’t the death that the Pharisees were alerting Jesus to, but it was the death that he came to embrace as his divine mission. Jesus, the Son of God, was sent by the Father to be the High Priest who would offer himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sin and the sin of this world. It was something that could only be accomplished through his death, which would take place in Jerusalem.
Jesus didn’t fear Herod’s death threat, because he knew the mission was taking him directly to Jerusalem. It was a city that he knew would reject him, just as it had prophets of before. Yet, it was a city that was deeply on Jesus’ heart. His lament for Jerusalem is an expression of his deep love and desire for this city and its people. We see the compassion of our Lord being poured out in these words as he expresses his desire to welcome the people into his care. Even though Jesus would be rejected and die in this town, Jesus is holding out hope for the day that the people will see him as Lord.
The mission is too important for Jesus to be overcome with fear, because just as he was lamenting for Jerusalem, he was lamenting for us. We can hear Jesus’ compassion for us in his words for Jerusalem. We can hear our names, the names of our communities, our nation, and even our world on Jesus’ heart as he speaks of his desire to bring us back into his care. Jesus desires us. In this season of Lent, we have the opportunity to think about how Jesus cares for us and accept his grace that is freely offered to us. That is what redemption is about. It is seeing our lives, how God deeply loves us, sent his Son for us, and calls us to come home and find our place in his care.
The mission is too important for fear to overcome Jesus, because we are too important to our Lord. Nothing was going to keep Jesus from fulfilling his mission of bringing forth the Kingdom of God and being the atonement offering for our sin on the cross.
What about us? Is our mission of being a witness of Jesus Christ too important for it to be weakened by fear? Our journey through the season of Lent allows us to examine how we are participating in the ongoing mission of Jesus Christ. It is a time where we can see how the world’s attempt to produce fear in our witness has affected us. There is much in our world that can produce fear in our witness: the economy, criticisms from those outside the church, a changing world, and so on. Will we allow this fear to cripple our witness of loving God and loving others through our words, gifts, presence and service?
Our mission is too important for us to allow fear to keep us from loving God and loving others. It is also too important for us to do it on our own. The good news is that we are not on this mission alone. We have the confidence of the presence of our Lord with us as we seek to grow deeply in love with the Lord and to express this love to others. That is the joy of Easter and the Resurrection. The resurrection is our hope. It is the hope that Good Friday is not the end of the story. It is our hope that as surely as our sins have been redeemed, so do we have the presence of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, with us always.
We do not have to fear growing closer to Christ, because our Lord is with us showing us the way to the Father. We do not have to fear reaching out to our neighbors and communities, because the Lord is already at work showing us the way to love and serve.
As we continue through these next few weeks, and as we approach the Easter celebration, think about how much fear is in your life as it relates to your walk with Christ. Is fear keeping you from the mission God has for you to love the Lord and to love others through acts of service? Is fear of what others might say, think, or do keeping you from a life devoted to the Lord? Is fear preventing our mission from being fulfilled?
The mission was too important for fear to define Jesus’ ministry. The mission is too important for us to allow fear to keep us from loving the Lord and loving others in response.