Do Not Be Afraid

November 16, 2014

Isaiah 36:1-3, 13-20; 37:1-7; then 2:1-4

FearOne of the main characters in today’s story is fear. Fear that the threats from King Sennacherib are accurate and true and nothing can be done about Jerusalem’s impending doom to be toppled. Fear that this belief in the God of Israel is a sham. Fear. Pure unadulterated fear.

What are you afraid of? If you had to name your real and imagined fears, what would they be?  

Vote_For_Pedro_by_JohnK010488We are in good company today. Assyria has been stomping around, laying waste to all the land around Judah. The northern Kingdom has fallen to Assyria. And now King Sennacherib has sent word to Jerusalem and King Hezekiah that they are next to be toppled and occupied. This God of Israel is just like all the other gods and won’t come through for them, so they might as well just make peace with King Sennacherib and he’ll make all their dreams come true.

Or, in another way to hear it, King Sennacherib is saying, Just give up, people. You can’t win. I will brutalize you and ware you down in the long run. And, really, it’s a message with a lot of evidence to support it, especially since all the kingdoms around them have fallen to Assyria. There is no evidence that things are going to be ok for Judah.

King Hezekiah believes they will not be ok, that his leadership has failed, and sends his top officials running to the prophet Isaiah in search for answers about what to do. They dress as if the war has already been lost – in sackcloth and ashes – and I hear them in a worried, whiney voice, Isaiah, do you think your God heard the king mocking us? What do you think God will dooooo?

And this is what Isaiah doesn’t say to the king and his officials.

You should have more faith!

Isaiah doesn’t say – You should pray more!

Isaiah doesn’t say – When was the last time you were in worship?

Isaiah doesn’t say – God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.

No, instead Isaiah gives them the word of the Lord: “Do not be afraid.”

And not just a blanket sort of “don’t worry, be happy” but instead Isaiah offers specific assurance. “Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard…”

doyouhaveebola_revised.0Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard:

Ebola! News reports say that it’s only a matter of time before all Americans are at risk.

Islam! At its very nature, it’s a violent religion!

You’re not skinny enough!

You’re not smart enough!

You don’t make enough money!

You don’t have enough time!

You’re not good at your job.

Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard.

What good news this is.

Fear is as old as dirt and gets blown around by those who want to control our minds and, worse yet, our hearts. And here we are, reading about the fear of war, the fear of losing a way of life, the fear of not being in control. And they run straight to God with this fear flying out in front of them.

Do you bring your fear to God? Do you tell it like it is? This is what’s making me afraid, help me God? Because, our role model for fear and bringing it to God today is King Hezekiah. We are afraid! Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God!

And Isaiah reminds them of the God we believe in. Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard.

Which is one of the reasons we gather for worship, isn’t it? Because we are afraid. Because we are not sure what it is we believe some days. And sometimes we need to lean on others or have other people believe for us where our faith is weak. Maybe there’s a part of the Lord’s prayer you just can’t pray right now, a whole bunch of other people will pray it for you today. Maybe there are parts of the Creed you just don’t know. Let others believe it for you. It’s what community is for, right? To believe together because going it alone is impossible. We need each other.

And so we come to worship God who tells us the truth, whose vision and action are always about peace and wholeness; swords beaten into plowshares. And even though there is just no evidence of it; even though our lives may be a mess; even though the world seems to be a scary mess of chaos, God tells us, do not be afraid – I will act.

And it is this same God who tells us the truth when we gather together in worship. We come to lean on each other. We come to hear words of truth about our lives when we have no evidence otherwise to support it.

This is true: we mess up every day. And this is true: we are forgiven.

This is true: we are sometimes terrible people. And this is true: we are claimed as God’s own, once and for all and again and again.

This is true: we are broken. And this is true: you are loved beyond measure. You are made whole through Christ.

We doubt. We doubt ourselves. We doubt God. And God says, Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard.