Faith, not fear

Genesis 15:1-11
Psalm 27
Luke 13:31-35

All of our readings today are about having faith, not fear.

“Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield,” God says to Abram at the beginning of our reading from Genesis.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?” wrote the psalmist in tonight’s psalm.

Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Jesus says this a lot in the gospels, to anyone who will listen to him. It’s a scary world out there and Jesus knows it. In tonight’s reading the disciples are frightened that the authorities want to kill Jes, but he seems unconcerned.

We’re afraid of so much in our world today: we fear being sued, finishing last, going broke; we fear finding a mole on our back, the new kid on the block, the sound of the clock as it ticks us closer to the grave. Fear has become a big bully in the school yard: brash, loud, and unproductive.

Jesus wants to get us out of that cycle. In tonight’s gospel reading we see Jesus’ response when his opponents want to frighten him. They’ve been trying to get rid of him by arguing with him, testing him, calling him names, and ridiculing the people he associates with. Today they try another tactic: trying to scare him – telling him to get away from here, because Herod wants to kill him. The threat is a real one. Herod’s already killed John the Baptist, the one who pointed to Jesus. Herod killed John so the threat to Jesus’ life could be a real one. Jesus responds, not with fear, but with faith – faith in God’s perspective and plans, which enables him to escape the trap of fear.

What I’m trying to get at is this: Jesus cuts this threat down to size. Remember he has faith that God has both a sense of perspective and a plan. When they tell him to be afraid of Herod and his threats, he says you can go and tell that old fox what to do with his threats! Foxes are crafty, sly, quick, and devious. They may be small, but they can wreak havoc in a chicken coop before the farmer has any idea what’s going on. I’m sure that people in Jesus’ time would also have thought of foxes as crafty and sly, and that’s what he’s calling Herod.

A bit of background that it’s important to know is that in Jesus’ day, the other animal used as an insult was a lion. In one ancient Jewish text, someone writes about a person first thought to be great but who turned out to be quite inept: “the lion you mentioned turned out to be a [mere] fox.” In another place, someone criticizes others for consulting with amateurs rather than experts, saying “There are lions before you, and you ask foxes?” A wise man advises, “Be a tail to lions rather than a head to foxes.”

Herod certainly thought of himself as a lion. “The Lion of Judah” he would have called himself, the King. But Jesus sees him for what he really is: small fry, pint-sized. Dangerous, certainly, but not great. In God’s perspective Herod is no lion, just a fox, and Jesus cuts his threat down to size.

What about us? Are there any fears of ours that need cutting down to size? Are there any of our fears that from our vantage point look like lions, but really may, in fact, when we get all the information, or see them from a big picture perspective, turn out to be foxes?

What about foreigners? Certain newspapers are very quick to blame Europe for things which are entirely due to British stupidity, and nothing to do with Europe. Certain newspapers were quick to blame various foreigners for the horsemeat in our food, when it turned out to be British abattoirs. And horsemeat is no threat to health, just fraudlent labelling of food – might that just be a fox, rather than a lion?

Are there any of our fears in our own lives that need cutting down to size? Are there things in our lives that we seem like lions, but might just be foxes? There is an African proverb that says, “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.” Is there something lion-sized in your life that would be so much smaller if you shared it?

Of course, there are some things that we confront, things that threaten to devour us, that really are as fierce as they’re advertised to be. And finding out that the thing we were busy looking up in our field guide really is a lion may not bring us much comfort when we’re staring at it up close and it’s all teeth and muscle and fast and ferocious and we feel like we don’t stand a chance. Because we don’t. By ourselves, we don’t stand a chance.

And that’s why what Jesus says next is just as important. Jesus has faith, not only in the perspective of God, but also in the plans of God – after dismissing Herod as a fox he told the disciples to listen, he was busy casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. It’s quite extraordinary, first he says of Herod tell that old fox to take a running jump, and now he says busy for the next couple of days! Of course, despite this being very day stuff, there’s a profound theological message here too, because when Jesus refers to the third day, he’s alluding to the resurrection that is to come.

Jesus is on a mission: heal, cure, set free, then go to the cross. It isn’t easy – you can’t describe Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, and death as anything other than an experience that took everything he had. All the forces of death and evil will rage against the powers of good, baring their teeth and claws, roaring and tearing, even killing. And it will look for all the world like a lion has made short work of a hen.

But Jesus knew, difficult as it was, that God had a plan for him – Father, if it be your will, he said, let this cup pass from me. The cup didn’t pass from him. And we know the end of the story, of course: the last enemy is defeated. Death and hatred and cowardice and fear are all defeated.

There are some things that if were we to face them by ourselves, we don’t stand a chance. But, in Jesus, we are never by ourselves. God is always present, always by our side, like a mother hen, longing to gather her chicks under her wings, longing to remind us of the perspective and plans of God.

“Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield,” God says to Abram at the beginning of our reading from Genesis.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?” wrote the psalmist in tonight’s psalm.

Here is Jesus’ stance against fear: trusting in the perspective and plans of God, he cuts it down to size and knows whatever he faces, it is no match for the power and love of God.

May we use this Lent to learn once more that God is with us, giving a sense of perspective on the things that we face, and that we are not alone – God is with us.

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