Last Sunday my sermon was about discipleship. I spoke about growing up into Christian
adulthood. This Sunday, as we continue to move through the 10th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel,
going deep into what scholars call the Missionary Discourse of Jesus, I want to talk about how
fear plays out in our discipleship. To follow Jesus, to walk with Jesus on his unique mission
from God - there will be fear.
Today we hear Jesus talk about fear in the negative - three times. “Have no fear” (10:26).
“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (10:28). “Do not be afraid. You
are of more value than many sparrows” (10:31). Before Jesus talks about what being a disciple
actually looks like - including the consequences for family members - he spends half of today’s
passage from Matthew on why we should NOT be afraid when we follow him.
One of our earliest fears is: the dark. My boyhood fear of the dark has evolved into an
old man’s fear. What I mean is: the fear of falling, when I get up and make a nightly trip to “the
necessary.” A children’s poem and prayer begins, From Ghoulies and Ghosties, long-leggety
Beasties, and Things that go Bump in the Night, Good Lord, deliver us! Now, my prayer poem
could be, Good Lord, deliver me from being the nighttime Beastie that goes Bump!
Some things that “go bump” should scare us. Other things that cause us to fear? Those
things may be all in our heads. There’s an Alcoholics Anonymous expression that often helps
me. Sometimes fear is just F.E.A.R. False Evidence, Appearing Real.
We will fear, we will be afraid, because we are human. To be human is to feel, and
feelings of fear happen all the time - in Bible times, in every time, including our own. Words
from a late 19th century hymn text still ring true: From the fears that long have bound us, free
our hearts to faith and praise…Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days
(Harry Emerson Fosdick, Hymnal 1982 #594).
Feeling fear is normal. It’s healthy. But to live in a constant state of fear? To be full of
fear, to be fearful? That’s what I think Jesus is talking about today. Do not stay, do not remain
in your fears. Do not become your fear. But how easy is that? After all, there’s so much for
people to fear, in the living of these days. Here’s a wee, little list: Any kind of war; the economy;
climate change; hunger; homelessness; poverty; serious injury; disease; death.” I’ve saved what
may be our worst fear for last: terrorism.
Dictionaries define terrorism as the unlawful use of violence and intimidation,
especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. Today, we use the word “terrorism”
to describe not just our fear of foreign actors, but of domestic terrorists. In fact, the old phrase
“domestic violence” has become “domestic terrorism” these days.
Recent statistics on at-home domestic terrorism include: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men
have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner at least once in their
lives. Women under the age of thirty-five generally experience the highest rate of that kind of
domestic violence or terror. That real evidence gives new meaning to Jesus’ words: “One’s foes
will be members of one’s household” (Matthew 10:36).
There is, of course, the threat of terror nationally and internationally. But let’s stay local,
for the moment. Memphis is now one of the most dangerous big cities in the U.S. What does
“no fear” look like here? What might Jesus have to say about that?
I really don’t know what Jesus might say. I do believe Jesus, in this Gospel text, is being
descriptive, rather than prescriptive. Does Jesus really want to set fathers against sons or
mothers against daughters? Does Jesus really want us to stir up conflict for conflict’s sake?
Does Jesus really want us use his words to justify war or violence?
What if Jesus’ words about peace are not the fake peace of denial and dishonesty, of
misleading others with our silence? What if his “fear not” kind of peace is a deep, truth-telling,
life-changing peace, the peace that passes all understanding? What if another name for Jesus,
in addition to Prince of Peace, is the Disturber of our “so called” peace (Debie, Thomas,
I believe the deep, disturbing, life-changing peace Jesus brings us is often about facing
the fear of…ourselves. Sometimes we hide our true selves, because we’re afraid of what people
will think or do. But once we face our own hidden or denied self, there’s not as much to be
afraid of anymore. We no longer fear being exposed for who we really are. “We are no longer
afraid to be seen - by ourselves or others. We finally are who we are, and can be who we are,
without disguise or fear” (Richard Rohr, Falling Upward, p. 134).
In 1974, a non-profit organization called Integrity was founded. Its mission was to work
toward full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Episcopal Church. Over time, with chapters in
dioceses all across the country, including West Tennessee, Integrity helped to make every
sacrament of this church - from baptism to communion, from ordination to marriage - available
to everyone, regardless of our gender identity or expression.
I think we Episcopalians keep trying to face our fears about who we are as a church. We
welcome our LGBTQ+ siblings, but it’s dishonest to say we’re all in the very same place. The
Episcopal Church officially puts it this way: “As with all spiritual journeys, everyone walks at
their own pace. Some congregations are actively involved in LGBTQ+ ministry and their arms
are open wide; others are more reserved, but their doors are still open to all; and some are still
wrestling with beliefs and feelings. But we’re all on this journey with Jesus together”
( https://www.episcopalchurch.org/who-we-are/lgbtq/history/ ).
In the 16th century Sir Walter Scott wrote: Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, To
venture on wider seas / Where storms will show your mastery. Jesus, the Disturber of Peace-
As-We-Know-It, tells us to fear not, even in stormy weather. May God give us the grace and the
courage to face our fears, on this, our journey with Jesus.
~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg, Vicar
All Saints’ Episcopal Church
1508 S. White Station Road
Memphis, TN 38117