“Be Strong Do Not Fear!”

The Pas Proper 18 – Ordinary / Lectionary 22 – Pentecost + 15

Year B

6 September 2015

Isaiah 35:4-7a

Psalm 146 pg 905

James 2:1-17

Mark 7: 24-37

God of power and compassion, in Christ you reveal your will to heal and to save. Open our ears to your redeeming word and move our hearts by the strength of your love, so that our every word and work may proclaim Jesus as Messiah, who lives and reigns with you in the  unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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Looking at the reading from Isaiah, for today, I wonder how many of us live our lives, completely and absolutely without fear? This question comes to mind as I look at the opening words of the Isaiah text for this morning. Isaiah tells us: “Say to those who are of a fearful heart …” and in reality, this can be each and every one of us gathered here, as well as those who are not here, on a Sunday morning.

And looking at what makes us, as humans, as individuals fearful, we can be fearful of things that we know are coming up, such as medical appointments, or exams. I remember the day before my ankle surgery I was answering texts from a young parishioner who was worried, filled with fear on my behalf for the discomfort, the pain, that was sure to follow the surgery.

Yet at the other end of what it means to have a ‘fearful heart’, the refugees fleeing certain death in the Middle East from religious extremists, their fear is for the lack of a chance to live for family members, for children.

So we know we can be afraid of the unknown, the uncertain, yet at the same time, we are also afraid of what we do know, when we are surrounded by those who oppose who we are, and how we live our lives.

And there are times when I have been quite fearful, in my life. For example, when I left for Chicago, for the very the first time, I can admit to being filled with fear, with apprehension. I was travelling on my own to an unknown community, in a foreign country. (Yes, the USA is a foreign country.) I had arranged billeting and dog sitting in the home of someone who was, in reality, a complete stranger, and I was embarking on a new educational program with its own challenges along with 19 others from around the world.

So, when we look at the gospel for today, we find that the Syrophoenician, Gentile woman who approached and yet wouldn’t give up asking for what she needed from Jesus was fearful for her daughter. She was terrified that the healing that the daughter needed to be restored from the demon, to be made whole would be denied because she was not a Jew. Her fear stemmed from the chance that Jesus might not perform the necessary miracle and heal her daughter.

In addition, we see the man who is healed of a speech impediment, but we see that Jesus heals not only his speech, but his hearing, as well. And, in this instance, we are able to see the fears of the people of his community for the man’s restoration, what will it look like, what will Jesus do?

In the end, Jesus does so much more than expected, for both the woman and the man. For the woman he acknowledges the depth of her faith in Jesus, as well as the love for her daughter; for the man, all the townsfolk and neighbours were concerned for was his speech.

In our world, today, I know that people are fearful of the new, as well as of the unknown. In fact the most exciting, and at the same time the most fear inducing, word in the English language is the word ‘if’.

This one, two-letter word, known as ‘the biggest little word in the world,’ because has the ability to allow imaginations to soar to heights not seen in human experience, yet at the same time, it has the ability to allow us to rethink scenarios, situations, in some cases like Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken”.

This poem allows the writer, and the reader, to imagine that one day they will return and take that one particular path, that road that isn’t taken in the first place. All of this is brought to us by the perusal of the word ‘if’, and its opening our minds and hearts to the myriads of endless possibility.

At the same time, the perusal of the possibility can lead us to contemplate aspects of fear should some of the ‘if’ thoughts actually happen. Going back to the example from my ankle surgery, what would have happened if I had not undergone surgery? How would I have functioned on a cane, as a worship leader for the rest of my career? How would it have affected my life and activity levels and in general my overall health?

But then on the other side, what would be the outcome if the surgery takes place, and that being the road taken, I have enjoyed a marked decrease in discomfort, overall, as well as a marked increase in a positive outlook. The joy of knowing that a walking stick is just that, and not a necessary support to keep limping has become a reality.

Although there are times when we “are of a fearful heart”, Isaiah has a message of hope, of encouragement to those of us who find times when we are fearful. We are told “Be strong, don’t fear! Here is your God … He will come and save you.”

Looking at these words, we are told that we aren’t alone. Here is God; there is no reason to allow fear to dominate our lives, to allow it to overwhelm us if we remember what Isaiah is telling us, this morning.

However, that doesn’t mean to sit on our laurels, to allow the world to revolve around us waiting for God to be our saviour. When people wanted healing form Jesus, they went to Jesus, as we see in today’s gospel. When people wanted to see a positive result, they prayed to God, and worked toward positive ends.

It reminds me of a song by the writer singer composer Debbie Zepick whom I had the opportunity to meet on Vancouver Island. She was touring the island and offered to provide live music for our worship service in exchange for joining the congregation for lunch and an opportunity to sell her cd’s. She has a song called “Fearless” from the album of the same name.

The lyric of her song speaks to us from God’s perspective and describes what we hear in Isaiah’s words for today.

She sings: “If the cup of faith is full there is no room for doubting Surrounded by my love there is no fear The blanket of my presence leaves no opening Secure is your existence when I’m near To make you fearless. Commend your heart and life and love to my safe keeping Give back to me what you cannot control Leave with me those you love and do not worry For I watch over body and soul To make you fearless.

I calm your doubting hearts Every ounce of suffering, every tear is in my keeping … Can you change a single moment being anxious Come close to me and sing victory’s cry Then go be fearless.”

Words that express what Isaiah tells us in the reading for today, and although we may not be aware, all of the time, that God is with us, saving us, protecting us, making us strong in the midst of the unknown, facing the fears that long to consume us, Isaiah tells us more. Isaiah tells us that there are indications, signs of God’s presence in our lives.

Isaiah tells us “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”

Our gospel for this morning describes the fulfillment of the message from Isaiah. It tells us of the man whose hearing and speech is restored by Jesus efforts. Changes for this man that are so profound that the more Jesus urges the members of the community not to spread the news of this healing the community’s response is to all the more enthusiastically share the news of the man’s restoration to wholeness. Literally, the ears of the deaf were unstopped, by Jesus actions, today, and his tongue is loosed and sings God’s praises.

Even the Syrophoenician woman had her eyes opened to the faith that she had. A faith that helped her to harangue Jesus for the healing that was needed. In this way, the eyes of her heart were opened, as well as her vision, to the possibilities of living a life that is rooted in faith, in the love of God, and in the power of God to make us whole.

She initially went to Jesus because of the stories of his abilities to heal, and in the end found that her life was changed forever by the faith that she displayed, and the faith of Jesus replies that healed her daughter.

And looking at our lives there are many places where we can consider ourselves to be blind, especially in situations where we are fearful, or where we don’t feel particularly strong. When I arrived in Chicago, for the first time, and met my host, got to know my classmates and a bit of the neighborhood, then I was able to be without fear, without apprehension. My eyes were opened; I was no longer blind to the opportunity that God had placed before me to in order to learn new skills, to make new friends, and to grow in my faith, confidence, and abilities.

And we all have these same opportunities. We may not realize it but there are times when we are blind to the work that God needs us to do to help our neighbours, both near and far away. We become blind, deaf and mute to the issues that surround us, and we need to allow God to work within our lives and our hearts.

In the press, this week, there has been the plight of refugees fleeing Syria, and dying in the Mediterranean, in the Aegean Sea as they attempt to flee Asia. Images epitomized by the death of a 3-year-old child, an image that has caught the attention of the internet, the world press, and has latched onto our hearts.

Closer to home, but no less a plight, there is the ongoing issue of our homeless population and the needs of Oscars Place. There is the need of our local schoolchildren needing supplies; there is the need of our population to vote in the upcoming federal election to express our opinions of who should be leading our nation, and what we think of their policies.

The places where our voice, our vision, our ears, our efforts are needed are almost endless, and this could be the reason why we become blind and deaf to the issues, because they don’t go away when we want them to leave us alone. But that doesn’t change the fact that if we stand on the sidelines and do nothing then we are not a part of the solution. We are not benched players in God’s world. We are on the field, we are active in the ministry that is all around us, both in our neighbourhood, in our community, and in the world.

But there’s also good news, when we live by faith, when we trust God to lead us to where we need to be. Whether that’s petitioning Jesus to heal a loved one through the efforts of prayer and through the skills and dedication of medical staff; or maybe it’s by spreading the good news that we are healed in mind and body. Every day, we are all able to have our eyes opened so that we’re no longer blind, our ears unstopped so we can hear what God needs us to hear, to see.

We are able to leap for joy when God takes away our fear and helps us to stand in God’s presence, in God’s world, with a tongue fully able to proclaim God’s message of love, inclusion, healing, and wholeness. We need to be the voice for those who so desperately need to hear such love, who need to feel the efforts of our hands, who need to know that they don’t need to be afraid, that God is here, with us, with them and that God comes to save each and every one of us.

Because it is in such ways that this world is healed.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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