Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year 
(Proper 29)

Text: Revelation 1:17-18
"Don't be afraid! I am the first and the last. I am the living one! I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever."

Donít be afraid!

During his years as premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of the policies and atrocities of Joseph Stalin. Once, as he criticized Stalin in a public meeting, Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience. "You were one of Stalinís colleagues. Why didnít you stop him?"

"Who said that?" roared Khrushchev. An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle. Then Khrushchev replied quietly, "Now you know why."

Like Khrushchev, the heckler was afraid. Fear is a normal human emotion. We experience it almost daily to lesser and greater degrees. The fear I am talking about is -

For some people, a day doesn't go by when they don't experience some kind of fear.
What is it that fills you with fear? What is it that sends a shiver down your spine?
The thought of being left alone?
The future of your children or your grandchildren?
A health problem?
Not having enough money?
The fear of crowded places or high places? The fear of spiders?

One summer night during a severe thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small son into bed. She was about to turn the light off when he asked in a trembling voice, "Mummy, will you stay with me all night?" Smiling, the mother gave him a warm, reassuring hug and said tenderly, "I canít dear. I have to sleep in Daddyís room."

A long silence followed as the little boy thought about this. Finally he said, "The big sissy!"

Apart from the comment about the courage of his father, the little boyís request to have his mother near him all night, touches on a very important fact. The little boy knew that if his mum was able to stay close to him during the storm, he would feel a lot safer and would not be afraid of the thunder and lightning outside. Maybe you can remember the safe feeling you had as a child when you were afraid and one of your parents held you close. Or maybe you have done that for your own children. Itís nice to have someone close by whom you can trust to take of you.

The message of the Bible reminds us again and again that we have a heavenly Father who will do just that for us. He will stand right by us in those times when we are the most afraid. When the unexpected happens we have a God who is right there with us reassuring us of his presence and reminding us that he loves us with a love that is beyond human words to describe.

Let me read to you a few passages from the Bible to show you that this loving, comforting, reassuring, strengthening, uplifting, presence of God is a real thing.

Psalm 121 says, "The Lord will guard you; he is by your side to protect you". And in another psalm we read, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me" (Psalm 23).
At the burning bush God asked Moses to do the seemingly impossible. He was to go to the king of Egypt and demand the release of all the Israelite slaves. Moses had every reason to be afraid. God said, "I will be with you." (Exodus 3:12).
When Joshua was about to lead the people of God into the Promised Land he knew that this was not going to be a pushover because the inhabitants of that land were determined to keep them out. God promised, "I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you" (Joshua 1:5).
When Jesus was sending out his disciples to tell the rest of the world about the love of God and knowing that they would meet some very strong opposition, he promised, "I am with you always to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
When the first Christians were being tortured and killed by the Roman authorities, we have the words of our Lord, "I am the eternal God. I am the living God. I am the ruler over all things. Donít be afraid."
There can be no doubt about it. The words, "I will be you", are a common theme throughout the Bible. God promises again and again that he will always be there for his people. In fact, a name that has been given to Jesus from Old Testament times, and repeated by an angel when Joseph was afraid that Mary had been unfaithful to him, is Immanuel which means "God is with us" (Matt 1:23).

An elderly lady expressed her fear that she didnít believe that she had lived a good enough life to get to heaven. I assured her that those who trust in Jesus have nothing to fear. There is no doubt, God is disappointed with our rebelliousness toward him and the continuous harm we do to other people and the world. The good news is that is always ready to reach out to us in forgiveness. He was prepared to sacrifice his only Son for us and assure us that in spite of our sin he still loves us and is with us always ready to give us the help and strength that we need.

Jesus once told a story about a son who took his inheritance and said goodbye and good riddance to his father. But the father never gave up loving and caring for his son. He was ready to forgive him and welcome him back home. Thatís exactly what our heavenly Father does for us. We might give up on him, but he sticks by his promise to always be there for us.

God has dealt with our fear about what the future will bring. We donít know the future holds. Will there be natural disasters of some kind? Maybe wars? Maybe disease? Maybe government leaders who will be heartless and unsympathetic? There are no promises in the Bible that say that Christians will have an easy road because they are Christians. In fact, just the opposite is said. In this life we will always have problems, tragedies, sickness, grief, floods, wars and so on. Jesus said that as the end of the world gets closer there would be all kinds of things that will make the bravest hearts tremble with fear.

If everything is going well for you at this moment Iím happy for you. However, we know all too well how things can suddenly change. The Bible says that in spite of the things that fill our heart with fear, there is one whom we can trust to always be there for us at the time when we need it the most.

The writer of Psalm 46 says, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." Here we are being given the picture of days gone by when there were walled cities and castles. When an enemy threatened the countryside and struck fear into the hearts of the locals, everyone would flock behind those strong walls for protection and help. There they would be safe, and would be protected by the king and his soldiers who guarded those walls. Once inside those walls there was nothing to fear. Oh yes, the enemy would still be there, and he would still be doing his best to strike fear into the hearts of those sheltering in the castle, but he was unable to touch them because of the walls that separated them.

A good picture, don't you think, of the way "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble."

Trusting in God banishes all fear. I have been amazed at the stories I have heard about people facing the worst possible situations yet doing so with an amazing confidence that God has everything under control.
I have been amazed at how people in the most fearsome circumstances have such peace and confidence that comes from knowing they have a God who loves them dearly. ? The apostle Paul sums all this nicely by saying,
"If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? Nothing in all creation can separate us from God's love for us in Christ Jesus our LORD!" (Rom 8:31,39).

Let me conclude by asking this question.
When you are anxious and filled with fear;
when the weight of trouble and tragedy are a heavy load to carry;
when you are frightened about what the future may bring;
when fear gets a grip on your life,
where do you go for support and help?

I hope and pray that you would take God seriously when he says, "Donít be afraid" Ö "I am with you"Ö "I am always ready to help in times of trouble".
When you think that no one else cares, God cares.
When you think that your troubles are insignificant compared to that of others, be assured your heavenly Father knows exactly what is happening.
God is inviting you to place your trust in him. He is waiting for your prayers. He will help.

The last verse of Psalm 27 sums it up nicely, "Trust in the Lord. Have faith, do not despair. Trust in the Lord."

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
23rd November, 2003

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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