Focus Week Two: The Only Thing To Fear
Today we are going to continue the sermon series that we started a few weeks ago entitled "Focus: Take A Closer Look."
The idea behind this sermon series is pretty simple---sometimes it's hard to see Jesus at work in the world, especially when things are uncertain and frightening.
But when we take a closer look to truly get to know Jesus, we can learn to trust in what we can't see because of what we can see.
Today we are going to be talking about facing the fear of the unknown... and how knowing Jesus can help us do just that.
But first, we're going to talk about Coulrophobia.
Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns. It's a real thing.
People who suffer from coulrophobia experiences the following symptoms when they are confronted by clowns:
sweating or sweaty palms
feelings of dread
intense emotions such as screaming, crying, or becoming angry at the sight of the object of fear, a clown for example
See? I bet some of y'all feel the same way. You were checking that list of symptoms in your head when you were watching that video.
So here's a very important question that has nothing to do with clowns, but everything to do with fear...
What do you do when your faith teaches you that you should live without fear, and there's so much to be afraid of?
And let's get real for a moment...
What do you do when there are people in the world who cause you to fear?
Or who makes decisions that fill you with dread?
Or who makes you question your own beliefs about the power of God's radical grace and the defiant hope that radical grace can bring?
Here's the thing. I believe we can overcome our fear and our dread of the unknown... by drawing closer to Jesus and following him more fully.
What I want us to know is this:
Knowing Jesus can help you face the unknown.
Let's get into the story from Scripture for today which we find in Acts chapter 9:10-22. We need to do a little recap about how Saul found himself blind and humbled in Damascus.
Relate the story so far... images of Saul's Damascus road moment.
Flannery O'Connor was right about Saul when she wrote:
I reckon the Lord knew that the only way to make a Christian out of that one was to knock him off his horse.
Even though the story doesn't really match the artwork, this sums it up.
10 In Damascus, there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
The word for Lord here is the Greek word Kurios, which is typically the word that stands for Jesus throughout the Acts of the Apostles.
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
Ananias is not that enthused about helping Saul---as you might imagine. He's being asked to lay hands on a man who killed his friends.
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.
I could honestly preach a whole sermon on this verse. The verse doesn't say that Ananias sat at home for two weeks weighing his options. He didn't head in the opposite direction like Jonah. It says, "Then" meaning right after he was told, "Ananias went to the house, and entered it.
Not much is known about Ananias other than what we have here and the legends of the church that have him being martyred in a now ruined village in Palestine.
But he was obedient, despite his fear. And this obedience was born out of his proximity to Christ. In other words, because he was close to Christ, because he knew Christ, he also knew that he could face his fears because of this proximity.
Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
How amazing is it that the first words out of Ananias' mouth are the words, "Brother Saul." Those very words are what release Saul from his old life.
18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
You want evidence of what radical grace and defiant hope can accomplish?
21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
Here's what we learn from this passage. It takes a firm belief in radical grace, and defiant hope to face your fear of the unknown.
But when you do---it can change your world. And when a bunch of us figure this out, it can change our whole world.
We have a moment here---all of us. This historic moment in the midst of a pandemic, facing the challenge of systemic racism head-on. How do we embrace it? Our belief in defiant hope and radical grace has to come from somewhere, right?
It comes from two things: Our proximity to Jesus, and our Obedience to our ultimate calling.
Proximity to Jesus---where do we see Jesus at work in the world? We've learned this already during this sermon series, but Jesus is at work in the world all around us, we just have to our eyes opened.
And then we need to see where Jesus is at work turning over tables, healing, reconciling, reaching out to the marginalized and broken... and we need to go there and join Jesus there.
Second, Obedience to our ultimate calling---if you are going to follow Jesus--you actually need to move. You can't say that you follow Jesus and then just stay where it's comfortable.
Sometimes your obedience to lift up that radical grace and defiant hope will call you to the way of sacrifice...
Amy Biehl went to South Africa on the eve of its first truly democratic election after the end of Apartheid. She wanted to be there, serving, giving of herself...
Amy Biehl was killed the afternoon of Aug. 25, 1993, as a mob of young black men leaving an anti-apartheid rally in the township of Gugulethu saw her mustard yellow Mazda coming down the main road.
Viewing her as a “settler” and unaware of her background, the men stoned and stabbed her to death. Four men – Easy Nofemela, Ntobeko Peni, Mongezi Manqina and Vusumzi Ntamo – were convicted of the killing and were sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Weeks after her death, her parents Peter and Linda came to South Africa to meet the men who had killed their daughter.
But Peter and Linda Biehl’s testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on July 8, 1997, helped the men receive amnesty under a process set forth by Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The men were released a year after that hearing.
About two years later, Nofemela and Peni began working with the Amy Biehl Foundation, developing a close relationship with the Biehls.
Nofemela still works as a driver and coordinator for the foundation, and Peni is a senior administrator.
At the heart of this story is a story of people whose proximity to Jesus and obedience to their calling led them to belief in radical grace, and defiant hope.
This story blows us away. But we have opportunities all of the time to move toward grace and hope and away from fear.
The partisan political leader
The demanding boss
The destructive partner
The punishing parent
We don't have to be afraid. We don't have to live in dread. We don't have to worry about the unknown.
Because knowing Jesus can help you face the unknown.