Be Not Afraid
An Easter sermon given at First Parish Dorchester
April 1, 2018
Rev. Tricia Brennan
A couple days ago, three different Facebook friends
all posted the same thing-
in that big type with a colored background,
they declared they had heard peepers that morning.
Peepers, those seldom seen tiny frogs whose chirping call
marks the beginning of spring. It is a most welcome sound.
I don’t know if there are peepers in the land around the Sea of Galilee,
where today’s story takes place.
I do know it is a beautiful area, filled with trees and birds and animals,
fertile land that yields crops of wheat, corn, olives, peaches, almonds and more, and yes, lots of fish in the waters of the Sea of Galilee,
which, despite its name is actually a large lake.
It is a remarkably alive place, a wonderful place to have a breakfast
of freshly grilled fish with your friends at sunrise.
“Come and have breakfast”
Jesus says to the men who have been up all night fishing,
who must have been hungry and cold,
especially that fellow Peter still wet from his swim to shore.
To his fearful, confused friends
who have seen their leader and teacher arrested and killed,
and now to their silent amazement
seems to be right there in front of them, Jesus says,
“Come, take this bread. Come have this fish I just cooked.
Come have some water, have some wine, if you wish.
Come, rest and be filled and be at peace.”
I imagine that scene, and I think if I was there,
if I was one of those fishermen friends, I’d be saying to myself-
“It doesn’t get much better than this.”
The story doesn’t give much dialogue between Jesus and his friends,
once they come meet up on land,
and so we imagine some shuffling of feet,
some staring at Jesus and maybe looking away,
a shyness perhaps, the kind of shyness that comes
when you love someone very much
but you don’t quite know what to say.
Or the kind of quiet that comes when words
don’t matter all that much any more,
for much has been already said between them,
and really what else is there to say
when you are supremely happy, and the sun comes up
and you are fed and loved.
One might have thought that under the circumstances
they’d be saying “Hey, we have to hide you, you’re in danger.”
Or we have to hide ourselves, we’re all in danger!”
Or how the heck did you get here, what happened?
But no, there’s doesn’t’ seem to be any talk about strategy,
or next steps or how to capitalize
on this sudden surprising turn of events.
It’s a love feast there on the shore.
A time of joy, a blessing beyond imagination,
a quiet transformation from the old to the new,
from the scared to the brave, from the foolish to the wise.
A central message of Jesus is Be Not Afraid.
And a key element of the Christian life is joy.
Remember the birth of Jesus- he wasn’t talking yet,
but those angels were saying it loud and clear-
Fear not, I bring you tiding of great joy.
And once Jesus’ public ministry began,
it was a steady refrain:
“Do not be afraid, come and follow me,”
he tells his first followers who leave all
that is known and safe to join him.
“O ye of little faith”, he chides his frightened friends
as their little boat rocks on the rough sea.
“Fear not”, he tells the crowds when he teaches on the hillside,
and when he enters Jerusalem a hero
and a threat to the state on what we call Palm Sunday,
and when he appears to his friends after the resurrection.
Do not be afraid. Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Nada te turbe. Nada te espante.
Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten,
Those who seek god shall never go wanting.
Being afraid seems to come with the territory of being human,
don’t you think? I am always contending with my fears.
Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of loss, fear of hurting others,
fear of making a fool of myself, fear of disaster.
Jesus himself was afraid at times,
especially when the end was near and his friends had fled.
He knew fear, yet persisted, he knew loneliness but persisted,
he knew failure but stayed true to what he felt called to do and be.
The man at the lakeside grilling fish on hot coals at sunrise
was no stranger to death, despair, fear and failure.
In some of the gospel accounts of the Risen Christ,
the bodily wounds from his suffering are described as still visible.
Both Jesus and his disciples have their histories,
but come this day they are different people, they are transformed.
Jesus in the most dramatic way- he who was dead is now alive-
but the disciples are changed too.
These men in this story- and women in other stories-
are no longer the fearful, bumbling,
error-prone cast of characters we’ve come to know.
They become leaders themselves, ones who travel throughout the land
and into other countries spreading the message of love and liberation
that they have come to see and believe and embody.
They have seen and known the worst,
and they have also seen and known goodness,
and they make their choice to live in the light and for the good,
knowing fully the reality of evil and suffering and utter despair.
The power of their witness comes from the depth
of what they have seen and suffered
and from the joy they have known there
on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Theirs is no sentimental, sunny-side up love,
but a sturdy, stubborn, tender and true love.
One does not have to be a believer in God or a follower of Jesus
for the Christian story to have power and meaning.
Everyone has a Good Friday time in their life,
a time of trial and suffering, loss, betrayal, fear and grief.
And just as the Easter story contains the knowledge of Good Friday,
the Good Friday times in our lives can contain the knowledge
that love is stronger than fear,
and that joy comes in the morning.
This is most apparent to us when we are accompanied
in the hard times in our lives,
and when we accompany others.
Lately, I’ve been thinking that the another word for love is connection.
Connection to a god, connection to some powerful sense of spirit
that shows up when we need it,
connection to other struggling human beings,
connection to our own souls, our own glimmers of goodness.
On Friday quite a few people from First Parish
joined many parishioners from St. Peter’s Catholic Church
to walk the Via Crucis, the Stations of the Cross,
through the neighborhood.
Fourteen stops along the way, marking places of violence and death.
It is a somber walk.
Yet there was a power present in remembering together.
It would have been a very different walk for any one of us to do alone.
Instead we could look ahead and see many people
and look behind and see many people
and know that not one of us is alone.
This was a community witnessing to the losses
and witnessing to the desire for peace.
Easter was present in the desire for peace
and in the community that embodies love and solidarity in each step.
Please join me in prayer:
Oh God of all time and place,
you who were present on the shores of Sea of Galilee
one bright morning many years ago,
be present, too, with us now, in our times of fear and confusion,
so that we may be transformed into a people
who embody love and liberation.
Give us good friends with whom to share this life,
and help us to be good friends to others.
May the spirit of invincible joy that was present in Jesus,
be present in us as well, now and always. Amen