February 23, 2020
The Most Awesome Thing Of All
February 23, 2020
The Most Awesome Thing Of All
Matthew 17: 1-9
TEXT: “While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.”
- Matthew 17: 5-6
From humorist Erma Bombeck comes the following quote from a little boy who was going through a time when life seemed rather scary:
My name is Fred, and I don't know anything. I have new underwear, but I didn't sleep last night because I'm worried. I have a loose tooth.
What if a bell rings and a man yells, "Where do you belong?" and I don't know? What if the trays in the cafeteria are up too high for me to reach? What if my loose tooth comes out in school when we have our heads down and are supposed to be quiet? Am I supposed to bleed quietly? What if I splash water on my name tag and my name disappears and no one knows who I am?
There is more than a kernel of truth in the ancient maxim, "Fear makes people believe the worst." Obsessive fears can transform benign and even beneficial objects into symbols of deadly terror. Persons who live in constant fear of the possibility of sickness are capable of translating an ordinary itch into a symptom of some terrible disease. We call them hypochondriacs. There also are technical names for persons who fear such things as being alone, of water, of high altitude, of closed-in areas, of crowds, and of many other things. These excessive fears are called "phobias," and the one who is beset with an accumulation of these obsessions is said to be suffering from "phobiaphobia."
The idea of "Fear of God" occurs repeatedly in the Bible. Here are a few examples from the Old Testament:
...you shall fear your God. I am the Lord (Lev. 19:14).
...The Lord your God you shall fear (Deut. 6:13).
...Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him completely and sincerely (Jos. 24:14).
...The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord (Prov. 10:27).
...The fear of the Lord prolongs life (Prov. 10:27).
And from the New Testament come these examples:
...Fear seized them all and they began to praise God (Lk. 7:16).
...The Church was making progress...in the fear of the Lord (Acts 9:31).
In the Book of Revelation, we are told many times to fall down on our faces and worship God in fear and trembling.
The Apostle Paul writes that we are all in mortal danger unless the fear of God is constantly before us.
These are just a few of literally hundreds of Biblical references to fearing God. And there are many, many people who agonize needlessly about this because they completely misunderstand what is being said here. The Biblical writers are not talking about being afraid of God -- a scary God. Rather, the words they use and the context in which they use them make it clear that they are talking about reverence for God, standing before God in the spirit of awe and wonder. God is the Creator! God is the Holy One! God is the Mighty One! We are finite. We are dependent upon God. There is much more to God that is hidden to us than the little He has chosen to reveal; there is an unknown about God. And we approach Him in that sense. But not as source of terror.
In today's Lesson, from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus takes the Apostles Peter, James and John up a mountain to pray. As Jesus prayed, "the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became dazzling white." And the three Apostles receive a human glimpse of the glory and the wonder and the mystery of Christ in a dazzling vision. And a cloud comes and covers them with shadow...And a Voice comes from the cloud, saying, "This is My Son, the Chosen. Listen to Him!" (Lk. 9:34-35). "The disciples were terrified," Luke tells us. In Matthew's Gospel we read, "When they heard this, the disciples fell to the ground and were overcome with fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying 'Get up and do not be afraid'" (Mt. 17:5-8).
This is one of many Gospel episodes in which Jesus' followers became terrified as some "out-of-this-world" event unfolds before their eyes. When Jesus walks on water, for example. Or when the Risen Savior suddenly appears in the midst of the fear-ridden disciples who are in hiding behind closed doors. In each instance, Jesus reassures them: "Do not be afraid." As if to say, "This is Almighty God's doing, and it is wonderful to see."
Moses, Jesus and an old man went golfing (so the story goes)...
Moses walked up to the first tee, took a hefty swing and his ball went straight into the water hazard. Whereupon, Moses parted the waters and the ball rolled back onto the fairway, then toward the green, and stopped only four inches from the cup.
Then Jesus teed off. His ball went straight to the water hazard, but skipped across the top of the water, onto the fairway, then toward the green, and stopped only two inches from the cup.
Next, the old man teed off and the ball went off crooked. It hit a tree and bounced to the ground. A squirrel picked it up and ran with it all the way to the green. An eagle swooped down, picked up the squirrel, flew high into a thunderstorm and was struck by lightning, causing it to drop the squirrel. Then, the squirrel dropped the ball, which bounced off the shell of a turtle and rolled into the cup: a hole-in-one. Whereupon Jesus said, "Nice shot, Dad!"
Almighty God's doing is wonderful to see: awesome!
"Fear is useless. What is needed is trust," Jesus tells us. Jesus is trying to say that God loves us so much that He will never abandon us; that He will always be for us. The war already has been won. Jesus brings us the Good News that the war against despair has been won. God is moving, in us and in the world around us, toward the ultimate harmonization and fulfillment of all things. But saying this is not enough. We need to translate this Good News so that is has meaning in our real-life situation. Nothing less than the great leap of faith can translate these words of Jesus in a way that gives meaning to our lives. Your great leap of faith has propelled you into a life-sharing community in which the Good News cannot be contained. It has to be shared. This is true of Christianity in every Age.
Our Christian Faith offers us no illusion that we are a People chosen for exemption from pain and suffering. It holds no promise of a trouble-free life of easy comfort. It grants us no immunity from evil and its consequences. It makes no exception to the rule of God's judgment. Rather, our Christian Faith provides us with the spiritual equilibrium and the moral stamina we need to face up to the burdens and evil days that overtake us -- often in the most unexpected ways. With eyes of Christian Faith, we see things as they are in the light of things as they will be. With eyes of Christian Faith, we see our own culpability for things as they are and our own responsibility for things as they will be.
With eyes of Christian Faith, we can see beyond our worst fears and phobias. With eyes of Christian Faith, we can see clearly that the Father's plan for our final destiny has been fashioned out of His obsessive love for us. With eyes of Christian Faith, we can see clearly that the ever-watchful, loving eyes of Divine Mercy and Forgiveness are upon us. With eyes of Christian Faith, we can see clearly how we can carry that Spirit of Love into a fearful world.
God is too awesome, too wondrous, too mysterious, too big for us finite creatures to comprehend. But we do have a glimpse, and no glimpse of God is so small that it does not evoke the fullest measure of awe and wonder and reverence from the depths of our souls. Part of that glimpse comes to us in these words of Jesus: "Do not live in fear, little flock. It has pleased the Father to give you the Kingdom."
God, your Father, loves you. That's the most awesome thing of all!