Every Fear Silenced

Meg Peery McLaughlin
A Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10
Covenant Network Regional Conference
Village Presbyterian Church, Prairie Village, KS
Friday, November 16, 2012

Last week at Village we celebrated the Joyful Feast of the People of God.
I stood at the communion table to give thanks.

I had written my prayer the night before—
typed into my laptop salvation history with the great story of God’s love,
wrote out blessings over the bread and cup,
and then was searching for words
that captured the hope from which we’re sent from the table—

I remembered my colleague Jenny’s prayer from a number of months back,
one she’d prayed at the Next Conference—I had asked her for a copy of it,
she’s a poet[i], really.

I knew I had her prayer saved: so I pulled it up,
and copied the last paragraph of her prayer:
                   use this joyful feast to nourish us as we work with you for the day
                   when every tear is dried,
                   every hunger filled,
                   every war ended,
                   every person welcomed,
                   and every fear silenced.
                   Longing for that day and believing it will come,
                   we pray in Christ’s name.

I tacked those words onto my prayer,
saved and went to bed.

The next morning, Tom, Jenny, and I served communion.
We returned to the table.
Jenny was to pray the prayer of response—
before she started, she caught my eye and smiled.

She prayed. It was beautiful. Of course: she’s a poet.

And then she concluded her prayer asking that God send us out in hope
until the promised day when
when every tear is dried,
every hunger filled,
every war ended,
every person welcomed,
and every fear silenced.

We laughed afterwards, and I pleaded forgiveness for plagiarizing (which she graciously granted).

But the truth is:
there are some words that bear repeating.

Some words that we simply need, desperately need, to hear over and over and over again.
The angels know that.

Have you noticed?
How they all say the same thing?

Do not be afraid. It’s the same line.
Over and over and over again.

To Joseph, poised to dismiss Mary quietly,
the angel says: Do not be afraid.[ii]

To the Shepherds, trying to earn a daily wage,
the angel says: Do not be afraid.[iii]

To Mary, the about to be pregnant teenager,
the angel says: Do not be afraid. [iv]

To Mary and Mary Magdalene, heartbroken and dumbstruck at the tomb,
the angel says: Do not be afraid. [v]

Jesus plagiarized a good bit too,
taking these words off the lips of angels and speaking them himself:

Do not be afraid, he said to his friends in the midst of a storm,
on a rickety boat, battered by the wind[vi].

Do not be afraid, he said to his disciples
the night he was to die, the night he told them goodbye. [vii]

Do not be afraid.
Over and over and over again.

Have you ever been afraid?

He said to me: “She’s my daughter.
I love her. I will always love her.
And I know that God does too.
I trust that her sexuality isn’t a sin. I know that she isn’t condemned,
but rather beautifully created by God.
I know that in my gut. And I have a church that’s taught me the same thing.
I’m glad she has come out to me– that she would trust me with that.”

I said to the brokenhearted father sitting across from me:
“Then what is wrong? Why the tears?”

“I’m scared”, he said. “I’m just scared. Scared for her.
Scared for the hate that’s out there.
For the hard road that’s ahead:
the hard turns when it comes to. . . .
family and marriage, work and career, friends and society.
Scared of what people will say about her. What they’ll say about me.
How we’ll all handle that.”

Have you ever been afraid?

Afraid the world won’t ever really change?

Afraid you’ll never really be able to tell the truth of who you love?

Afraid the church that you love is eventually going to close its doors?

Afraid that you’ve gotten your priorities mixed up?

Afraid that you were gentle when you should’ve been strong?
And too strong when you should have been gentle?

Have you ever been afraid?

This Wednesday Jarrett and I are going to Chicago.
One of my dearest friends lives there with his partner.
I helped him move into their first apartment together,
it was so tiny that in order to open a sock drawer, you had to sit on the bed,
there was no room to stand.
They’ve since moved into a bigger place,
moved deeper and deeper into commitment with one another.

They’ve lived through a job change, and a terrifying brain tumor,
and over a decade of years together.
Thanksgiving around their table will be so much fun.
There’s lots to celebrate.
But I fear—honestly, I’m afraid that they will ask me to marry them.
The Illinois state constitution doesn’t permit it, so I don’t think that will happen,
but I’m afraid of how I’d be reluctant to respond—
and how that response would affect our friendship.
I know I’d want to say yes! There wouldn’t be a greater honor.
I know how confident I would feel about their holy promises.

But I also know that I am subject to the church’s polity,
which still declares that a marriage is between a man and woman,
I am subject to the church’s discipline should I violate its polity.

Have you ever been afraid?

Logan and Jim were sitting beside one another.
Happily talking about shared history in the Air Force.
Passing each other the sour cream and the salt and pepper for their baked potatoes.
It was lunch at Presbytery meeting.
Two faithful elders being church together: enjoying Table fellowship.
I asked what was exciting Logan about ministry at his church.
He said: “You really want to know?”
I said yes.
He said his congregation was excited about leaving the PC(USA).
That this denomination wasn’t faithful anymore,
didn’t live in accord with the biblical witness.

And I left the lunch table afraid,
afraid that we’ll just keep splintering and fracturing.
And that someday, the only people I’ll be able to share a baked potato with will think just like I do…I’m afraid of that.

Are you afraid?

I find it interesting that the angels don’t say:
There is nothing to be afraid of.

No one says that in the Bible.
For that would be a lie.
No one says there is nothing to be afraid of.
Because there is plenty to be afraid of.
The angels say “Do not be afraid.”

They say it over and over and over again.

It bears repeating.
Do not be afraid for there is a God who will come close and crawl in beside us.
Do not be afraid for there is a word that can calm any storm.
Do not be afraid for there is a stone that is rolled away.
Do not be afraid for there is a love that will not, cannot be held down by death.

Do not be afraid.
When that angel appeared to Mary on Easter morning,
the angel did not say that the cross was just Mary’s imagination,
that it wasn’t real,
that there was nothing to be afraid of,
the angel did not say there is no cross,
the angel said,
death does not win.
God’s love is on our side of the grave now.
God’s love will never let go so we don’t have to be afraid anymore. [viii]

As we raise our children, supporting them at every turn,
as we put their partners’ pictures on our desks,
we don’t have to be afraid.

As we hold the tension between our faithful answers to our ordination questions:
Will we show the love and justice of Christ?
And will we seek the peace, unity, and purity of the church?
we don’t have to be afraid.

As we practice holy friendship
around Thanksgiving tables and Presbytery lunch tables,
we don’t have to be afraid.

As we plagiarize words from the angels
and boldly speak them in pulpits and in elevators,
at town halls and at family meetings,
to neighbors and even to strangers
we don’t have to be afraid.

For when we live like that,
and love like that,
we are together working  and living toward the day:
when every tear is dried,
every hunger filled,
every war ended,
every person welcomed,
and every fear silenced.
Every fear silenced.
Every fear silenced.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


[i] Rev. Jenny McDevitt, Pastor of Pastoral Care at Village Presbyterian

[ii] Matthew 1:20

[iii] Luke 2:10

[iv] Luke 1: 30

[v] Matthew 28:5

[vi] Matthew 14:27

[vii] John 14: 27

[viii] These words are mostly Tom Are’s words. His words always bear repeating.

Comments

  1. My daughter continues to stun me with the honesty and power of her proclamation of God’s good news! Wow!

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