I have never understood what is referred to as fire and brimstone preaching. What I am referring to is defined as a style of Christian preaching that uses vivid descriptions of judgment and eternal damnation to encourage repentance. It is based on producing fear in people… Fear of eternal damnation and punishment to keep them on the right track. Why do I say that I don’t understand this type of preaching? Because it does not correspond with my knowledge of God who is love. One of my favorite Bible passages is from the first letter of John (4:18) which says that “perfect love casts out all fear.” And apparently, the most repeated phrase in the entire Bible is “fear not” or “do not be afraid.” Sometimes it comes from the mouth of an angel and sometimes from Jesus himself like in today’s gospel passage: “Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”
Because we are human beings, it is almost certain that each of us is afraid of something. God understands that there are a thousand things that scare us, and rightly so. His promise is not that he will solve problems, but that he is with us in every difficulty of life. Surely we would prefer that the problem disappear, but Jesus does not promise us that, only that he is not going to leave us alone.
The readings today ask us for faith, faith that God is with us. In the letter to the Hebrews, we find the line “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” The author gives the example of Abraham, often called “our father in faith” who was called to leave his country, take a journey with all his family and his possessions, not knowing where he was going. He only had the promise from God that he would receive land as an inheritance. Abraham didn't know how he was going to receive an inheritance, because of his advanced age, but he went out according to the voice of God. He made his journey in faith, putting his trust in the unseen. The only thing he knew deep in his being was that God is faithful, and with that he began the journey that would end up making him the father of a new people.
In the Gospel Jesus directs his followers to have this same kind of faith. God is promising a Kingdom, a Kingdom that is worth more than everything you have. The disciples too have a long journey to make, a journey following in the footsteps of Jesus that will eventually lead them to the cross. They must always be ready, attentive to the arrival of the Lord. Therefore, they cannot worry about distractions. The Lord is en route and at the least expected hour he will arrive. The disciples have to walk in faith, despite the long wait.
How is it for us? We live in a time of insecurity. The economy is uncertain. Politics is divisive and scary. we know that we can lose a job or a house. We know that we can suffer from one disease or another. We know that we cannot guarantee the future of our children. Nothing is safe, not even our human life.
However, Jesus tells us that we have to live in faith. Like Abraham, we have to turn to a vision that we do not know, a vision of the Kingdom of justice and peace. Like Abraham, we have to work for a world where there is no oppression or exploitation. Like Abraham, we have to walk towards a future of freedom, trusting in God's faithfulness. And on this journey, we must pay attention to the words, “Fear not. I am here by your side.”