"Good Fear"

LUKE 12:1-12

MAR 23, 2014



            In the 1985 movie, Witness, Harrison Ford plays a tough Philadelphia detective who uncovers corruption within his department.  To protect himself and a young boy who has witnessed a murder, Ford's character, John Book, hides out among the Pennsylvania Amish, the community from which the little boy comes.  In one scene of the movie, Book and several of the Amish go into town for a day of shopping.  While they are in town, the buggies driven by the Amish are involved in a traffic jam with a car.  The occupants of the car emerge to confront the Amish in the buggies.  With unwarranted hostility, they taunt one young Amish man.  One of the men from the car, a young tough, smears ice cream in the Amish man's face.  Ignoring the protests of an older Amish man, Book goes over to beat up the ruffian who has bullied the young Amish man.  The older Amish man insists to Book that, "it's not our way."  To which Book responds, "Yeah, but it's my way."

            Bullies come in all shapes and sizes.  You can have a bully whos a boss. You can have a bully whos a pastor.  You can have a bully whos a coach.  You can have a bully whos a parent.  You can have a bully for a spouse.  You can have a bully on the playground.  You can have a bully in cyber space and you can even have a pint-sized bully in a restaurant.

            I think of the family at a restaurant having dinner and the young child decided he didnt want to eat dinner.  He just wanted dessert.  And he looked around and he knew, If I throw a fit, freak out, my parents will give me whatever I want.  So thats exactly what he did.  Blood-curdling scream, freaking out, total tantrum.  The parents looked at the child in an effort to stave off their horrific embarrassment and said, Just knock it off.  Ill give you whatever you want.  Thats a little bully. Thats what that is.  Thats a dessert-loving bully.

            Jesus continues his struggle with religious bullies this morning.  As we've worked our way through Luke's gospel one thing frequently comes up ... the conflict between Jesus and the religious bullies of his day, the Pharisees.  We left Jesus last week after a dinner party where the host, a Pharisee, attempted to embarrass Jesus in front of the other dinner guests.  After leaving the dinner party Jesus decides to warn his disciples about religious bullies, specifically the Pharisees.  He does so while an enormous crowd gathers around him.  Hes exceedingly popular, and people gather by the thousands to hear him speak, and this is in a day when the average town is forty, sixty, eighty, one hundred people.  So to get thousands of people, thats a big deal.  People are walking miles.  Towns are emptying.  People are venturing over rough terrain on foot for hours.  One thinks of the state basketball tournament when small Nebraska towns shut down, owners of stores hang a signs in their windows reading "Gone to State Basketball Tournament."  In Jesus days they would have hung signs in their windows reading, "Gone to hear Jesus.  Be back tomorrow." 

            There were so many folk that they were pushing and shoving and trampling over one another to get a good seat, but as he waited for the crowd to gather he spoke first to his disciples about the Pharisees.  He says to them, Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy."  Note, he doesn't say fear them.  He says beware of them.

            The term hypocrisy comes from the theater.  Hypocrisy means to wear a mask.  It eventually came to mean playing a part, not really being that character, but playing like you were that character.    I think of the preacher who was interviewing with a pastoral search committee.  An English teacher headed the committee, and was very concerned that the future pastor spoke properly. "When the hen is on the nest, does she sit or set?" he asked the candidate.  The hopeful pastor was frustrated.  He didn't know what to say, and his career was on the line.  Finally he replied, "It really doesn't matter if she's sitting or setting. What I want to know is this: when she cackles is she laying or lying?"

            For Jesus, the Pharisees were living a lie.  They were not being truthful with the people.  They wore masks of piety, but there insides were rotten, and someday it would all be revealed.  Someday it would all come to light but for now, beware.  Watch your backs around them.

            And like bullies everywhere many in Jesus' day feared the Pharisees.  The Pharisees had power.  They had clout.  The Pharisees kicked people out of synagogues for not obeying all the rules.  The Pharisees had people stoned for certain infractions of the Jewish Law.  They ruled through threats and intimidation, and they were after Jesus because Jesus was having more influence over the crowds than they were having, and seeing what was on the horizon, Jesus sets his disciples down and warns them and as he does, he gets to the root of the problem and then gives a radical antidote to the problem. 

            Lets get to the root of the problem that the people had with the Pharisees, and really the root of the problem most of us have with modern day bullies, no matter the form they take in our lives.  Heres the root of the problem.  Ready for it?  Making bullies too big.  And because you make them too big, they scare you, they frighten you.

              Note verses 4-7.  Jesus uses the word fear four times and the word afraid one time, so fear is a mega theme here, and we may wonder, Where is Jesus going with all this?  Well, a guy named Ed Welch, a Christian counselor wrote a book about this titled When People are Big and God is Small.   Welch said, The fear of man can be summarized this way: We replace God with people. Instead of a biblically guided fear of the Lord, we fear others. . . . When we are in our teens, it is called peer pressure.  When we are older, it is called people-pleasing.’”  The root of the problem?  We make others too big and God too small which results in fear.

            Bill Easum, a renowned church consultant, and author of the book Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Hamburgers, made an interesting comment, one might even say, sad comment about the state of some churches.  Let me read to you what he wrote. 


            Throughout my consulting ministry, I have seen a disturbing pattern: Most established churches are held hostage by bullies. Some individual or small group of individuals usually opposes the church's making any radical change, even if it means the change would give the church a chance to thrive again.  He went on to say, One of the basic lessons I'm learning as a consultant: Before renewal begins in a church or denomination, normally someone has to leave or be denied.  Almost every time a dying church attempts to thrive once again, someone tries to bully the leaders out of the attempt.  And almost every time a turn-around takes place, such persons are lost along the way because they are no longer allowed to get their way.  When they can't get their way, they leave.  Not even Jesus got through the journey with all of the Disciples. Why should we expect to?


            Jesus says to his disciples, Understand the root of the problem.  Do not fear the Pharisees, but do beware of the Pharisees.  They can cause all kind of damage, but don't fear them.  Don't make them too big."  That's the root of the problem now for a twofold antidote to the problem.  Step one redirect your fear.  Verses four and five,


            I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do no more.  But I will warn you whom to fear; fear him who after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.


            Of course, redirecting our fear is easier said than done.  "Jesus, you say the worse they can do is kill me.  Well, thats sort of a big deal for me.  On my to-do list is breathing.  Like, its a thing for me.  Id like to continue to check that box.  Dont fear people because all they can do is kill me.  Really, is there something worse, Jesus, than death?  And he says, Yeah, theres something worse than death.  What is it? Hell. Jesus says hell is worse than death.  By the way, in way of a little biblical tidbit, Jesus talks about hell more than anyone in the Bible.

            Think about it.  If hell is real, and Jesus certainly spoke of it as real, then for the person who does not believe in Jesus, this life right now, is their heaven.  This is as good as it gets for them.  For the Christian, however, this present life is our hell. If we belong to Jesus, this life is as bad as it gets.  Their heaven is our hell.  It only gets better from here.  The Apostle Paul says "to live is Christ and to die is gain.  Gain.  Gain.  A better deal.  So even if we get killed, which the Pharisees ended up doing to Jesus, we get to hang with Jesus which is better, totally better, than we have here.

             Its not like we want to die, but if we do, its all right.  I recall talking to a guy years ago.  His heart was failing him and he seemed to be dying a bit at a time.  He was an older man and I asked him, How are you doing?  He said, Im in no hurry, but Im looking forward to going.  I said, Whys that?  He said, Im going to hang out with Jesus. It doesn't get any better than that.

            So even if the bully threatens us by saying, Were going to kill you! and that is taking place in some places in the world, so even if the bully says, Were going to kill you, we can say, Well, do what you need to do and when I get to heaven Ill tell Jesus you said hi and you can sort out your status with him later.  

            Its not as bad as we may think, at least thats Jesus take on it. Because truthfully, this life, in light of the life we will have forever with God, its really not that long.  And I know right now it doesnt feel way.  This present life is really important to us.  I know it's really important to me, but when weve been with Jesus for, I dont know, a billion years, its not going to be that big of a deal.

            Let me ask you this.  Do you remember the first day of third grade?  Youre probably thinking, Not really. Now, the first day of third grade, at the moment, it felt like a really big deal. You were anxious, you were stressed out, you were worried, you were uncomfortable, youre freaking out a little bit. But now in hindsight, youre like, I dont know. It seemed like a big deal at the time.  There have been a few days between now and then.  Its really not that big of a deal.  Our whole life is the first day of third grade.  Thats it.  Our whole life is the first day of third grade.  Were going to die, and if we belong to Jesus, were going to be with Jesus.  In a billion years, people will ask, Well, tell me about your life on earth.  Were like, I dont know, I think I wore a hat.  I dont know. I dont know.  It seemed like a big deal at the time.

            And Jesus says one more thing.  Step one, redirect your fear.  Step two, he says, focus on Gods love for you.  He says,


            Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten in Gods sight.  But even the hairs of your head are all counted.  Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.


            There are always folk around to bring us down to size. 

            Al Carleton was a Bishop in the Methodist church.  His wife had a great sense of humor.  On one occasion after Bishop Carleton had recovered somewhat from an automobile accident, someone asked Mrs. Carleton if he was alright.  She said "He's not alright, but he's back like he was."  The Bishop himself said that shortly after they were married, Mrs. Carleton's mother, his own mother-in-law asked her daughter if Al was "The answer to her prayers?"  And Mrs. Carleton responded "He's not what I dreamed of, but he's what I got; so I guess he's the answer to my prayers."

            There are always folks around us to bring us down to size.

             One day Lady Astor said to Winston Churchill, "Mr. Churchill, if I were your wife I'd poison your tea."  He replied, "Madam, if I were your husband, I should drink it."

            There are always people around who will bring us down to size.  What we need is to be brought up to size. That's what Jesus is seeking to do here to bring us up to size.  Can you believe it?  God notes even the fall of sparrows, and we are more important than many sparrows.  What a powerful way he put it, "Even the hairs on your head are all counted."  We don't have to worry, we dont have to be afraid of bullies, if we know that we are important to God.