Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit are three-in-one.
In almost every sermon I mention the need to continue what the disciples had started, to get the Word out to those who are searching, to reach the lost, to proclaim the truth. I’m sure some of you might wish I might find another topic to focus on sometimes.
So, why is my message persistent? It’s because there is no greater calling than this. Until we find it in ourselves to persistently follow this call to live and share the Gospel, despite our fear to do so, I will persistently remind everyone of this most important calling we have received.
The message has to be persistent because our fear of resistance to this calling in a fallen world is real and deep. The devil uses fear to shut us up. He whispers in our ears all that might happen should we step out in faith. He knows the power of fear, so he exploits it.
During His years as premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of the policies and atrocities of Joseph Stalin. Once, as he criticized Stalin in a public meeting, Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience. “You were one of Stalin’s colleagues. Why didn’t you stop him?” “Who said that,” roared Khrushchev.
An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle. Then Khrushchev replied quietly, “Now you have your answer.” The point was well taken. In Stalin’s time, fear was everywhere. Stalin was a madman responsible for taking millions of lives among his own people, some merely because they dared to disagree with him.
I look at our current times and I see anger and resentment almost everywhere, much of it brought on by fear induced by our leaders. They get people to fear they’ll have their freedoms taken away or that they won’t be able to do some of the things they were able to do previously. To make it worse, the media seems to play into this. Today, it’s hard to find any news source that doesn’t slant severely to the left or to the right hoping to boil up enough fear and anger that people will stay tuned in and give them bigger ratings.
Fear is a powerful motivator. It can cause some to do some pretty crazy and irrational things. It can control your every thought and your every action, even as we try to live out our lives in faith. Even amongst Christ’s disciples there was fear. They feared Christ several times as they witnessed the power in His miracles. They feared what would happen on their final trip into Jerusalem. Mark 10:32 reminds us, “And they were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. They were afraid of the unknown and afraid for their master.
In our Gospel lesson we learn of the disciples being sent out to proclaim and to witness to the Gospel. As Jesus sends them, He warns them to stay away from Gentiles and Samaritans for now. He asks them to heal the sick and to raise the dead. He even commands them to cast out demons and all without receiving any pay for their labors.
Can you imagine the fear they must have felt? What if they failed? What if their faith wasn’t great enough? What if they were to meet fierce resistance? What if they challenge me?….. Sound familiar?
Peter feared admitting he was a disciple of Christ during Christ’s trial. The disciples feared the authorities and huddled together in hiding until and even after Jesus had shown Himself after the resurrection.
Fear affects all of us at times. Even standing on the right side of the truth, we harbor fears. What will this person do if I ask them about Jesus? What will this crowd think if I stand up for my Christian beliefs? What will my friends think of me if I ask them to come to church? We harbor fears because we live in a volatile and, in many ways, very unchristian world. We fear the repercussions of our efforts. So, those who need to know the truth, never get the truth, because fear stopped someone from sharing the Gospel with them.
As God’s adopted children, have been called to greater things than fear. We have been called to trust in the one true God who will protect us. We have been called to bear witness to a broken world. We have been called to boldness as servants of Christ. We have been called to courage.
So what is courage? Martin Luther said of courage, “It is, of course, the nature of our flesh and blood to be courageous and cheerful as long as there is no suffering and sorrow. I am, as the proverb puts it, not afraid of ten when I am alone. But when the weather changes, and temptation and trouble come upon us and oppress us, then we have lost the precious promises, and the comforting thoughts vanish as if Christ had never spoken any promise or had left us no comfort whatever.”
Courage of the Christian is defined differently than the courage of those who rely on the world for their strength. Our courage comes from a different source. In the world we get our courage from self-confidence and power. Many times the size of our pocketbook determines the courage we have, sometimes it’s the fear that people have of us that gives us courage. But if you look at it closely, this kind of courage has no staying power. One mistake can evaporate that courage into cowardice.
But the comfort and the courage of Christians comes from a much greater source than ourselves. From pure love Christ sent His Spirit to instill within us all the courage we need to stay the course toward everlasting life.
This kind of inspired courage is steadfast and motivated towards the good. Above all, it’s pleasing to God. This is the kind of Holy Spirit induced courage that allowed the martyrs to face the lions. And we, believe it or not, have the ability to gain this kind of courage.
This is the kind of faithful courage that moves mountains, that overcomes adversity and that tames the world. This is the kind of courage that leads to everlasting life even when all around we see mortal death and decay. Christian courage has staying power. It lets adversities come, confident in the ability to overcome them through faith in Christ. Christian courage turns tragedy into opportunity and failure into accomplishment. It turns the mistakes of others into forgiveness and the weakness of others into strength.
Yet, many of us are still stuck in the mud of our own making. We rely on the world to define our courage. We are more afraid of worldly reaction then we are confident in heavenly grace. When God needs us to counteract the anti-Christian movement we see throughout our country today, we slink back into our comfortable front rooms hoping that someone else will take up the fight. When we are called to be Moses confronting Pharaoh, we act more like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz.
We are called to something greater than cowardice and we have behind us the power of the cross of Christ to give us strength. Because of what Christ was willing to do for us through His death and resurrection, we have inherited His strength in times of struggle and His courage in the face of adversity.
You see, there really can be no Christian growth without Christian courage. Because we live in a world of sin, it takes courage for the Christian to take every step of faith. The courage we find in the cross gives us the extra power to move forward and take new territory for God as he sends us ever more opportunities to increase His kingdom.
We have too much to lose to be content doing nothing. God is calling on all His people to find the courage they have through faith by way of the Holy Spirit working within us.
And serving calls for society, not solitude. Courageously serving our fellow man, as Christ and His apostles did, doesn’t consist of hiding away forever in the safety of the box you’ve constructed around yourself. It involves the same kind of courage Paul showed as He could not help but to share the Gospel, even in times that were very scary indeed. Together we are a Spiritual body and each member so conducts itself for the benefit of the whole.
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32). Things like courage and strength and commitment. All of these incredible gifts are yours in the asking.
You have the power of almighty God behind you and the promises won for us as Christ bravely faced His own death. Don’t seek cheap grace by doing nothing, seek the power of God by making a difference, using the courage only God could provide.
From Matthew 10: 26-28 “So have no fear of (those who persecute you), for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”