Sermon: Arise, and Be Not Afraid.
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 3:13-14]
In our Lessons for today, we have two accounts of personal encounters with God. In our Old Testament lesson, we have Moses coming in contact with God as God gives Moses the Laws that the Israelites will have to live by to be God’s people:
And the glory of the LORD abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.
This encounter was life-altering for Moses and all those around him. After this encounter, Moses’ countenance changed. The glory of the Lord shone from his face so brightly that all the people asked Moses to wear a veil on his face.
What strikes me about this situation is the difference between this veil and the veil in the Temple. Remember that when Christ died, the Temple veil was torn in half. We Christians believe this was to signify a difference. No longer was God unapproachable. No longer did we need a sacrifice to approach God because His only Son became the ultimate, perpetual sacrifice that insures our entry into God’s presence.
But with Moses, God’s glory shone on his face, and the PEOPLE demanded a veil. In one, the people are creating the veil between God and man, and in the other, that veil is finally destroyed.
This sums up mankind’s relationship with God throughout the ages. Since the fall of Man, men and women have sought to hide themselves, hide their nakedness – their true nature – from God. One pitiful way to do this is to create a veil. That veil was never intended by God. However, man needed it. Only God could put this separation to rest once and for all.
In our Gospel lesson, we have the Transfiguration of Jesus, and Peter, James, and John’s encounter with God:
While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
What did the Apostles do? They covered their faces. It seems to be our natural inclination to hide from God. Yet, this is NOT what God wants:
And Jesus came and touched them, and said, “Arise, and be not afraid.”
What an incredible, yet little phrase. But in this passage is everything that summarizes Christianity. It is why we describe those who believe as being “in love with the Lord.” And it is why the worldly cannot understand our faith.
The first thing we hear is that Jesus came up to these three frightened saints and touched them. I can just picture how Christ did this. It was probably a friendly, gentle embrace of their back or shoulder with His palm. And He probably did it with a smile on His face. After all, these three are cowering on the ground with their faces well hidden. Yet, Jesus knows there is no reason to be frightened. So, He tells His Apostles, “Arise, and be not afraid.”
This little act of kindness is a perfect demonstration of God’s love. God does NOT want cowering children; He wants loving disciples. And He wants us to CHOOSE to love Him.
Think about it. Who wants or believes someone who says they love you because they feel obligated to say so, or are made to say so? How many wealthy people are never sure that someone loves them because of their money or truly because of the person they are?
God could have created a race of robots, but He did not. Even His angels have free-choice. We know this because we know that there are some who have chosen NOT to love Him. No, God wants people that want to love Him.
Although the Old Testament tells us that the beginning of true wisdom is fear of the Lord, what God truly wants from us is our love and our faithfulness. And for this reason, God has sacrificed His only begotten Son so that those who do believe can have eternal life.
God loves us. God never intended the separation between Him and mankind. And God sent His Son so that this separation, this tear in the divine fabric, could be mended. Yet, we still fail; we still fall on our faces and cower when we should be standing. We are afraid even though Christ, Himself, tells us “be not afraid.” And the reason for our failure often is because we are ashamed of all our past failings.
But if there is one thing that I would like you to take away from our lessons for today it is the fact that the past is the past. We are to let it go and move forward:
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
In the Anglican Faith, we have two methods for confession. The first is through our personal confession directly to God. The second is through our confession to a priest and his absolution of our sins. In the past, I have been asked why some people need the second method, and my answer is that, for at least some, they are not confident that they are truly forgiven until and unless someone tells them that they are, in fact, forgiven. Many Christians suffer from this type of insecurity.
Many Christians have a hard time forgetting and forgiving their past. They may know that God loves them, yet they can’t seem to let go. They are ashamed or embarrassed. But this is a total waste of energy. If we do this, we are spending our time reliving something we cannot change. Yes, we are to learn from our past errors; but no, we are not to live in the past.
Dwelling on our past sins is NOT what God tells us we should do. If God forgives us, we ARE forgiven. We must let go of the past; and we must look toward the future.
This reminds me of a man who had marital problems and went to his priest for counseling. The man said, “But Father, whenever Joan and I quarrel, she becomes historical.”
The priest smiled, “You mean hysterical.” “No father, I mean historical. She’s always digging up my past.”
God tells us that, when we become Christians, all our pasts are past. We are NOT to relive them. We are NOT to dig them up. We are to let them go and know that all IS utterly forgiven. No residuals; no remainders.
As Christians, it is our duty to let go of the past. We are to learn from our mistakes, BUT we are also to let go of the shame and guilt. We must believe what God has told us. And we must “Arise, and be not afraid.” And when we do, we may not see the face of God, but we will surely feel His presence AND His love.