Be still then, and know that I am God. [Psalm 46:10]
This statement in the Psalm appointed for today has always been a powerful statement to me. I have always wanted to paint this statement above the door to our church. And I am told that it IS above the doors to Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. However, as lovely as it may seem, what does this statement really mean? And why is it appointed with our lessons for today?
Today’s lessons seem to be a mishmash of statements without any coherent theme. Yet, when this happens, it just means we have to be more diligent in ferreting out the meanings.
In our Old Testament Lesson, we have the prophet Jeremiah, first, warning us:
“Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture,” saith the LORD. Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people, “Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings,” saith the LORD.
Jeremiah is warning the false pastors of what will befall them because of their evil ways. But this is NOT what this passage is really about. In fact, what all our lessons for today have in common is that they all speak, in their own way, about the end of fear.
I have often seen that bumper sticker and car decal that says “No Fear.” I always thought it to be a prideful boast – one that reflects a lack of understanding. But our lessons also speak to this concept. They speak of the end of fear. They are not statements of pride where we boast of our own abilities to resist fear, but rather they speak of a lack of fear that comes from “resting in the Lord.”
If we move from this statement of warning to the next, we read this:
“And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds, and they shall be fruitful and increase. And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking,” saith the LORD. [Emphasis added]
In other words, even though there are shepherds leading their flocks astray, God promises here to increase His flock WITHOUT the assistance of the negligent shepherds. And what is more, God will set up new shepherds over these sheep who will “feed” them. And the result will be the end of fear.
Now, although this passage is speaking about some future date, we can also take comfort in the fact that God is telling us that He is in control. The growth of the flock has nothing to do with the pastors. In fact, here Jeremiah is telling us that the flock will grow IN SPITE of the pastors and NOT because of them. The flock grows, not because of human effort but because God has willed it and caused it to happen. As a result of the knowledge that God is in control, we should have no fear. And, conversely, we should have no fear precisely because we are NOT in control.
This notion that we should not fear because we have no control is something that Christ echoes time and time again in the New Testament. We are not to fear what we shall eat or what we shall wear because God is our Father and will take care of us. It is the same here. We are not to fear because there will come a time when the flock will grow and good shepherds will be put in the place of bad ones:
“Behold, the days come,” saith the LORD, “that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.”
When we see the phrase “the days come,” this means that it will happen in some future date. And we know when this event happened. The Lord raised the righteous Branch of David in Jesus Christ. However, is He reigning now “in the earth?”
In the Gospel lesson, we have the account of the two criminals being executed with Christ. One derides Jesus, whereas the other comes to believe that this Man being executed with them is, in fact, the promised Messiah. When this criminal comes to this conclusion, the man asks:
“Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”
This is a fascinating and perceptive statement. It is as if this common criminal that has done something so heinous that he is being executed by the Roman authorities can see what the Jewish religious leaders failed to see. This criminal sees that this IS the Messiah, and that His present life on earth is only part one. He also seems to know that the second part is when Christ will come into His Kingdom. This is truly amazing.
But finally, we have this statement from Saint Paul:
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
In these lessons, we have an image of the Kingdom of God and what it means for us Christians. And the pivotal event where everything comes into focus is the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom of God has two components. The first is what will be the Kingdom on Earth when Christ comes again. It will fulfill all that Jeremiah has prophesied. Justice and peace will reign.
But, there is a Kingdom of God that exists here and now. This is the Kingdom about which Saint Paul writes; but this is the Kingdom that many of us miss. It is not visible; it does not have boarders or a flag. It is not something to which we can readily point, but it DOES exist. This kingdom is the spiritual Kingdom of Christ to which all believers belong. And its form of governance is the Church.
The Church of Christ is made up of ALL the faiths that adhere to the Nicene Creed and that believe the orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith. It is the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Church and a host of other protestant denominations. Although the Church of Christ is currently fragmented, it still is all within the Kingdom of God. And it adheres to only one supreme ruler – Jesus Christ Himself.
The criminal who recognized Christ may have been seized with fear as he hung on his cross, but for some reason, he was able to perceive who Christ is. If not, this criminal would not have asked to be remembered when Christ came into His Kingdom. Both were dying. If this criminal thought that Christ’s Kingdom was of this world, would he have asked such a thing? No. He did NOT think they would be saved; rather, he knew that Christ’s Kingdom would come, but that it also had a spiritual component. And Christ’s response is just as telling:
“Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
Today – not tomorrow, not after the resurrection, but today. Because of this statement, the catholic faith holds that to be reconciled to Christ is to be in paradise immediately. But the faith also holds that the souls of the departed are in the presence of the Lord and experience a foretaste of His glory before the final resurrection.
To be in God’s Kingdom and to be in Paradise with Christ once we become Christians and are baptized is to be in a place where there should be no fear. And this brings us back to the Psalm for today:
GOD is our hope and strength, * a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved, * and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof rage and swell, * and though the mountains shake at the tempest of the same.
We are still BECAUSE we know that God is our Lord. In other words, we are at peace and we are without fear because we know God is our King and He is in charge of everything that comes about on earth:
The LORD of hosts is with us; * the God of Jacob is our refuge.
At the end of each communion service we have a blessing which speaks of the peace of God which passes ALL understanding. We ask God to give each of us this peace. But this peace should be with us already. This peace comes from our faith in Christ. This peace comes from being one of the faithful sheep in God’s flock. This peace comes from knowing all things are in God’s control and not ours. And this peace comes from knowing that we are part of God’s kingdom, both here on earth and in heaven. And with such wonderful knowledge and understanding, we can proclaim the end of fear.