Sermon for Sunday, February 23, 2020 – “Arise, Do Not Be Afraid”

Last Sunday after Epiphany – Transfiguration of Our Lord
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passage for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

“You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Those words from our second reading today captured my imagination this week.

We would do well to be attentive indeed. The author of the reading is saying that we would do well to be attentive to the prophetic message about Jesus. Yet, it struck me that we would do well just to be generally more attentive.

We would do well to be attentive to the colors of our loved ones’ eyes, to the sun sparkling on snow, to the song of chickadees, to the needs of those who face hunger, homelessness and persecution. In paying attention to these things, we pay attention to God. For God’s eye is on the sparrow and God is close to the brokenhearted. An attentive awareness of God’s presence is like a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.

We would be well to be attentive. Yet, that’s so hard for us. Often, we can’t pay attention because we’ve got so much to do and we’re getting pulled in too many directions. The tasks run through our brains in a continual anxiety producing loop making it hard to notice the sunset. Other times, our brains just shut down due to information overload.

Some days we want to cover our faces and stop up our ears because things feel so fearful, so heart- breaking that we can’t bear to take it all in. Other days we really want to give the world our full attention, but find ourselves in a fog of sorrow, anger or memory loss.

And then there are times when we’re just mindlessly scrolling through social media or email – sometimes shopping, sometimes reading news – while a show plays in the background, while we pretend to be listening to someone else. This is such a common phenomenon there’s even a name for it – continuous partial attention. Sometimes it’s caused by boredom, sometimes by a fear of missing out; but either way we find ourselves stuck and drained of life.

We would do well to be attentive, but that’s not an easy thing to do. God knows that. So, God goes to great lengths to get our attention, to get through to us. God comes to us in Jesus so that we might know that God loves us and pays attention to us so that we might join God in attending to the beau- ty and the needs of the world. In Jesus, God has gone to great lengths to get through to us. Yet, we still often miss what God is doing in Jesus.

In our Gospel story today, Peter, James and John aren’t really getting it either. They can’t see that Jesus is God with them. They can’t take it all in. So, Jesus takes them up on a mountain where his glory is revealed. He is transfigured before them, his face shines like the sun, and his clothes become dazzling white. This should get through to them, but rather than standing in awe and taking it all in, Peter decides he should do something, even if it’s wrong. He seems to take the approach that if things don’t make sense, it’s better just to keep busy so you don’t really have to deal with it all.

Then God speaks out of a cloud and declares, “This is my son, listen to him!” That should get their attention. Except, it frightens them so much that they fall to the ground, overcome by fear – not exactly the best posture for active listening. I suppose that’s a tension God always has to navigate – how to get through to us without completely overwhelming us.

Finally, Jesus comes to the disciples, touches them and says, “Get up and do not be afraid.” “Get up,” he says, yet what he’s saying is not just get off the ground. The Greek verb here is the same word the angel uses to tell the women at the empty tomb that Jesus has been resurrected, “He has been raised!” the angel says. So, what Jesus actually says to the disciples on the mountain is more like, “arise”, “be raised up”, or even “be resurrected.” When the disciples are overwhelmed by God’s voice, when they are cowering on the ground in fear, Jesus touches them and resurrects them.

He raises them into new life, new awareness, new attentive participation in what God is doing in the world. He assures them they do not need to be afraid, he is with them.

These words – “arise” and “do not be afraid”- are repeated throughout scripture to God’s people who are lost, inattentive, overwhelmed and fearful. They were spoken to the disciples long ago and they are spoken now today to us. God speaks to us through holy scripture in a manner that’s a little less scary than a voice from a cloud to say, “Do not be afraid.”

And, Jesus comes to us in holy communion. As we meet him in his body and blood, he touches us and resurrects us. He raises us up from our fears, anxieties, inattentiveness – from all that drains away our life and keeps us stuck. He empowers us to attend to the needs and the beauty of this world.

“Arise, do not be afraid.” We would do well to be attentive to this message. It is a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.

“Arise, do not be afraid.” Jesus is here to help us receive that message.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.