Saturday, February 7, 2009

Be Not Afraid! I Go Before You Always. Come, Follow Me!

In Mark’s gospel, Chapter 6, Jesus sends the Twelve out two by two, instructing them to preach a gospel of repentance. When they returned, they reported to him that they had driven out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil, and they were healed. Then, because so many people were coming and going in the town, he said to them, “Come with me to a quiet place, so we can rest awhile”. So, fishermen that they were, they got into a boat and rowed off to a deserted spot on the opposite shore of the lake.

In the book of Exodus, we read that the way from Egypt to the Promised Land was through the Desert of Sinai, which is, now as then, one of the most barren and lonely places on the earth. You might recall that it took forty years for the People to get to the place God had promised to Abraham and his descendants. During those four decades, they had nothing to eat but manna (the word literally means “What’s this?”) It’s no wonder that they yearned for the “good old days” when they were slaves in Egypt. At least then, they were well fed! The book of Deuteronomy, which was written later than Exodus, tells us more clearly what the LORD’s purpose was, when he sent his people out into the desert: before his people could enter the promised land, they first had to learn that “man does not live on bread alone, but by what comes from the mouth of God.” (Deut. 8:3) That learning cannot be achieved merely by listening to a teacher, even if the teacher is Jesus himself.

Learning how to cross the desert is rather like one of the first lessons you and I learned when we were children: how to cross the street. Phase one is not putting one foot in front of the other, right – left, right –left, until we reach the other sidewalk. It is not even taking Mommy’s (or Daddy’s) hand before taking that first step. The initial phase of the process of learning how to cross the street is to place our trust in Mommy or Daddy when they reach down with their palm open, and say, “Take my hand, and don’t be afraid.” The first phase of crossing street, crossing the desert, or crossing the span of life’s events between birth and death, however long that journey might be, is the lesson taught in that song (I can’t call it a hymn) from the 60s, that begins “You will cross the burning desert . . . “ The title, and the message is “Be not afraid! I go before you always. Come, follow me, and I will give you rest.”

Before Jesus sent his first twelve disciples out into the world to preach and teach the gospel, he invited them to a deserted place, and taught them to trust Him wherever He might lead them. Soon, we will begin this year’s Lenten Season, and we will be reminded day by day and week by week that He led Peter, James and John to the summit of the Mount of Transfiguration, before He brought them with Him to the Mount of Olives, and before all of them but John did not accompany Him to Mount Calvary. I can’t tell you where he will lead you between now and your resurrection. But I can promise – no, I can remind you of His promise – that wherever He leads, you will be escorted by armies of angels, by invisible armies of angels. So, trust Him. And Be Not Afraid!

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