Tag Archives: fear

“Wide Awake” – Sermon on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11



“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”  

– 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11


In the movie “Wide Awake,” there is a 10 year-old boy named Joshua whose beloved grandfather had recently suffered from bone cancer and passed away. Throughout the movie, Joshua has flashbacks of times he spent with his grandfather. One of the most touching flashbacks is when Joshua tells his dying grandfather through tears that he is scared, and when Joshua fearfully asks his grandfather if he, too, is scared, his grandfather replies, “You know I’ll be alright because God will take care of me.”

Yet, after his grandfather passes away, Joshua struggles to find interest in his school and friends, and his parents have to drag him out of bed every morning and encourage him to have some fun. We later find out that Joshua fears that his grandfather is not – indeed – alright. That maybe there is not in fact a God who will take care of him.

Fear had gotten the best of Joshua. And throughout the beginning of the movie, fear consumes him and keeps him from experiencing the joys in the people and the world around him.



I think this is at the heart of the situation that Paul is addressing in his first letter to the Thessalonians. You see, these early Christ-followers in Thessalonica had a lot to fear. They had only recently become converts to this new faith movement. And, yet, it is not too long after Paul begins his ministry with them, that he and other leaders start to face severe persecution for teaching about a Messiah who would save God’s people from the oppressive Empire. And soon Paul and the other leaders are kicked out of the city, leaving these early Christ-followers to fend for themselves.

These new Christ-followers are scared. Scared for the safety of their new friends. Scared for their own lives. Scared for their future.

Scared that maybe Paul had gotten it all wrong.

Because if Paul was right about this Jesus being the Son of God, the Messiah – the one who is supposed to come and bring them salvation – then why on earth were they facing persecution for following him? And if Paul was right about this Jesus who is supposed to return again and deliver them from death, then why hadn’t Jesus returned before some of their friends and relatives had already died? What would happen to those deceased friends and family now? Would they be left behind when Jesus comes again?


I think this is an unwanted feeling that many of us know too well today… Especially in times like these.

And fear is a natural human feeling.

One that even Paul, Silas, and many of the early Christians most likely felt numerous times. One that even Jesus felt and so honestly expressed while hanging from the cross as he cried out to God before taking his final breath.

We are not alone when we experience feelings of fear.

And fear is a normal human feeling that can guide us in making important choices and taking safety measures when needed.

And yet while this is true, I think we also need to be careful about how much power we allow our fears to have. Because in times like these, it can be incredibly easy to allow our fears to consume us and to take over our lives. Our fears can drag us down into the dark – where we become blind to the needs of those around us. These fears can transform us into being people of the night – as Paul explains in Thessalonians – rather than of the day, where we spend most of our time asleep with our eyes shut to the joys and the beauty in our world.

And this is where I think Gandhi is right in saying that “the enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is fear.”

I think fear can become our enemy when – in times like these – we allow our fears to have power over us. When our fears of failure, change, or the unknown future hold us back from taking chances. Or when our fears of loneliness and rejection hold us back from opening ourselves up to new relationships or publicly standing up against injustices. When we allow our fears about our children’s safety to keep us from letting them try new things and grow up as unique individuals. When our fear that we might not have enough keeps us – as individuals or as a church – from giving to those in need around us. Or when our fears of the “other” blind us so that we don’t see and experience the image of God in our siblings who may appear to be different from us.

I think that while fear is incredibly human, it becomes our enemy when we allow our fears to keep us from actually living.

And so Paul compassionately reassures the Thessalonian Christ-followers that they need not be consumed by fear.

And Paul’s pastoral words to the Thessalonians are also words for us today. Just before our passage today, Paul explains that we must not be uninformed about those who have died and we must not grieve the loss of our loved-ones as others do who have no hope. For we can be assured that “through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.”   When Jesus returns, these beloved ones will not be left behind. For just as Jesus died and resurrected from the dead – so too shall those who have died, be raised from the dead when Jesus comes again. And – as Paul says – for those of us who are alive at Jesus’ return, we – too – will join with those who are already deceased to meet and be with Christ forever.

And this is why we can boldly proclaim with hope the words we confess every week: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Therefore, Paul urges us: “Encourage one another with these words.”

Paul then provides further encouragement in our passage for today.

“Now regarding the times and the seasons,” Paul says, “we will not know the time Jesus will return again. It will happen quickly – when we least expect it – like when a woman’s labor pains suddenly kick in or when a thief appears in the middle of the night.”

However, we must not live without hope and consumed in fear. For – we are not asleep, we are not dead – Paul reminds us. We are not children of the dark, children of the night, where our eyes remain closed to our neighbors needs, the world’s injustices, or to the joys and beauty that surround us. Rather, we are children of the light, children of the day.

“Therefore, let us not fall asleep, as others do,” Paul urges us. “Keep awake.”


Now, you may be wondering what happened to Joshua in the movie Wide Awake. After a while, he finally announces one day that he is going to go on a mission to look for God to make sure his grandpa is okay. And so throughout the rest of the movie, Joshua goes in search for God. And while on his journey, Joshua begins to find some joy through his friends and a new adolescent crush and relationship, whose name – of course – is none other than Hope.

And he eventually gains empathy for those whom he had least expected, including the not-so-popular annoying kid who longs for attention and the class bully that Joshua later realizes is using his aggression to cover his own insecurities and struggles at home. By the end of the movie, Joshua is able to get out of bed easily, have fun with his friends, and find joys in the world around him. And he finally comes to the conclusion that his grandfather is okay because Joshua had found God. Because God had, indeed, been present in the little things in life, through the people he had encountered, and through the empathy and compassion he had shared with others.

At the end of the movie, Joshua explains this as he reads a poem he wrote in class: “I spent this year looking for something, and ended up seeing everything around me. It’s like I was asleep. I’m wide awake now.”


I think this is sort of what Paul is talking about in his letter to the Thessalonians when he encourages his readers to live as children of the day. For – Paul says – we can hold onto the hope that God has not destined for us wrath, but rather God has destined for us salvation through Jesus Christ. A salvation that comes through and because of our Messiah, our loving Lord and Savior, who died for each one of us, so that we might live with him. That not only will we live with God for eternity after we pass on from this world, but that we might also live with and experience God – in the here and now – as we are awake and alive in this world today.

It is for this reason that Paul urges us to be not afraid. To shield our hearts with faith and love.  To protect our minds with the hope of salvation that we have in the promise of Jesus, who died for us so that we might live.

So let us choose to live. To remain wide awake to what’s happening in the world around us.

Let us choose hope over fear.

And therefore, as Paul says, encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are already doing.


“Peace Be With You” – A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter on John 20:19-31



When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” – John 20:19-31

This morning’s passage in John occurs in the late afternoon – on the same day Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where Jesus’s body had been buried, found the tomb empty, and was later visited by the resurrected Jesus. And so our passage this morning begins after Mary shares this great news to the disciples that Jesus is risen and alive.

But instead of rejoicing, the disciples run off to one of their homes, close the doors behind them, and lock them … out of fear.

Out of fear that those who had attempted to silence Jesus by arresting him and putting him to death would now come after them. And especially out of fear of Jesus, himself. Now that he is alive, what would Jesus think of his friend Peter, who denied that he knew Jesus – not just one time, but three times – after Jesus was arrested? And what about the other disciples – Jesus’ closest friends who had been traveling with him for three years? How could they face Jesus after he had cared for and invested in them for so long, and yet the minute he was arrested, they bailed on him: they fled and left him to fend for himself in his most excruciating moments as he was spit on, ridiculed, and beaten, nailed to a cross, and hung from it until he took his final breath? Would Jesus be so infuriated with them that he would give up on them? Would he deny, betray, and even condemn them because they had denied and betrayed him? Would they no longer have a place in the Kingdom of God?


I can often relate to Jesus’ disciples in this passage. There have been many times throughout my life when I have denied and betrayed Jesus, and because of this, I tend to avoid him out of fear of what he might think of me or say to me – were I to actually confront him in those moments. And I wonder if there are others here this morning who can relate to these disciples, as well. I wonder if many of us often choose to run and hide behind closed and locked doors, in attempts to keep Jesus out of our lives, because we fear what he might think and say about our failures, our insecurities, or our actions of denying, avoiding, and betraying him. I wonder if many of us choose to run and hide because we fear that if we actually do unlock the door for Jesus to enter into our lives, he just might not like what he sees.  


Yet, in our passage, when the disciples hide behind closed doors – hoping to avoid Jesus and what he might say and do were he to find them – they are unsuccessful. Even behind locked doors, Jesus shows up. And yet, he does not appear to them in the way they had expected and feared. Jesus doesn’t show up angry, bitter, and judgmental. He doesn’t order them to give him answers to why they denied, betrayed, or even hid from him. He doesn’t demand that they ask him for forgiveness. Instead, he just shows up, holds out his wrists so that they can touch the holes where he had been nailed to the cross and points to his side so they can see the gash where he had been stabbed with a spear, and he says: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

You see, instead of coming with vengeance and wrath – as the disciples had feared – Jesus just shows up to them – in the midst of their fears and failures – and immediately and freely offers them the peace, love, and grace of God – before they even have the chance to open their mouths to explain their actions or to ask him for forgiveness. Jesus just shows up to them in that small home where they were hiding from and avoiding him – because Jesus wanted them to know that no matter what, they are claimed as God’s beloved children and are cherished and loved by God unconditionally.


Not all of the disciples were present to witness Jesus as he appears to them. Thomas, the twin, is missing for some reason. It may have been because he was out running errands at the local market or had gone to find out for himself if Jesus was alive. We don’t know. But whatever the reason, Thomas misses out on this incredible event.

And so you can just imagine his surprise when he later comes to the home after Jesus had departed, and is greeted by the other disciples who tell him that they had just seen their friend Jesus. That the one who had been arrested, killed on the cross, and buried in the tomb only a few days before is now alive and is offering them new life, as well.

But Thomas doesn’t believe it.

Now, I have heard this passage from John preached on a lot. And unfortunately, I have heard too many sermons and I’ve read too many commentaries on this text that do it a disservice by emphasizing Thomas’ doubts and his questions and by suggesting that because of these doubts and questions, this “Doubting Thomas” was unfaithful.

I don’t know about you, but if that were me coming back to the rest of the disciples, I’d respond just as Thomas did. I’d think these disciples were crazy.  Or at least I’d think they were playing me. And like Thomas, I would hold onto my doubts and questions.  I would refuse to believe until Jesus, himself, held out his scarred hands in front of my eyes and allowed me to touch his wounded side.

And, yet, even though Thomas doubted that Jesus had been raised from the dead and had appeared to his friends, and even though he missed out on Jesus the first time Jesus showed himself to the disciples, a week later Jesus comes back to the home and appears to Thomas, as well. Jesus comes back to the home so that Thomas can see, touch, and experience Jesus for himself. And without judgment or condemnation, Jesus asks Thomas to touch his wounded hands and side and he says: “Peace be with you.”


This morning, as we began worship, we offered up thanksgiving for our baptism. And boy, do we have a lot to be thankful for. For, just as Jesus showed up to his disciples in our passage in the Gospel of John, claiming them as his beloved children, Jesus shows up to us in and through our baptism, as well.

You see, our baptism promises that even in our times of fear, doubts, and questioning – and even when we choose to deny, flee, and hide behind closed and locked doors – Jesus has and will show up. And when he does, he claims us as God’s beloved children – no matter our failures or actions against him – and he offers us his peace and grace before we can even ask for forgiveness or even acknowledge our wrongs.

And even if we, like Thomas, miss the first or second or third time Jesus shows up and even if we shut our eyes, turn the other way, or go out the backdoor when he comes to us in order to avoid him, Jesus will keep on lovingly and patiently returning to us over and over and over again until we are ready to open our eyes to see him, reach out our hands to touch him, and accept the peace, forgiveness, and unconditional love he offers us.  

In our baptism, we are claimed by our compassionate and merciful God – who loves us in and through all of our failures, our insecurities, our doubts and our questions. In our baptism, we are called and welcomed into this Kingdom of God that is full of grace.  We are welcomed into this Kingdom of God that nothing and no one can keep us from. For, as Paul stated in his letter to the Romans: “not even death nor life, not even angels nor demons, not even the present nor the future, nor anything we have done or will do – can separate us from this love of God.”

So as we continue to journey through this Easter season, learning to live as Easter people and proclaiming the good news that Jesus has risen, let us also continue to remember our baptism. Let us remember that each one of us has been welcomed into the Kingdom of God and each one of us is and will always be claimed by God as God’s beloved and cherished child. Because no matter what we do or say or think, in the midst of all of our fears, failures, and doubts, Jesus will keep on showing up to us, offering us God’s peace whenever we are ready to accept it. And no matter how imperfect we may be – just like the earliest disciples, Jesus continues to call out to us in and through our baptism: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

So let us go – as Jesus sends us – out into the world as Easter people, proclaiming this good news that Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!