Fighting Fear and Finding Family

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Ladies and gentlepersons, our own Bob Stehlin: veteran, altar care extraordinaire, and all around great guy. 

Genesis 15:1-6
Luke 12:32-40

Do you remember what you did ten years ago today? How about fifty? Anniversaries remind us to be thankful, and they remind us, at times, of our own strength. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of the service, it’s an important day for one of ours. Many of you have heard the story, and on this day, we’ll revisit it a bit for those of you who haven’t. 

Of this day, our own Bob Stehlin writes,

“[Today is the] 10th Anniversary of the hardest phone call I ever made in my entire life time.  A call I made on August 11, 2009 to my sister to ascertain whether or not with could have a brother/sister relationship.  The 10th Anniversary of my moving to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will not occur until April 1, 2011, two years later.

I was seventeen year old when I found that my father was alive and stationed in Germany in the United States Army.

I was nineteen years old when I knocked on his door in Germany and introduced myself as his son and the look on my step-mother’s face who was standing behind my father was absolutely priceless. During this visit I was introduced to my sister Evelyn Carol Stehlin (Belanger), who was no more than a year at the time.  That visit lasted exactly four days. I never saw or spoke to my father again.

In May 2009, I told myself that I wasn’t getting any younger and I should see if I could have a relationship with my sister.  I had strong desires for the first time in my life to have A REAL FAMILY.

Having a brother/sister relationship with my sister would provide me with [that].”
Long story short, Bob has friends who are good at finding out things, and soon, he found his sister living in Belchertown, just down the road from here. Of this day, ten years ago, he writes,

“On Sunday, August 11, 2009 at approximately 4:00PM I picked up my phone and called my sister… This was two days after my 66th birthday and 11 days before my sister’s…wedding. I was extremely scared and apprehensive before I picked up the phone which made it extremely hard for me to even dial the number.

4 and a half hours later, I was no longer scared or apprehensive, and I knew I had made correct call in calling my sister and knew that yes I was going to have A REAL FAMILY.  I was extremely excited that in 20 days I would meet not only my sister, but my nephew, niece and brother-in-law. I meet my sister, brother-in-law and nephew at Bradley International Airport on August 31, 2009 and the rest is history.
I have never once since I moved to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts regret that I moved here.”

Bob, we love you, and we celebrate with you, and thank you for sharing your story with us. We’re glad you made that call, too. 

Acceptance makes fear melt away. 

Another anniversary happened this week too, and it was recognized at our denomination’s triennial assembly: the fiftieth anniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran tradition. You might’ve seen it on social media this week: when women clergy of all ages came streaming into the assembly in procession – many of them long ago had looked fear in the face and decided here they stand, in true Lutheran fashion. I stand on many of their shoulders. Because of their courage, the church’s acceptance has, in many ways, made women’s fear melt away. Today, women pastors, deacons, and laypeople are part of the fabric of our church, seen as equal and strong, with plenty of gifts to share. 

We Lutherans, of all genders, are family. 

In the Old Testament reading, Abraham is afraid of rejection, and of not having a family, too, and God drags him outside and shows him the stars. 

God is in the business of quelling our fears and giving us a family. A real family. 

In the Gospel reading, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He’s just spent the several verses before that telling them to not be afraid. He knows. 

He knows they live in an occupied land. He knows they’re afraid of the possibility of getting kicked out of their religious communities for following Jesus. He knows they’re afraid. 

We, too, know what it means to be afraid. Despite having faced our fears in years past, fear always comes again. 

Shootings in Dayton and El Paso, which are only the latest mass shootings of the over 200 that we’ve endured this year. Fear over white supremacist terrorism and political turmoil. Fear over talking to our relatives and neighbors about politics. And when we fear our neighbors, we start to hate them.

In the words of Yoda, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

To add to that, we’ve got our own more personal fears, too. Fear that we’re not good enough. Fear over jobs and money and relationships. Fear that we will somehow be left all alone. Depending on your religious upbringing, you might have even felt some fear over this Gospel reading: will you be ready when the bridegroom comes?

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” 

Not because you’re good enough or tried hard enough, but just because you are. I know. In this era, in every era, that’s hard to believe. Grace is hard like that. But in those times when we allow ourselves to believe it — that we are loved, that we can have a real family, that we can love our neighbors as ourselves, or simply that we’re not getting any younger and we might as well just go for it — we get glimpses that it really is true. We find family. We find ourselves. We find acceptance and love. And no matter what, always, God finds us. 

Often despite myself, I still believe that there’s value in searching ancient texts for clues to help us deal with fear in our own time. That maybe our ancestors knew something about how to deal with uncertainty. Maybe they knew something about fear and pain and joy and heartbreak and hope. Maybe they knew something deep and true about how to be human. From Abraham to the disciples, they knew. And Jesus knew, too. 

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Because the truth is that none of us is getting younger, and none of this — whether it’s the news or our own lives — none of this is getting any less scary. So as far as I’m concerned, we might as well take Jesus at his word. We might as well look back to our ancestors and think about what they have come through and on whose shoulders we stand. We might as well take courage, and acceptance, and family, where we can find it. 

Yes, we are all afraid and nervous about the future. But here, we find family. At its best, the church gives us the courage to show up and Jesus gives us the nourishment at the table to keep moving, despite our fear. At its best, the church is a family, too, full of love and full of acceptance. 

Do not be afraid, little flock. 

Do not be afraid of shrinking numbers or white supremacists or the future. Do not be afraid to talk to your neighbors or call your family. And do not be afraid to walk into the future that is yours. Do not be afraid to pick up the phone and make that call, to say I love you to that person who needs to hear it, or to finally look in the mirror and love yourself. And when it gets really hard, let God drag you outside like Abraham and show you the stars — and may you see that you are a small but beloved part of this world, and that the world is not ending just yet. 

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” 

This, my dear, sweet Lutheran family, this is most certainly true. Amen.

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