Homily, Watching for Gators or God?
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14C, 2022
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What are you most afraid of?
When I was in college my brother and I took up kayaking in the lakes and rivers of central Florida so that I could face one of my greatest childhood fears: alligators.
When I was a child I was terrified of gators. We lived on a lake that had way too many of them and we heard stories everyday of gators attacking dogs in the neighborhood. At one point the problem became bad enough that my mom wouldn’t let me play outside and I can remember having regular nightmares about the gators. Eventually the city came out to remove some of them and the situation got better, but for a while we had a real problem with gators. And so I was afraid of them.
Years later, when my brother and I started kayaking together, I was still afraid of them! We’d be kayaking through these tight spaces and my eyes would always be on the lookout for gators that could pop up from the water at any moment. I’d make my brother go around the little river bends first. Any little stick floating in the water my mind immediately saw as a gator. And when we came across real gators, which of course was often, I’d be sure to always give them lots and lots of space and if possible, choose a different direction. I was ready and watchful.
To be honest, I didn’t enjoy those first few times kayaking, because it was just too stressful. It was tiring moving through water on high alert that whole time, always expecting the worst. Seeing danger around every corner. My whole experience of kayaking was gripped by this childhood fear.
That’s the way fear can be though, can’t it?When we’re afraid of something, it shapes the way we see the world. When we’re afraid of something we use so much energy imagining the worst—seeing the possibility of danger around every corner. We’re watchful and ready for whatever we fear.
If we’re afraid of disease or death, for example, we might see it wherever we go. How many of you spend a little too much time on WebMD? Small and common things like occasional headaches or an upset stomach might worry us. We might move through life always expecting illness, watchful for the worst case scenario.
Or if we’re afraid of rejection, we might move through life on the defensive in our relationships. Maybe we try to control and cling to people around us to avoid the possibility of losing someone. Perhaps we don’t enter into new relationships because we fear the risk is too great.
Or if we’re afraid of financial insecurity, we might move through life always on the lookout for overdue bills, unexpected expenses, letters of termination. We might let our anxiety about the possibility of financial insecurity drive our life so that it’s hard to see anything else. Maybe we obsess with looking for ways to make or save money wherever we go so that we know we’ll always have enough.
Like moving through the water with a fear of gators, often we move through life with an obsessive watchfulness for all the things we fear.
And the sad thing about this is what we miss when we’re focused on what we fear. We can’t see the beauty of things all around us. Those first few times out on the kayak, we’d be in these beautiful places, but I was so focused on my fear of gators that it was hard for me to fully appreciate it.
That’s what our gospel passage is about today. It begins with the words, “Do not be afraid, little flock” and ends with the words, “You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Do not be afraid! You must be ready for the Son of Man.
In life we are often watchful and ready for whatever it is we fear, but what would it look like to be watchful and ready for the presence of Christ? What if rather than going through life focusing on the bad things that could happen we focused on the good and beautiful ways Christ is showing up in our midst? What if we opened our hearts to be ready for Christ to show up wherever we are?
Now, that’d be a beautiful way of living, wouldn’t it?
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Whatever we treasure, whatever we protect, whatever we hold dear, that’s what the focus of our lives is going to be. So if we’re spending all of our energy holding onto our fears, that’s what we’ll see in life. We’ll see the world as a dangerous place from which to protect ourselves. But if we spend our energy watching for Christ to show up, we’ll begin to see the beauty of the world he is making.
You see the difference?
Are we watching for gators or God?
It’s been probably been about 15 years since my brother and I first took up kayaking and these days I love kayaking. But what made the difference, was letting go of my fear and opening up my eyes to see the beauty of the places I was in. That’s the invitation of the gospel this morning.
So what is it that you fear most?
Whatever it is that you fear, whatever it is that drives your life, whatever it is that dims the beauty of this world, Jesus is asking you to let go, so that you can witness the incredible ways that Christ is working in the world around you and in your very life.
It takes time—it’s a habit we have to cultivate—but it’s worth it.
So do not be afraid, little flock. Be ready for the coming of Christ in every moment. Amen.