It is the most oft-repeated command of the Bible. God spoke these words to Joshua as he took leadership of the Hebrew people following the death of Moses. The angel of the Lord so commanded Mary when he announced her pregnancy. Jesus said as much to his disciples when he appeared to them after the resurrection. Paul the apostle so wrote to encouraged his readers in the Christian community in Philippi.
Hundreds of times in sacred scripture we are urged, encouraged, and commanded not to fear. Obedience to this command ranks right up there beside “love your neighbor” as constituting the essence of the life of faith.
So it is all so strange why so many American Christians have been lured into political stupor by the rant of a want-a-be politician whose basic message is, Be Afraid! Be Very Afraid!!
Trump rose to power with the well-worn chorus of dictators: Fear the Other. Fear the Stranger. Fear that person who is not like you. Two years ago, his target was the Muslim. He demonized and stereotyped those with Middle Eastern heritage: Ban them! Deport them! Suspect them! Fear them!
It helped get Trump the presidency which only fueled his fearful fire.
But during these 22 months of Trumpism it has not been Muslim men who have terrorized the American people, but our own men: angry, conservative, and white—Christianized men, born and raised right here on American soil and armed with American weapons. They have heard this call to fear and pulled the trigger. Just last week the targets were blacks in Kentucky and Jews in Pennsylvania.
This election year, the target of Trump’s unrighteous rhetoric has been, not Muslims from the Middle East, but refugees from Central America. Trump has turned the wandering bands of refugees into armies of invading hordes, intent on looting, raping, and ravishing our land.
Trump is not familiar with the Bible, so he does not know that God, again and again, commands the believing Jew and the believing Christian to care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger—a perfect description of hundreds of people living south of us who are desperate to escape the danger and death of their home land.
Trump also does not know the stories of the Bible: Hebrew people escaping poverty and abuse in Egypt, looking for the land of promise; Mary and Joseph escaping the wrath of the violent king of Judea, looking for the land of safety; Jesus himself, with no place to lay his head, arrested, tortured, and murdered by the powers that be.
We know not to fear our brothers and sisters to the south. We know they are people, made in the image of God, seeking what most of us here already have: opportunity, freedom, work, kindness, the shalom of God. God tells us not to fear!
In two years, Trump will run for office again. He will abandon his presidential office and travel the country, ranting about why we should fear some group of people. He will call us to deny their rights, lock them up, keep them out, and shut them down. He will urge us to disobey God and deny our Lord.
Perhaps it will be Africans, or Indians, or Asians, or some group living among us. We will hear his shrill voice countermanding everything the Lord has spoken on every page of sacred scripture. He will say, over and over, Be afraid! Be very afraid!
But Jesus calls us with these wonderful words of life: Do not fear! Feed the hungry! Do not fear! Clothe the naked! Do not fear! Welcome the stranger! Do not fear! Whenever you do these things to the least of these, you do it to me.
I do not fear Jesus. I do not fear those who bear the image of Jesus. I do not fear those whom God loves and those for whom Jesus died. I do not fear the Muslim, the immigrant, the addict, or the homeless. I do not fear the African, the Asian, the American, or the European.
I trust in God. I follow Jesus. I live in the Spirit. I do not fear.