When I was a little girl, I had a bed that was probably every little girl’s dream back in the early 80’s: I had a canopy bed. The bed was huge (or at least it felt like it to my 6 year old self). It was probably a double, but to me, it felt like a California king. My bed was up against a wall, and if you stood at the foot of the bed, the door to the room was on the left and my closet was on the right. I never, ever had to make the right side of my bed. Mainly because I would never allow myself to sleep on that side of the bed. Because (again) it was the side of the bed closest to the closet and that is where the monsters lived. But one morning, it happened. I woke up on the right side of the bed. And I was still alive. What had I been afraid of?
In today’s Gospel reading there is a strange balance between fear and faith. And as I’ve thought about this all week, I become acutely aware that we live in a society that wants us to fear pretty much everything. Entire stores, companies, organizations, thrive out of our fear. It’s more common to hear stories like “do you know what chemicals might be living in your lunch time sandwich”? than to hear stories of people living into their faith. This past week as I listened to the news, I think I confirmed that in one way or another we should be scared of: our drinking water, what’s in our beef, nuclear weapons, presidential candidates, clocks, people who have “middle eastern sounding names” making clocks, the fed interest rate hike, the reliability of roads and bridges, and, of course, anyone who doesn’t look like us. I want to thank all of you for being brave enough to even leave the house this morning.
For every story that tells us we should fear something or stay away from something, there seems to another story contradicting it. Drink more red wine, it’s good for your heart. No, don’t, it’s bad for your cholesterol. Eat more meat for your heart, but don’t because of your cholesterol. Drink more water for clearer skin, no don’t –the chemicals will shrink your brain. And on and on and on. So, that got me to thinking about what fears I have. And I don’t mean like boogie man fears, the same kind I had when I was six, I mean actual fears. What keeps me up at night? Here’s what causes me to toss and turn and causes my ulcer to flair up: the budget of this church. I know we’ll be okay, I keep being told that. But, that doesn’t stop me from worrying. I worry about all the things I have yet to do but want to do. I worry that people don’t think I am visiting them enough, or maybe I’m visiting them too much. I worry about Ellen and the job we’re doing in parenting her. My biggest fear is that she will have inherited my mental health problems.
And guess how many times I have spent nights tossing and turning do I finally give up and turn to God in prayer? No, that seems to be like the least logical answer to my problems. What makes me think I can solve my problems myself? It is usually my own fault, my own sin, that got me into these situations of worry in the first place. The disciples were afraid to ask more questions about Jesus’ death which he was predicting. And then they go from being afraid to arguing about who was the greatest. Sometimes we deal with fear by trying to avoid thinking about it. But the thing is this: fear is what drives us to only look out for ourselves. Fear is what motivates us to put ourselves first. Fear is what inspires us to build physical and metaphorical walls in our lives. And when we finally do all we can to protect ourselves from everything we fear, I think we’ll only find that we are alone. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s fear.
There is a reason that Christ talks so much about fear and being afraid in the Bible. Fear isn’t a new concept. It’s not something that the 24 hour news channels came up with so that we would keep tuning in. And I get it, I really do. There are lots of things in this world to fear. There are so many ways we could finish the phrase “what if…” and usually it’s not good. It’s usually worst case scenario. People even try to make us worry about our faith, which is ironic. This week I got one of those glossy postcards in the mail (as I’m sure many of you did) asking me “if you die tomorrow do you know where you will spend eternity?!?” Great! One more thing to worry about! Now, some amount of fear is healthy. But when our fears become debilitating, or drives us to despair, that’s when we have some issues. Because here’s the thing about fear: it slowly but surely robs us of everything Jesus promised to us.
Jesus has promised us life; not only life, but abundant life. But, if we’re too afraid to even leave our homes, we aren’t really living an abundant life. And when we spend time in worry and fretting about the future, we are wasting precious seconds that Jesus had delegated for joy and pleasure. Trust me friends, I know a lot about worrying. When it comes to worrying, I believe I am an Olympic Gold medalist. And to counteract fear and worry, Jesus doesn’t invite us to move mountains, or conquer kingdoms, or establish world peace. No, to counteract fear and worry, Jesus invites us into faith. And that faith can be the tiniest, smallest step forward despite all doubts and fears.
And abundant life, again, doesn’t come in conquering the biggest obstacles. Nope, abundant life comes in the form of welcoming the children, or welcoming those who we think are smaller than or less than us. Abundant life comes in the form of being vulnerable, being willing to take a risk, being of service to one another, and welcoming the stranger. These may seem like small, insignificant things. But, they are a response to the grace given to us daily. These small actions are a slap in the face to fear. Fear has a way of initiating blinders on us so that we can’t see what God is up to all around us. Don’t let fear win. Our God raised Jesus from the dead; there is no doubt that God will be with you when you step forward even if you are afraid.
So, what fears do you have, brothers and sisters? What keeps you up at night? What fears do you have that keep you from living an abundant life in Christ? Perhaps that small step in faith can start today. Perhaps you can come forward, confidently, hands outstretched, saying “I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but I do know this meal offers me all I need for today and that’s enough.” Or maybe as you start to worry about one thing or another, your refrain, or your response to that fear can just be “God’s grace is enough for me.” Jesus’ fear didn’t lead him to the cross, his faithfulness did. And that faithfulness is what saved our lives.