What is your greatest fear?
Several years ago, I asked that question at our Thursday-evening “TonTap” gathering. I had not put a lot of thought into it, and I did not expect the conversation to go very far. After all, who enjoys talking about the thing that keeps him up at night? But I was wrong. People were eager to discuss the things that bothered them the most. For some it was something as simple yet horrific as drowning or (gasp!) public speaking. Others had less specific but equally pernicious fears like being alone or losing one’s mind. Some of us quickly listed six or seven different things that terrify us, but others had a hard time pinning down even one deep fear. In the end, I was amazed at the willingness of the group to address openly those things that terrified them the most. Although I never would have guessed it, that casual gathering proved to be a safe and supportive place to acknowledge our worst nightmares.
What about you? What do you fear more than anything else? I don’t ask that question to be cute or provocative. I ask it because your answer to that question has considerable bearing on your faith. I ask it because I believe that the thing which scares us the most is also the thing that most stands in the way of us entering God’s kingdom.
Over and over and over again, God’s message to his people in the sacred stories of scripture is, “Do not fear.” When an angel appears with a message from God, the angel almost always begins by saying, “Do not fear.” When the prophets speak words of comfort to God’s downtrodden people, they say, “Do not fear.” As in today's reading from 1 Corinthians, when the apostle Paul pens a letter to a Christian community that he helped found, he encourages them by writing, “Do not fear.” When Jesus speaks tenderly to his disciples to assure them that God will take care of them after he is gone, he says, “Do not fear.” In no small way, the overriding voice of salvation that is spoken throughout the bible is one of comfort, peace, and hope. When we open our ears to hear the good news that God has for us, we, too, can hear him say, “Do not fear.”
So why, then, do we let the spiritual, physical, and emotional sickness of fear plague our lives? Fear is running rampant—through our world, through our culture, and through our lives. Just turn on the television or spend a few minutes looking at Facebook or stop and listen to the conversations going on around you. We are all afraid. The economy is crashing. Terrorists are knocking on our door. Our country is in a state of decline. If fat and cholesterol won’t kill you, sugar and salt will. No one makes it out of here alive. What are we going to do? What are we going to do?
God says to us, “Do not fear.” And, if we cannot hear those words—if we refuse to hear those words—we cannot hear God beckoning us into his kingdom. Faith is believing that God will take care of everything. Faith is believing that ultimately God is in control. No, that does not mean that the people who seek to do us harm will lay down their arms. No, that does not mean that the stock market will turn around. Believing in God is not the same thing as believing that that the storms of life will pass us by and leave us unscathed. God does not promise to keep us immune from the troubles of this world, but he does promise to save us from our only real enemy—from the one who threatens not the body but the soul (Luke 12:4-5). If we can believe that—if we can believe that God has the power to save us even from death itself—what, then, do we have to fear?
Still, fear is part of the human condition. Fear is our way of saying to God, “I cannot see how this will work out. I cannot trust that everything will be ok.” The good news is that God understands our struggle and responds yet again with words of reassurance: “Do not fear.” But what will we do to ensure that we can hear him? Indeed, we have much work to do.
We are called to seek God’s words of peace by leaving behind our attitude of fear. In order to grow in faith, we must remove from our lives the voices that undermine our belief that God will save us. Whether pundits or politicians, preachers or prognosticators, whoever it is that fills our ears and minds and hearts with fear must be tuned out. If the channel you watch or the website you read or the company you keep increases your level of fear, change it. Stop watching. Stop reading. Stop answering the phone. Fear is the only thing that stands between us and God’s kingdom. God’s saving work is to set us free from fear, and anything that gets in the way of that is not from God.
Today's post is also the cover article from our parish newsletter, The View. To read the rest of the newsletter and learn more about St. John's, Decatur, please click here.