We live in a culture that is strung out on fear.
We hear constantly about economic fears, political threats, assaults on our values, of elevated terror threat levels, hear bits of international intelligence and of incidents that have happened. In the newspaper or on radio or TV we are told in great detail what we fear MIGHT happen. We currently see fear and hyperbole used as a tactic in political campaigns.
We fear losing our life or loved ones to terrorists, we fear random acts of violence and evil, fear catching disease… we fear losing our income and livelihood. We fear for our loved ones and their safety – and for our children and grandchildren as we look at changes in our society.
The news media feeds us a steady diet of fear and crisis. When I worked closely with the media in the late 70’s doing radio & TV for 8 denominations the rule of broadcast stations, even then, was featuring the crisis, the bad news, the evil – which brought better ratings. They phrased it “If it bleeds, it leads.” So year by year we become ever more fearful even when all reputable statistics tell us that we as a nation are safer than ever before. Who among us does not have some sort of fear we deal with on a regular basis?
This is not a recent phenomenon. The people of Isaiah’s day lived in a time when people regularly died by age 30. An infection that we no longer worry about could kill them. Invading armies and tribal conflict was the norm. Life was hard, short, and uncertain.
In Jesus’ day the Roman soldiers were an occupying army enforcing a brutal discipline. Disease and malnutrition were frequent occurrences especially among the majority who were poor. Land had been taken and given to the ruling elite leaving ordinary people desolate having to manage as best they could.
It is to these people familiar with threats and filled with fear and apprehension that Jesus says “Don’t not be afraid little flock..”
Again and again in scripture we are given the message “Do not be afraid…” I don’t know about you but when someone says “now don’t be scared” my fear tends to go from 0 – 60 real fast… I suspect that Jesus hearers met that phrase “Don’t be afraid” with the same skepticism. I recall a sign my father had in his office at work,which was a take-off on a Rudyard Kipling’s poem. The sign read “If people all around are losing your head while you keep yours – you just don’t understand the situation.” The scriptural message is consistent – “Do not be afraid!”
Do we really understand our situation better than Jesus?, Better than these other messengers from God?
What does it take not to fear – I believe it takes trust. Several decades ago there was a TV program called “Who do you Trust?” It was a game show then, but now I think it is a good and important question for us.
We have learned that we need to trust, but we also know there are reasonable limits to trust. Most of us in growing up learned that you cannot trust everyone, and you cannot trust anyone 100% (for each of us fallible humans have those areas where we will disappoint another).
Thus when we are told we can trust God it can be hard. We know the promises, but often we don’t see the fulfillment of these promises all around us.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews notes this same experience and writes “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” The fulfillment of the promises were in the future.
God in both testaments tells us not to be afraid.
Why? Because fear robs us – fear paralyzes us,
fear takes away our ability to hope, to see a better future, to work towards that future, and to live into that future.
When we choose to trust rather than to fear, we change ourselves, we change our world, we change the possibilities we see, and what we allow to influence us in how we live in the world.
Jesus’ words are not just simply do not fear – rather he ends with the words “God has given you the kingdom.” He is saying God gives us a new world. Jesus implies that we not just sit and wait for that new world to show up but rather we should ready for action – proactive in bringing it about.
If that new world we are given came in a box – on the outside of the box containing it – would read “The Kingdom of God – some assembly required…” In a sense we are given a kit – the plans and the ability to put those plans into action. But we have to build the world God gives us.
And we do that by living out what it means to live in God’s world – loving God and loving our neighbors;
putting on love, joy, peace, compassion, kindness, humility,
being rich to God in prayer, in service, in worship and in love.
Jesus tells us to begin to trust now – not to wait – to act now – to live into the kingdom now. We must choose to live the future into being. If we want the world to change we have to be the change we want to see.
But what do we do with all the fear?
In the musical the King and I there is a song Whenever I feel afraid… which has within it a practical secret.
It tells us to “whistle a happy tune and no one will suspect you’re afraid.” And it goes on: “Make believe you’re brave and this trick will take you far, you may be as brave as you make believe you are.”
It is not fooling ourselves so much as intentionally choosing to live into a future we can envision and we are willing to help create..
We can live ourselves into the world of fear and paralysis. Or we can choose to live out of the world of fear and into a world of trust…
out of seeing ourselves in a world of scarcity and greed, and free ourselves to live out a life of sharing and gratitude;
to live out of the kingdom of evil and into the kingdom of God;
It is our choice whether to trust, to act on that trust – to live out the promise and live into the new world we have been promised, the seeds of we have been given by our baptism.
The world, some politicians, some economists, some family, some neighbors, some friends may all tell us, is a world falling apart and that we need to live and act out of fear… bar the gates, build walls, see harm in everyone different from us. But is that the world we want, is that the new world we want. We get to choose in whom, and whose vision we trust..
Jesus tells us not to fear … that God’s promises can be relied on… that what we choose to do can build the foundation and begin to create the new world God wants to give us and future generations.
So, Who do you trust?