From Pastor Kenny's Desk
September 23, 2018
They left that district and began a journey through Galilee, but Jesus did not want anyone to know about it. He was teaching the disciples along these lines: “The Promised One is going to be delivered into the hands of others and will be put to death, but three days later this One will rise again.” Though they failed to understand these words, they were afraid to question him.
The returned home to Capernaum. Once they were inside the house, Jesus began to ask them, “What were you discussing on the way home?” At this they fell silent, for on the way they had been arguing about who among them was the most important. So Jesus sat down and called the Twelve over and said, “If any of you wants to be first, you must be the last one of all and at the service of all.”
Then Jesus brought a little child into their midst and, putting has arm around the child, said to them, “Whoever welcomes a child such as this for my sake welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the One who sent me.”
~ Mark 9:30-37
I don’t know about you, but over the years some of my worst actions and decisions have been motivated by fear. Do you know what I mean? Fear has this way of leading you to misperceive both threats and opportunities, of prompting impulsive and sometimes irrational behavior, and of narrowing your vision so it’s difficult to see possibilities. Which is why it’s hard to be thoughtful, prudent, or compassionate when you are afraid.
I bring all this up because I think this sacred text is a fascinating study of the relationship between fear and faith. Notice that the disciples do not ask Jesus any questions in response to his prediction of his impending crucifixion because they are afraid. And the next thing you know they’re talking about securing their place in the coming kin-dom. Fear does that ... it both paralyzes you and drives you to look out only for yourself.
This text isn’t the only time in Mark’s story he contrasts faith and fear. After Jesus stills the storm that had terrified his disciples Jesus asks them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And as he restores Jairus’ daughter, he tells the distraught father … who had just been told that his daughter was dead …“Do not fear, only believe.” Doubt, as it turns out, is not the opposite of faith; fear is, or at least that kind of fear that paralyzes, distorts, and drives people to despair.
Are we any different than the disciples? Think about it … what fears pursue you during the day and haunt you at night? What worries weigh you down so that it’s difficult to move forward in faith?
Fear about being alone, fear about losing a loved one or a relationship ending, anxieties about health or employment, concern for the future of one’s loved ones, extended family or a close friend, dread about the return of mental or physical illness, apprehension for the environment and the world we will leave behind? All these and more strip life of pleasure and joy while making it very difficult to be wise and faithful stewards of the present moment and resources with which God has entrusted to us.
Jesus response to our fears and anxieties is an invitation not to faith as intellectual acceptance … as if believing in God somehow prohibits fear … but rather to faith as movement, faith as taking a step forward … even a little step … in spite of doubt and fear, faith as doing even the smallest thing in the hope and trust of God’s promises.
Note what follows the disciples’ fear and Jesus probing question that only exposes the depth of their anxiety: Jesus overturns the prevailing assumptions about power and security by inviting the disciples to imagine that abundant life comes not through gathering power but through displaying vulnerability, not through accomplishments but through service, and not by collecting powerful friends but by welcoming children.
These are small things when you think about it. Serving others, opening yourself to another’s need, being honest about your own needs and fears, showing kindness to a child, welcoming a stranger. But they are available to each and all of us every single day. And each time we make even the smallest of these gestures in faith … that is, find the strength and courage to reach out to another in compassion even when we are afraid … we will find our fear lessened, replaced by an increasingly resolute confidence that in God’s reality and hope … fear does not have the last word.
With this in mind … I invite and encourage you to be honest about your fears. I have learned naming my fear is one step to move towards solution in healing and loosening their powerful grip on me. Once we name our fear we can then take the next step in discovering a possible solution to the actions necessary so the fear no longer has the power to dominate us. I suggest trying to do the opposite of the fear to slowly be released from it’s stronghold.
Fear has the power to ultimately blind us to God’s action within and around us, and as we call attention to God’s presence and movement among us even the smallest of steps, we realize that the God who once created out of nothing, made light from darkness, and brought Jesus from the dead is still at work, not dispelling all our fears but keeping us from being overwhelmed by them and helping us to move forward in faith.
The signature words of the Gospel from the time of the prophets to the Divine Messenger’s words at the end of Mark’s story are still good words for us to hear and try our best to live: Do not be afraid!