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Believe in God more than you believe in your fear

Nov 11, 2014

To follow Jesus is to encounter change. Call it repentance, the ancient word metanoia. It’s all about change, which is at the center of the challenging and hope-filled new ministries (as well as our long-standing ones) in which the Metropolitan New York Synod is engaged. But, truth be told, change causes the bile to increase, the acid reflux to be omnipresent. There are times when I think I should invest in antacid manufacturers. Change causes fear. And, in his typical fashion, at first glance Jesus is less than helpful.


He had and still has this vision to share with us, inviting us to follow him. In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus tells us that if we are not afraid to lose our lives, we might be surprised to find them. And the cross of which he spoke was not a piece of jewelry; it was a means of execution and a form of intimidation. It reinforced the idea that death was the most awful thing in the world and that people with any sense at all should do everything in their power to avoid it.


Rather than running from them, our Lord Jesus tells us to pick up our crosses. There are worse things than death in the world and living in fear, including fear of change, is at the top of the list. If you are going to let fear rule your life, fear will become your god and the only standard for your behavior will be how much something scares you.


I am convinced that fear of change is the biggest obstacle we face in the church today.


Fear was not the only choice the disciples had, according to Jesus. And it’s not our only option either. Instead of surrendering themselves to their fear, they could surrender to God. They could deny the panic-stricken voice inside – the same one that keeps ordering us to play it safe and take no risks – and listen instead to the voice that says, "Do not fear. Follow me." That voice has never promised safety; it has always promised life. It has never offered freedom from pain; it has only offered freedom from fear.


And here are some of those challenges and changes which cause fear to well up in me and you.


Division within the church. Right? The days of the Corinthian correspondence, for example, are still present. We should not be surprised at dissension 20 centuries later--dissension, difference, disputes within the supremely human body of Christ. I have seen Christian people claw one another like cats in a sack. The email and letters I have received from good Christians would make your flesh crawl. Passion is great, folks; hate never is.


Division between religion and justice. There are still two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor. In a paradoxical country of wondrous wealth and unlimited promise, where one out of every five children grows up below the poverty line, where untold thousands of young people are incestuously abused, where our elders rummage for food in garbage cans, where crack and coke stunt minds and massacre bodies, where black and white continue to live in smoldering mistrust, God asks us again, "Where is your sister, your brother?"


Division, driven by fear, is pressing hard on us as we continue to move into the mission God has for us in our synod and people gnaw and gnarl rather than converse and console. The Christ who died for you, dear brother, dear sister, lives in you and in the man or woman next to you. Even when change makes little sense to you and causes great fear, let it not destroy the shalom in you and among us.


Our own crosses – and you know what they are, don’t you? – do not have much to do with standing up to the Roman government. But fear is timeless, and my guess is that each of us has something of which we are deathly afraid. Maybe it’s the fear of admitting an addiction of one kind or another that is eating away at your life. Maybe it’s the fear of tackling a memory that still has the power to suck the breath right out of you. Maybe it’s the fear of standing up for something you believe in, or telling the truth about who you are to people who are going to condemn you for it, or challenging others to walk together into the future. Maybe it’s the fear of discovering you have an illness that no medicine can cure, or that your child does, or your friend: whatever it is that scares you to death, so that you start offering to do anything, anything at all, if it will just go away – that’s your cross, and if you leave it lying there, it will kill you. If you turn away from it with the excuse that this should never have happened to you and you deserve better, then you deny God the chance to show you that there, right there in the dark night of your soul, there that cross is the door to life.


Jesus tells us to stop running from it. Start believing in God more than you believe in your fear. And follow.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo




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