Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Do Not Be Afraid. Be at Peace. Be Empowered

(Read John 20: 19-31 and Acts 2: 14a, 22-32)

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would solve most of the world’s problems.” Wouldn’t it be miraculous if we could each actually do the good we are capable of? Imagine how the world would change.

A similar notion is articulated by the author, Ben Herbster, who said, “The greatest waste in the world is the difference between what we are and what we could become.” Wouldn’t it be amazing if each of us could become what we dream? If we all finished what we started? Do what we say we’re going to do? If there was no such thing as writer’s block? No frustrated artists and musicians? Oh, the possibilities within each of us.

What inhibits us from growing, from becoming the children of God we were created to be? What prevents us from reaching our full potential and using our gifts to make the world a better place? What stops us from carrying out the plans of God?

Is it Self-doubt? Or apathy? Or complacency? that dooms our lives to a continual reinforcement of the status quo?

I would say, “Yes.” Each of us can relate to at least one of these reasons. Lack of confidence, low self-esteem, that stops some of us. Laziness, not wanting to work too hard, that stops us too. Others of us have grown old, tired and weary. We’ve accepted our present circumstance, and no longer have the energy or desire to work towards something new. And the remainder of us, while the dream still remains, something inside of ourselves just won’t allow us to blossom.

Fear is usually the culprit, the reason we don’t do or become. Fear is the reason we miss out on abundant life. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of rejection, you name it. Fear is the evil force that holds us back.

That’s probably why Jesus said, “Do not be afraid” to his followers over and over again. Or “Fear not!” He understood the power of fear, that it can inhibit, prevent and stop even the most gifted and beautiful people from actualizing our greatest selves. Some of my favorite words of Jesus are from John 14: 27. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Sadly, this morning, In John, chapter 20, verses 19-31, we meet the disciples on the evening of that first day of the new creation, on Easter night. It is a night they should be rejoicing, a night they should be on top of the world, but instead they are cloaked in fear surrounded by locked doors.

I suppose we can’t really blame them though. They just watched their leader be taken into captivity, beaten and murdered. It’s exactly as Jesus had told them, but it was so brutal and shocking, they are left traumatized.

If you have ever experienced something traumatic, you know the horror doesn’t just go away. It stays with you for a while; it even becomes a part of you. Long after your mind has understood and rationalized what happened, your inner self remains wounded.

In addition to just witnessing the crucifixion, some of the disciples might be fearfully thinking: “If that happened to Jesus, what is going to happen to us?” Could they proclaim him the Messiah, the Son of God without fear of punishment? It would definitely be safer to say nothing, to let Jesus’ revolutionary message die with him on the cross.

This morning, not only do I want us to be able to understand what the disciples went through following the crucifixion, but I also encourage you to think about your own fear. What are you afraid of? Or better yet, in what way has fear stopped you from being the best possible person you can be? How has fear stopped you from accomplishing the noble tasks God has assigned to you in the world?

Jesus did not give his life so that we would remain afraid. The resurrection is proof that there is nothing to be afraid of. Not our own inadequacies, not the power of others, nothing. Not even death.

When Jesus reveals himself to the disciples for the first time since he has been laid in the tomb, he comes into the house, not restricted by locked doors or fearful hearts, and says, “Peace be with you.” In other words, ‘Be at peace. Do not be afraid. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Relax.’ No matter how bleak everything appears, it’s going to be okay. In fact, it’s going to be more than okay. God has raised Jesus from the dead! Do you understand what that means?

Jesus doesn’t just say, “Peace be with you,” once. He says it three times. First, when he enters the house, and the disciples are still cloaked in fear. The second time Jesus says, “Peace be with you” is when he is giving instructions to the disciples that they are being sent into the world with a mission. I’m sure hearing that God had something for them to go and do made them even more afraid, but that’s why Jesus is there with his words of reassurance. And the third time is when Jesus returns the following week to show himself specifically to Thomas, who refuses to believe until he sees Jesus with his own eyes and touches Jesus with his own hands.

Jesus Christ’s message remains the same, “Peace be with you.”

When we remain enslaved by fear, we deny the power of the resurrection. When we remain enslaved by fear, we are not putting our full trust in God’s provision, in God’s plan, in God’s grace. When we let earthly trials and tribulations make us forget that our God has proven himself faithful and victorious over sin, evil and death, fear has captured our hearts, not faith. And that is a problem.

But when we have peace within ourselves and amongst ourselves, we prove that we really are the new creation, that we now live by love and not fear. Peace begins in our inner beings, and when inner peace reigns in our hearts, it flows out to the world.

Being at peace and being an agent of peace is one aspect of living a resurrected life in Jesus Christ, but it isn’t the only aspect. When we stop letting fear control our lives, we also become braver, more confident, more empowered than we were before. Yes, a characteristic of the new creation is people who are brave, confident and empowered to live the life of abundance and eternity.

Jesus came to his disciples, and he breathed the Holy Spirit on them. He gave them the power of God and told them to get up and to go out into the world. He sent them to forgive, to heal and to proclaim his message until he came again.

And can you believe it? They actually do as he said. Peter, who sank in the water because he was afraid, Peter who rejected Jesus three times because he was afraid, that same Peter actually becomes a great preacher, proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior to those whom he once cowered in fear to. That Peter becomes the rock upon which this church and all churches are built. That’s amazing. Peter went from being timid, weak and fearful to confident, strong and brave. That’s what happens when we receive the Holy Spirit, and let the Spirit rule our hearts and guide our lives. We become brave. We become bold. We do extraordinary things and become extraordinary people by the power of God that is working in and through us.

In Psalm 16, the Psalmist, perhaps King David, proclaims that the Lord is our counsel, the one who instructs us day and night. What God counsels and instructs us to do, the Holy Spirit empowers us to follow through and accomplish.

“Our fears must never hold us back from pursuing our hopes.” -JFK

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste the experience, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

“We must have courage to bet on our ideas, to take the calculated risk, and to act. Everyday living requires courage if life is to be effective and bring happiness.” -Maxwell Maltz

“Easter is about the ability of Christ to defeat death in whatever form it faces us.”[1] This Easter, let Christ defeat fear in your lives. Fear leads to death, and death no longer has a place in our world.

Be at peace. Peace brings life. Be brave. Bravery brings us opportunities. And be empowered to become who you were born to become and to do all that you are capable of doing through the Spirit of God that is in you.

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom" -Anais Nin

Friends, it’s springtime. Bloom with the flowers. Take the risk that will help you become and do all that you were created for.

[1] Willimon, William. Pulpit Resource. January, February, March 2008. pg. 59.

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