Monday, April 20, 2009

Don't Let Fear Stop You!

(Read John 20: 19-31)

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 the person we know we are somewhere deep inside of us? If we all finished what we started? Do what we say we’re going to do? If there was no such thing as working a mediocre job? No such thing as frustrated writers and 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? Is it the great excuse/reason of money?

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 as long as you live in today’s world, money will always be a factor in our decision-making process. The remainder of us, while the dream still remains, something inside of ourselves just won’t allow us to blossom.

But ultimately, it all comes back to fear. Fear is the root - 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, fear of the unknown, fear of lack, 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? Is there some thing you want to do? Some way you want to be that you are not? Is there something that God is calling you to do that you are resisting?

(Some possible examples of what you might want to become: maybe its just being comfortable in your own skin, maybe its shedding your tough exterior so that you can laugh and love more, maybe you want to take the time and money and energy to learn something that you’ve always wanted to learn, maybe you want to change the way you relate to your wife or your husband or your kids or your parents, maybe you want to start treating your body better, maybe you want to start living more for other people’s benefit than your own.)

Jesus did not give his life so that we would remain afraid or trapped or without hope. 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. And with God’s power, there is nothing that can hold us down. All things are possible through Christ who strengthens us.

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 no matter how strange and unreal this moment seems. Everything is going according to plan. God is winning the victory.’

The resurrection calls us to live new lives that are blessed by God, alive in Christ, and inspired by the Holy Spirit

Even if we are afraid, even if we don’t know where we are going, we must start walking the path of new life that God is unrolling before us or that our spirits feel compelled to walk.

It’s a risk, there’s no doubt about that. But risk is part of what it means to be faithful. The thing is: we bet on God. That’s a great bet! Taking leaps of faith into new and unknown territory is what it means to be a Christian.

“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

And I still love the story of the acorns. All the little acorns are running around. Busy doing this, busy doing that. They have their eyes set on accomplishing daily tasks upon the earth. Very few of them have taken the time to ask their hearts what it is they hope for.

And there’s one acorn in particular who feels depressed, like life in acorn-land isn’t living up to its potential. One day, we looks up at the magnificent oak tree that towers over acorn-land and he remembers, “We are that! We are meant to become like this awesome oak tree.”

A neighbor overhears him and responds, “That’s ridiculous. If we become that, then we won’t be acorns anymore.”

There are many spiritual messages in this story. You have to die to the life you know in order to be reborn again. You have to give up being an acorn to become an oak. You have to set your sights on worthy goals. You have to let your heart dream big if it wants to.

“Easter is about the ability of Christ to defeat death in whatever form it faces us.”[1] This Easter, let Christ defeat fear in our lives. Or let Christ defeat any death that has eroded or rotted out some parts of your precious life. Let Christ give you new life! “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him will not die, but will have eternal life” (John 3:16). We who believe even though we have not seen, we deserve a taste of eternity here and now.

Let me end with these inspirational words: “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

It’s possible. It’s all possible for you in the Living Lord. When we say, “He is risen!” may we also be proclaiming that we are risen to new life as well.

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

1 comment:

mpaigew said...

I love the words in this sermon; I know I will refer back to them many times as I journey into my own "unknown!"