Paralyzed by Fear

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I have been using the Feasting on the Word‘s Daily Feast: Meditations from Feasting on the Word, Year B for my sermon prep the past few weeks. I am jazzed by the directions it has taken me, places I would not have naturally gone.

In Monday’s devotional using March 18th’s lectionary text, the author focuses on Numbers 21.4-9. The topic: fear! What a great topic for our time! The question posed:

How do/can our fears become idols?

Immediately my mind went to those places and things that so often draw my attention away from my relationships with God and other people. These fears are not the same as my fear of heights (if you want to see a 6 foot, 250 lb guy turn to jelly, get me on a 3 foot step ladder) or of spiders (don’t get me started!). I think the fears suggested in the devotion and insinuated in the text are much deeper. I’m thinking of things like a fear of failure so paralyzing we cannot bring ourselves to even think about doing something without absolute assurance of its success (read into this Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25.14-30—a harsh parable about the master who goes on a trip and gives three slaves three different amounts of money, the last slave being so afraid of the master that he simply buries his share out of fear of losing any of it while his fellow slaves invest and grow what they have been given, thus taking some risks).

The U.S. has been renowned for the ingenuity of its people, but we seem to have lost much of that creative edge upon which our country was founded, and I think mostly as a result of fear. I am well aware that not everything was hunky dory for all involved as our country and way of life was being crafted. Many groups of people were marginalized at best and completely ignored in most circumstances during the creative process (people of color, those not of British decent, and women, to just name a few). Over the past 236 years the grand visions of this democratic experiment have been whittled down to fear-based control freaks trying to “preserve” that which no longer exists, and they come from both blue and red and purple states.

Is this the state of the Church in the U.S. as well? Too often our Churches become a reflection of the woes and struggles of society, rather than the ointment to mend our wounds (or fears). While we have not yet become the museum relics of Europe, is that our future if we continue the course we are on? What is God trying to draw us toward or away from that we are so afraid? What will the Church in the U.S. look like in the near or far future? By “Church”, I am referring to the Body of Christ rather than the institution/system through which we try to live as such. For the institution we have today is very different than those of the past—we have created, with God’s help I pray, adaptions to our ever changing contexts. But rest assured, what exists today will change, whether or not we want it to, in response to the changing contexts of our lives, the ever-shifting needs of the people and communities in which we live, and increasing globalization of socioeconomic and political structures.

So, will our fears own us? Or will we be able to move beyond them and find the strength to love and trust God in doing a new thing? Will we eventually be able to look to the future with excitement while at the same time naming our fears? Time will tell. But I believe many people are already doing so. And that gives me hope…even in the midst of my fears.

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