Pastor Scott Hannon
St. John Lutheran Church Amherst, NY
“Be not afraid,” Jesus tells his disciples in our gospel lesson from Sunday. “Be not afraid…”
In my proudest moments I cling to these words. I hold them close and allow them to hold me up. They buoy me through tough and tragic times. They provide courage and hope in desperate situations. In my weaker moments, the same cannot be said. I hear Jesus’ words and they roll of my back. “Yeah, right,” I think. “Sounds good, Jesus, but try walking a mile in my shoes.”
This past week my church hosted Vacation Bible School and one of daily themes was: Jesus gives us courage. Throughout the day we told and reminded the kids that Jesus instructs us not to be afraid. We said, “Believe and there’s no reason to fear.” We said, “Have faith and you won’t be afraid.” And it sounded good.
But I must have been having one of those weak moments.
As those words “be not afraid” came out of my mouth, I felt a hollowness inside my heart. My struggle is that I am a man of faith. I believe. I believe that death has been destroyed, that our God vanquishes evil, and that my sins have been forgiven. Yet, for all my belief, most days I still find myself afraid. And so, cliché catchphrases like faith not fear! tend to come across a bit empty and naïve. My experience is that it is hardly that easy.
Moreover, I read the Bible and cannot recall a single story of a character of faith who lived a life without fear. Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Saul and David, Mary and Joseph, Peter and Paul… they all had fear. So, for me, it cannot be as simple as faith in God means a fear-free life. I don’t think we should teach it that way.
Rather than viewing faith as a vanquisher of fear, I find it more helpful to see faith as an agitator of fear. I do not believe that faith makes fear disappear. Rather, in scripture and today faith is the force that propels disciples forward through fear. Faith is the force that robs fear of its power. Faith is the stirring force that helps us find courage and strength when fear would leave us paralyzed and weak.
I think it is like this… I spent last week on a lake with my daughters. On the first day I jumped in the water and stood at the end of the dock imploring them to do the same. “Jump,” I said. “I’ll catch you. I got you. I’m here.” They stood wide-eyed and panicked with their toes dangling over the final dock-board. They wanted to jump but couldn’t because they were afraid. “I’ll catch you,” I promised. “I swear. You’re safe.” Their knees bent, they leaned forward, they made the effort to jump, but still didn’t. They were afraid.
I kept talking, promising, smiling, and encouraging. And then, finally, they jumped.
Their decision to jump was not the result of fear dissipating. It was not because they realized that their fears were irrational. It was not that faith quieted the fear that planted them on the dock. On the contrary, they jumped because faith propelled them through the fear. They were terrified as they made that initial plunge into the water and into my arms. And they were still scared when they did it the 100th time.
They didn’t jump because their fear disappeared, but because faith became an agitating force that pulled them through. They were scared, but they believed that their dad would catch them.
“Be not afraid,” Jesus says. If you’re like me those words probably won’t mean an end to fear. After all, this world is a mighty scary place. However, they still have to power to help us jump off the dock and into our Father’s arms.
In the Way,
For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.