“Are You Afraid of the Dark?”
June 22, 2014
24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
When have you been the most afraid? For me, it was when I was a youth leader driving the big van full of luggage on our way to a mission trip. I was on the interstate, when all the sudden, a semi truck cut me off and I had to swerve into the grass on the side of the road to avoid being hit and had to find a way back on to the road before it was too late. Since it was one of those top heavy vans, I had to pull back on to the interstate, but then found myself struggling to keep the van upright as it swerved and threatened to tip over with the weight of the luggage and the action of trying to get back on the road. It could have ended so badly, but it didn’t. The van straightened out and my friend and I were fine- just a little shaken up. It took me awhile to get over that, but I did conquer my fear and volunteered to drive it most of the way home, just to prove that I could.
** What are you afraid of?
When I was little, my fears revolved around something happening to my parents, to getting lost, to being afraid of the dark, especially when there were storms and the lights would go out. I remember always sleeping with a flashlight. However, this did not keep my sister and I from watching one of our all time favorite shows on Nickelodeon called, “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” This show covered all sorts of scary stories about ghosts, goblins, magic, haunted houses, aliens, witches, vampires, etc. and always began with a group of people around a camp fire setting the scene for the story, which was then brought on by magic dust sprinkled on the fire. My sister and I would wait with anticipation every week for the 30 minutes of suspense and mystery that made up each episode. Sometimes the stories had a scary ending, but most of them ended on a rather positive note. Either way, we didn’t mind so much being scared because at the end of the day, we knew it was just a story being told by kids around a campfire.
But the show, “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”, while a silly show about scary stories, also opens up the mind to the real possibilities and emotions of fear in each of our lives. We are all afraid of something. We have all experienced fear. “Are you afraid of the dark?” is a valid question, and many of us might still answer, yes. We are afraid of the dark because we are afraid of what awaits us in the dark. We are afraid of the unknown, what is out there that we cannot see. We are afraid of what lurks in the corners. We are afraid because what awaits us in the dark is a mystery yet to be solved. Yet, Jesus is quick to tell us over and over again that we are not to be afraid, and today’s text from Matthew’s gospel is yet another occasion that Jesus tells us, “do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid” of the unknown, for all will be made known. “Do not be afraid” of those who reject you. “Do not be afraid to tell the truth, even if your voice shakes.” “Do not be afraid, for you have more value than you realize.”
Yet when we live in a world of fear, it seems as if it is more easy to be afraid that not to be afraid. We can’t turn on the news without hearing of another murder, robbery, or car accident. We can’t leave our homes without some sense of caution about the world around us. The kind of fear that Jesus asks his followers to overcome is the fear of getting out into the world bearing the name of Jesus on our hearts and lives. Jesus challenges his followers not to be afraid to share God’s kingdom, even in the midst of the chaotic world that awaits us out there. Jesus challenges his followers not to be afraid of what is still a mystery to us because the promise is that all will be revealed. Jesus challenges his followers to recognize their value as his followers and not to doubt themselves, especially in the presence of those who doubt us or our faith. We are so valued, in fact, that even the hairs of our heads are counted. And yes, even if you’re bald, that still counts!
Because we have such value in the eyes of God, Jesus sends us out in the midst of uncertainty to practice acts of kindness, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to live and act like followers of Jesus. But what are we so afraid of? Last week, I talked about how each of us are called by Jesus and given the authority to be “place hackers” and “map tackers,” meaning that we are given the command to go and make disciples, even if that means making disciples right here in our own community. I asked you all to come up and place a tack on this map as an act of promising to go forth and be the church outside of these walls and to commit to showing others the love of God….and the first time around, no one came forward. And I wondered why. This was a telling moment for me. I wondered if we are not, in fact, committed to sharing God’s love and inviting people into this space where they may get to know God and experience the wideness of God’s mercy. I wondered if we are scared to go out into our own community and put our faith into action. I also wondered if we are just so content with the way things are right now that we don’t want to make a difference in this community or disrupt the way that things are now.
And I the worst thing I feared was that some of us do not feel worthy or valuable enough to make a difference anymore because of age or lack of time or that we just don’t care. Either way, the empty map sat there and still sits there today because I think that we have work to do. I think that for some reason or another, we as a church are afraid. Afraid of change, afraid of new people coming in, afraid of doing more in the community, afraid that as individuals we do not believe in the value or worth we have for the church and building the kingdom.
Whatever the case may be, hear these words of Jesus: “Do not be afraid.” It’s a running theme throughout each of the gospels- we hear over and over that faith overcomes all fear- whether it’s fear of the unknown, fear of others, or fear of ourselves. Each and every person here, regardless of how old you are, what your skills are, where you are on your faith journey- each and every person here is valuable and can offer something to help build the kingdom of God. Each and every person here is called to a life of discipleship.
Discipleship can be a scary and overwhelming word and concept, but as followers of Jesus, it is to be our way of life. Church should not be just where we go every week because it’s just what we do or because it’s where we see our friends- it is where we are to be spiritually fed so that we can live the rest of our week in ways that glorify God, and where God may speak to us so that our faith will be strengthened and deepened. Discipleship is a journey. It is not a one-time conversion experience or moment, but it is a lifelong experience of discovering God again and again and helping others to experience God as well. Discipleship takes many forms, but at its core, it means that we love, follow, and serve God.
(From the Imagine IN team definition) A disciple is someone who experiences the forgiveness and acceptance of God, follows the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit, shares in the life and witness of a community of disciples (including Baptism and Communion), serves in some form of ministry every day, participates in God’s suffering and transformation of the world, anticipates a future in the presence of God, and yearns to lead others to become disciples. (Stay tuned! IN clergy (myself included) are writing a book on these definitions!)
I see people of this church being faithful disciples when we gather together to learn about God and study the Bible. I see people of this church being faithful disciples when we pray for one another, when we visit with and care for each other. I see the people of this church being faithful disciples when we help with the food pantry or community kitchen, when we offer hospitality to the community, when we gather for worship each week and are engaged in the life of the church not just socially, but spiritually. We are faithful disciples when we commit ourselves to deepening our relationship with God through study, loving one another, and loving the stranger.
As disciples, we have a lot of work to do, and it’s not easy, nor should it be. But if we are afraid, then we will not move forward. If we are afraid, we risk losing the church that we dearly love. If we are afraid, we show our lack of courage or faith. If we are afraid, we refuse to listen to what God is doing in our lives and the life of the church. Jesus’ words here, “Do not fear,” invite us to let a little heavenly light shine on the darkness of our earthbound fears. We have choices about our attitudes and the ways that we live (not so much over our feelings). Some of the godliest things we do in life are the results of overcoming our fears and realizing that we are ordinary people who can do extraordinary things.
Just the other day in Bible study, we were talking about the story of the Good Samaritan, and how we can be like that person who went out of his way to help someone in need when no one else would. We also voiced our honest fears about living in today’s world where you never know if that person you might help will do you harm or if the situation will put you in a dangerous situation. On the other hand, we talked about the fact that it is rare to hear stories of people doing good in this world in the midst of all of the bad news we hear. But if we listen carefully, there are still ordinary people doing extraordinary things that bring hope and healing in this world. Recently there was a story about a Georgia man driving along the interstate and he saw a baby crawling on the side of the road, so he pulled over and rescued the child. After calling 911, he was able to calm her down by playing gospel music to her on his cell phone. The two spent around 2 hours together as the police sorted everything out. This man is being called a hero by his community. And come to find out, this man is an ex-convict, who during his prison time made a conscientious effort to change, and he has. Today he works as an auto repairman, but can now add “hero” to his resume.
Ordinary people doing extraordinary things, overcoming the fears of what other people might think, overcoming the worry of what could have happened to him or the child, and stepping out into the light. This is what happens when we let Jesus’ words seep into our life and we overcome our fears.
But in order for us to overcome our fears, we must first be willing to accept the fact that we are worthy and valuable enough to be called followers of Christ and that we are all called for a purpose. This man who saved the baby had to overcome his past and do the right thing, while accepting that he is worthy of being called a hero. In today’s world, I fear that people do not hear enough how valued and how loved they are. Our children are ending their own lives because there is someone telling them that they are not good enough or that their lives are not worth living. Our elderly are hearing that they hold no value in today’s society. People are just trying to survive in this world that tells them they have to be successful, smart, beautiful, or rich just to be worth something. We live in a world where we live in fear of simply being ourselves and being the people that God calls us and shapes us to be. We are afraid of the world out there because it is cruel and unkind. Yet Jesus sends us out into it anyway. No matter how safe and secure we feel in this place, we live in the world out there that needs us to let go of our fears and live in to our commitment to be followers of Jesus. We need to stop being afraid of the dark and step into the light of Christ because the things that we fear are never the final word on our lives. We step into the light without hesitation because nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus- nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even fear itself, and not even the frightening things that happen to us. Are you afraid of the dark?
If so, what are you going to do about it?