Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Courage & The Kingdom

 For Israel, the time was dark.

They had been a vassal state for 600 years.

The old ways were being forgotten.

People were angrily divided along partisan lines

          – Roman collaborators versus violent insurrectionists.

Things were dark when the old priest, Zechariah,   

         entered the dark inmost sanctuary of the Temple.


In that darkness, the shining archangel Gabriel 

         surprised Zechariah with good news.

Gabriel’s message began, “Do not be afraid.”

But Zechariah was afraid 

         – too afraid to believe the rest of the good news

         about a future of joy and delight.

So he fell mute for nine months. 


 People are dumbstruck another time in Scripture.

In Mark, after the crucifixion, 3 women entered the dark tomb. 

An angel was waiting for them too.

The angel said, “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid.  

         He is risen. Go tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee.”

But Mark says, “They fled from the tomb 

         and told no one anything because they were afraid.”


In both cases, muteness was natural.

We are neurologically wired so that, when we feel threatened,

         one of our automatic responses is to freeze up.

Freeze can be fainting, dissociating, numbing out, or muteness.

Our Biblical characters froze because they were afraid.


They were afraid because God called them out of

         their secure Hobbit holes of habit to go on an adventure.

Starting with God calling Abram to leave his homeland

         and journey to a far-off place he did not know,

         the Bible portrays life as an adventure.

Adventures are not safe. They are risky, perilous.

Real life takes real courage.


Courage isn’t being reckless, 

         refusing to take realistic precautions.

It’s saying “Yes” to the abundant life God offers

         even with its ups and downs.

It looks like this: Gabriel said to Mary, Do not be afraid. 

         God calls you to be an unwed mother 

                in 1st Century Judea.

 And she said, 

         Let it be unto me according to thy word.

That’s courage.


Angels usually begin their messages 

         Do not be afraid because we must manage our fear 

         before we can hear God’s word and act on it.


The classic sci-fi book, Dunecalls fear the mind-killer.

That’s literally true.

In a state of fear, we are neurologically incapable

          of personal relationships, creativity, 

                  and even rational thought. 


Jesus said, Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it.

Clinging to safety, we don’t dare to live. We lose our lives.

Life is an ongoing unfolding process. 

But when we freeze, life stops unfolding.

That’s why the Bible says Do not be afraid 365 times.   


Fear grips us today.

Terrorists disrupt democracy that 

          requires mutual trust to function.

Mass shootings from Oxford to Boulder frighten us. 

Politicians use fear of Mexicans, Muslims, 

         and miscellaneous outsiders to manipulate us.

Businesses spread fear to sell guns, gates, 

           and security cameras.

Even Flonase ads portray allergens as menacing monsters.


To make matters worse, fear is contagious.

Fearful people emit a subtle odor.

When we unconsciously smell someone else’s fear, 

         we catch it like a virus.


2021 feels like Narnia at the beginning

         of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

         It’s always winter but never Christmas.

So how do we thaw out? 


The Bible gives us three ways: faith, hope, and love.

Faith is trusting the good news that our mixed-up mortal lives         are just chapters in an epic novel.

Spoiler alert. Our novel ends in grace and mercy.

Jesus called it the Kingdom of God.

He said, Have no fear little flock. 

         It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.

When today’s chapter is scary,

         we trust the larger story, God’s story.

Tagore said, Faith is the bird that sings at night 

          because he feels the light.

Faith is trusting God’s bright promise even in the dark. 


Hope is taking a risk on today for the sake of tomorrow. 

Emily Dickinson called hope:

            . . . the thing with feathers -

            That perches in the soul - . . ..

            I’ve heard it in the chillest land – . . .. she said.

Europe was a chilled land when the Black Plague 

         spread fear and death.

 But at the height of the Plague, Lady Julian wrote,

         All shall be well, and all shall be well

          and every manner of thing shall be well.

It isn’t well now – but it shall be – everything shall be.

That’s hope. 


Love is appreciative attention.

In the first Frozen movie,

         Elsa’s love thaws her frozen sister Anna.  

We can listen to each other and care. 

That’s love 101 and it’s enough to unfreeze Narnia 

         one friend at a time.

But how do we thaw ourselves?

Three ways: 

 First, we notice the people who care for us now

         -- or have cared for us in the past, even briefly or long ago 

         – a parent, a child, a lover, or a friend.  


We trust that they saw beauty in us, 

                  even if we can’t see it ourselves. 

Their love tells us something more deeply true than any fear.

Even a memory of love sets us free. 


Second, each day, we locate where 

         we hold the fear in our bodies.

Is it a tight throat, trembling hands, or jumpy knees?

Find the bodily experience of fear.

Then enfold it with caring, gentle attention,

         holding it like a child, reassuring it 

          like an angel whispering, 

                  Do not be afraid.


Finally, we circle back to Faith

         because Faith is the opposite of Fear. 

We trust the gospel promise that Reality is reliable. 

Our unknown future, with all its risks and perils, 

         leads us inevitably into the heart of God.

God is our destiny and God is Love. 

There is no fear in love, John says,

         for perfect love casts out fear.

God is perfect love.

So, have no fear little flock 

         It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.