The reasons pile up when we explore why the voices of Scripture demand over and over again, “Do not fear.” God, Jesus, angels, disciples, judges, Paul, James, Naomi, Hannah—they all say it more than once. Why? Because life is scary! In particular, life as a follower of Jesus comes with lots of risk.
A quick personal story: I was at a press conference a few years ago as a young clergy-person here in Louisville. Standing among more seasoned colleagues in our robes and stoles, hoping our presence offered support to the point and speakers, I clapped and nodded at all the appropriate moments. After the formal presentation concluded and the reporters started asking questions, I watched my colleagues field the conversation from my out-of-camera, off-to-the-side perch. But then there was that one question that completely related to a book I had just read on the subject, and before I realized it, my feet had carried me to the center, eager to offer a response. My knees were legit knocking. My brain was racing, struggling to offer some cohesive verbal sequence.
Later that night at the dinner table when processing the event with my family, I unexpectedly burst into tears. One of my kids nonchalantly said, “What’s the big deal? You talk in front of people all the time.” (Fair enough.) “Because I was scared to death!” I implored. “In fact, I’m still scared…” I responded. New experiences, even when called to them, may prompt fear and panic.
A quick corporate story: Last night, the deacons met with the new class led by their new chair, Kim Shippey. While I hope that these gatherings do not prompt fear and panic for those whom the church has called to serve (wink!), I witnessed these leaders engage a full agenda of nuanced topics. We are in pastoral transition after all. Just as I am certain there were folks among our circle who were nervous or afraid, uncertain or eager, I also saw this body taking root—rising to the call of courage, centering themselves in love, compassion, honesty, and discernment. There were even a few sacred tears too.
Here’s the thing, the risk of rooting ourselves in God’s love, in the work of justice, in the hope that goodness will prevail, while a primary identity marker of our church, does not exempt us from fear. Change is scary. The risks are real and life-changing. But the Good News today invites us to release our fears while trusting in God’s courage. In turn, God’s courage becomes our own, and before we realize it, we find ourselves stepping forward to embrace unexpected and wonderful surprises. Church, take root! Have courage! God is with us!