Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What Are You Afraid Of?

What are you afraid of? I don't mean that as a challenge but a genuine question. What are the things that worry or frighten you? It seems to me that we live in a culture that is often driven by fear. Advertising on TV plays on our fears: fears about not enough to retire, homes being robbed, not getting into a good college, not getting a good  job, not being popular enough, not being in control, not being successful, getting old, getting sick, being alone, etc.

Sometimes it is difficult to know where the line is between reasonable caution and fear that keeps us from living the lives we should. I fasten my seatbelt in the car and wear a helmet when on my motorcycle. Both these seem reasonable to me, but I also get stuck in comfort zones that feel safe to me. I sometimes won't try something new and exciting because I fear it won't work, that I will look stupid, appear foolish, or seem not to know what I'm doing.

Fear figures prominently in today's gospel, Mark's story of the resurrection. Serious students of the Bible likely know that verses 9-20 in today's reading are not from the same hand that wrote the rest of Mark's gospel. Perhaps the original ending was lost or perhaps the writer intentionally left us with one that just hangs there. "So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." (The ending is even more awkward in the original Greek, ending with the word "for.") Regardless, we're left with a most unsatisfactory ending, one that later writers attempted to rectify. (These are often labeled "The Shorter Ending of Mark" and "The Longer Ending of Mark" in Bibles.)

"And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." Entrusted with some of the most wonderful news ever spoken, these witnesses kept it to themselves because they were afraid. Presumably something eventually helped them overcome that fear, or the story of Jesus would have ended there.

In my experience, church congregations are often rather timid places. They tend not to do much that looks bold or risky. They want assurances that any new program or effort will be successful and not fail. Here again, it can be difficult to know exactly where the line is between reasonable caution and fear that keeps us from living out our call to follow Jesus, but I think it clear that we often go way beyond caution. Very often, we act as though we have no resources beyond ourselves, no Spirit or spiritual gifts. Perhaps herein lies one of our greatest fears, that we can't actually count on God to come through when we seek to be faithful.

So what are you afraid of?

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