Ex 14: 5 – 14, 19 – 25
John 14: 18 – 20, 25 – 27
When Moses leads the people of Israel out of captivity, they go out boldly, rejoicing in their liberation, confident in God and Moses. But then Pharaoh and his officials change their minds. I imagine it suddenly dawned on them that there were a lot of major building projects, and road construction, and gardening, and farming, and fruit picking, and laundry, and cooking, and cleaning, and childcare…
Basically, a lot of hard labor wasn’t going to get done without the convenience of an enslaved people under their control. So Pharaoh decides to re-nig on his deal, and he and his soldiers take off in hot pursuit.
When the people of Israel see the soldiers coming, their boldness dissolves like sugar in water, and they cry out to the Lord in fear. They turn on Moses and bitterly criticize him for leading them, not to freedom, but to death…their shouts of rejoicing turn to shouts of accusation and recrimination.
Moses says to them, “Be not afraid, stand firm. See the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.”
“Be not afraid.”
We hear that a lot in the Bible. When angels appear, the first thing they say is, “Be not afraid.” Jesus is always telling the disciples and those who gather to see and hear him “fear not.” In the face of seeming, certain death, Moses says to God’s people, “Be not afraid.” It’s much easier said than done. Maybe that’s why we hear it so often in Scripture.
There are just so many things for us to be afraid of…afraid of losing your job…afraid of not finding a job. Afraid of not being able to pay your bills or put food on the table…afraid of losing your home…
…afraid of not getting into college… afraid of not getting into a GOOD college …afraid of not being able to pay for college…..
We are afraid of our physical failings…afraid of falling…breaking something…afraid of cancer…or the return of cancer…afraid of heart disease and diabetes…afraid of hospitals…
Our media feeds and inspires fear because it helps get good ratings. We are flooded with stories about threats from terrorists, ISIS, stagnant and divisive government, scary immigrants, and immigrant children who are coming to take over our schools and bring crime and disease into our midst…
And now this past week, we are once again afraid of random shootings, lone-wolf gunman, concealed carry laws, living with guns, and living without guns…
And then there is the weather to fear…rising temperatures, fearsome storms, increasing climate issues. There are even the mundane close-to-home scares…local sightings of wild cats, coyotes, bears, infected ticks, rabid mosquitos…and on…and on….and on…and on. There is so much fear in our country, that the use of anti-anxiety meds continues to increase among adults, teenagers, and even children as young as three and four.
I am not in any way criticizing the use of medications when they are needed and can provide relief. I am lamenting, that as a society, we have allowed ourselves to become so scared and anxious, that we are making ourselves and our children sick with fear.
Fear in and of itself is not a bad thing. Fear is helpful when we are in dangerous and risky situations. A healthy dose of fear when mountain climbing; or walking on unfamiliar, dark city streets; or being on a subway platform late at night; or getting lost in an unfamiliar place, keeps us alert and prepared.
Healthy fear, provides adrenaline that sharpens our responses, clears our minds, and wakes up our senses. Fear is not healthy when it begins to consume our lives and influence our ability to set goals, or accomplish tasks, or to find joy in our lives. Fear is not healthy when we become trapped and paralyzed, unable to move or grow. When fear becomes toxic … it is a tidal wave that washes over us and threatens to carry us away and drown our spirit.
Moses says to God’s people, “Be not afraid. Stand firm. See the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.” Being fearful is a part of being human. And it is difficult to just stop being afraid. So what are we to do when we become entangled in our fears? What are we to do to go boldly into the world?
I would revise Moses command and say, “Be courageous, be firm in your faith in God, and face what you fear.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, a mystic and world advocate for peace, says, “Fear keeps us focused either on the past, or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”
He teaches us that one way to overcome fear is to “Be,” to be here and now, and to live mindfully, in the moment…or to break down what we fear into something that is manageable.
I hate shots. Who doesn’t? The way I have learned to manage shots is to ask the nurse to tell me “Now” and “Done”. That lets me be worry free until I hear “Now”, and I can always hold on through “Done.” That small space between “Now” and “Done,” is completely manageable for me. That is a small example of living in the moment.
Let’s practice!! I invite you to close your eyes for a moment, and simply “Be” present in this moment. Take a deep breath in and slowly breath out. Relax your neck and shoulders. Sink into your seat. What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you sense around you? What do you feel?
Embrace this moment, this moment, where you have shelter, warmth, the company and support of people who care about you and that you care about….Delicious smells that promise coffee and a lovely meal later…the sounds of birds chirping…the whisper of soft rain. Here, in this place, and in this moment…be not afraid. Rest in God. That is the peace beyond understanding that Jesus prays for us.
As a spiritual practice, I invite you to look for, and to create, these “not afraid” moments in your life, moments of safety and comfort, moments of love and joy, moments of peace and hope, in the presence of God. Notice them. Savor them. Hold on to them. Collect them in your heart like precious jewels. These moments are the divine antidote that will inoculate you against the power of fear.
Moses says, “Do not be afraid, stand firm. God will fight for you.” God is with you…face your fear, even though what you are facing seems impassable or impossible, step forward with faith and God will open a way…God will get you through.
Facing our fears means taking that first step onto dry land where water was only a moment ago. It means stepping out in faith, standing firm, acknowledging and carrying fear, but not letting fear carry you away.
One of my favorite books is a Sci-fi classic called Dune. The main character’s mantra that gets him through is this, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
Let your fear wash over you and through you and then imagine it draining out of you, emptying like the Red Sea, until you find yourself standing on dry land, standing firmly on God, the rock of ages, the foundation of creation. Letting fear pass over and through us and letting it drain out of us, allows us to remain intact, strong, and firm within ourselves and within our faith.
Moses says, “Do not be afraid, stand firm. See the Deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.”
When you are afraid, Step out boldly, with faith in God. See the Deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you….today. This day…this blessed, gift from God, day. Not tomorrow. Not some day in the distant future.
Do not be afraid. Stand firm, and see what the Lord will accomplish for you!