Faith and FearPentecost
I am afraid of failure. I am afraid of not doing what I say I am going to do. I am afraid of disappointing people. I know that all of us are afraid of a number of things. We are afraid of our way of life being challenged by forces we cannot control.
I want us to consider that fear is not the antithesis of faith; fear is an element of faith. Perhaps, we can accept fear as a steppingstone toward a deeper faith in the kingdom of God that is among us and at work within us.
Luke begins, “Do not be afraid.” Faith and fear live together in a way that we haven’t understood or embraced. The more I read these scriptures, the more I sense that faith and fear are not only partners, but they also exist side by side.
We often say that the absence of fear is faith, but I think that fear makes our faith stronger when we really understand the relationship between faith and fear. Fear is different than being afraid. Fear is external, something out there, fear is in the newspaper and everywhere we turn there are fearful things. When we are afraid, fear is internalized.
Jesus says, “do not be afraid.” Preparing the disciples, He encourages them to sell their possessions and give up the things that, perhaps, give them the wrong kind of confidence. He said something that should be our focus, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Jesus instructs the disciples to make purses that do not wear out, and make treasures that thieves and moth can’t destroy. In other words, make treasures that the fears around you cannot reach.
Jesus explains how to guard the treasure by describing the disciples’ intimate relationship with him. “You must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Often, this is taken to mean apocalyptic language implying a time that is scary and frightful and mysterious. However, Jesus was talking to the disciples about the unknown they were walking into.
Jesus is saying the kingdom of God is among us and within us and that is enough. We don’t need to be afraid of some mysterious or unknown time. We must be assured of the proven fact that God is walking with us into the unknown. It is up to us to decide if that is enough for us as individuals. Is that enough for us as a church?
Hebrews begins with that verse we all know, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” What the verse actually says is that faith gives substance to things neither present nor visible. The word for conviction actually means it offers proof. So, faith provides proof of what is not seen, what is invisible.
Faith is believing in something. It is the tension between where we were and where we are going. It is between the two of those that is the gem.
Faith is the substance of things not seen. Abraham was to receive it as an inheritance. He did not know where he was going. The only substance Abraham had was the assurance that God would lead him and provide for him; that is all he knew. He did not know how it would turn out; he did not know what he would find when he arrived. In his heart, Abraham was confident in God’s presence.
Fear is not the antithesis of faith but fear is an element of faith. We make a choice not to internalize our fear so that we become afraid. Still, we accept our fear as a stepping stone toward a deeper faith that the kingdom of God is among us and at work within us and that is okay. We trust one another, we trust the leaders we have ordained, even when we aren’t sure where we are going. We don’t have a clear picture of that and neither did Abraham or the disciples.
That is the difference between fear and faith. Whom do we decide to trust when we are afraid that the present isn’t shaping up as what we’ve always known? The same people aren’t here, and we wonder why. We are afraid because we don’t know who we are going to be. We don’t know what to do.
What do we do? We want something concrete to hang our future on. Jesus calls us to trust the one who brought us to this moment and the assurance that God will accompany us on the journey between the road we are now on and the homeland.
The Greek word for faith is pistis. The mythological Pistis was one of the spirits who escaped Pandora’s box and fled back to heaven abandoning humanity. The writer of Hebrews is speaking to people who believed that faith was lost and had escaped them because they thought Jesus was going to return to earth soon after his resurrection. When an expected event or result did not happen, they felt that faith had evaporated.
I see that being played out again and again in our language and in our behaviour. We think that faith and our hope have evaporated.
Three weeks ago, we had a baptism which is a proving ground that God is still calling us the beloved. He is naming us his children. He is preparing us to be faithful to him now as we walk into an unknown future.
Last week we celebrated the life of a dearly departed who had faithfully walked beside us without fanfare. She lived a confident faith that taught, in spite of death and difficulties, that God will keep and protect us.
Faith is the assurance that lives in our midst. It is strengthened when our fears provide the evidence that we do not need to be in control and that our future, though murky, is yet intact. Thanks be to God; our faith is assured.