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Why Are You Afraid?

Dr. Bruce Lancaster

March 6, 2016
Exodus 14:10-18

A Reading from Exodus

 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’

 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.’

LANCASTER, BRUCE; (Staff)49A friend and I were talking about the variety of stresses that were pressing in on the people of our congregations.

We began to look at the economic stress for individuals and the church, family stress, marital stress, emotional distress, health issues, political stress with friends, financial distress in a business.

He said it was awful, but what was more awful was the way people had begun to intensify and exaggerate any hint of bad news and jump to the most calamitous of conclusions.

He said,  “We awfulize just about everything,” and we began to talk about that new word – AWFULIZE – a-w-f-u-l-i-z-e – AWFULIZE: To see the worst, most awful possibilities and assume they will be our future.

In other words, to do what the children of Israel did as they are leaving Egypt, standing on the shore of the Red Sea, and the thundering cloud of the Egyptian army is fast approaching – their swords and spears ready to destroy these escaping slaves, the Israelites began to long for the good old days of slavery back in Egypt. They AWFULIZED the situation, and the story goes, “In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord!”

Jump ahead some thousand and so many years to the Sea of Galilee where you get the same story: the disciples and Jesus are crossing in their boat; Jesus asleep in the back, and a storm suddenly sweeps across the water, and they cry to the Lord, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”

And let’s jump ahead from that story some couple of thousand years to us – whether we’re standing between the devil and the deep blue sea or sailing into the perfect storm of where life is sinking fast – we understand that fear!

All that’s pressing in on us, instead of things getting better and better and spiraling up, life spirals down and down and just like the Hebrews, we know the fear of being caught between two seemingly impossible situations…

Maybe it’s about the job or no job; maybe it’s about what the doctor will say or might not say, or maybe about grades or graduation, or a young parent’s fear of parenthood – we know that we are creatures in a world where we know we are creatures not really in control of our world.

So we awfulize – we see the worst, most awful possibilities and fear for what we assume will be our future.

I know there’s something in the Bible about not bearing false witness, so it’s amazing how so much disinformation circulates among otherwise intelligent folk, and some of the things people believe are weird and silly, but some of them are serious and dangerous, and so much of it is passionately embraced and believed, about our world, about our lives– the awful things that can happen.

How is it then, whether in relation to political debates, religious issues, gossips about friends, or anything else that comes our way, we stake out hard line positions based on faulty information and internet innuendo.

We awfulize the situation when opinion counts for fact; when half-truths and insinuation become weapons in a verbal assault on our sensibilities and the armies of fear encircle our camp.

Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” As it turns out, we also need the truth to keep us free.

When we awfulize our situation or when we awfulize others; we betray who and what we are as disciples of Jesus Christ.

God cuts to the heart of our fears with the question: why do you cry out to me…why are you afraid: Duh! The boat’s sinking, the Egyptians are coming, I’m afraid of what’s happening in my world, I’m about to die…

Listen again, though, not ‘what’ are you afraid of, but “WHY?”

God knows what we’re afraid of, and God asks us ‘why.’

The ‘why’ is the constant tension in the real world between fear and faith.

Rather than awfulize the situation or other people, we need to faithfulize and hopefulize…faithfulize and hopefulize.

Look at Moses in the face of those who were awfulizing their condition, who cried out in fear to the Lord.

He faithfulized the situation as he reminded them that they live in the presence of God, whose presence is a burning reality in our lives.

Jürgen Moltmann, in his new book, The Living God, writes: The modern world takes its bearings from humanistic and naturalistic concepts of life, and in so doing, what it experiences is a diminished life. Christian life takes its bearings from ‘the living God,’ and in doing so, experiences the fullness of life.

Peter describes the fullness of the Christian life like this, he says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope.”

The fullness of life–not fear, a living hope–it’s the same message that Moses was giving the people of Israel as they stood by the Red Sea.

It’s the confidence and courage to live in the present because God is at work – it’s to be that person who takes the first step into the muddy water that was the Red Sea. That’s what it is to faithfulize and hopefulize rather than awfulize!

During what would be our last Christmas together, when my 58 year old father was dying of cancer, because I was afraid, I asked him, “Daddy, are you afraid?”

And he answered, “If my faith is no good now, what good is it?”

Our culture, our world, our lives desperately need faithful and hopeful Christians who can rise above the circumstances of the day and offer a dynamic counter message of truth.

Let’s reverse our culture’s faithless trend of awfulizing our lives and our world and building walls of fear, and instead let us be the ones to reclaim our baptismal vows as people claimed by God and guided by faith, hope, and love.

Then we will truly have something new and good and different to offer the world around us.