Do not fear what they fear

Psalm 118 (Morning)

Psalm 145 (Evening)

Zechariah 9:9-16

1 Peter 3:13-22

Matthew 21:1-13

1 Peter 3:13-22 NRSV: Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you– not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

“Do not fear what they fear.” Wow.

How many times can we look back and feel ourselves drawn in by the tractor beam of someone else’s fear, into the sucking black vortex of despair? I’ve gotten a real glimpse of how the things we do can trigger the fears of others, as I prepare to go on this mission trip to the Republic of South Sudan. It’s almost like I can see exactly what my friends fear the most when they imagine themselves going. One of my friends keeps yelling, “Ebola! They have Ebola there!” Another keeps asking me whether I know if cobras hang around outhouses like blacksnakes historically do in northeast Missouri. One of my former students sent me an article about an outbreak of dengue. Now, most of the time, I easily manage to dismiss them…but catch me at a time I’m a little on the tired or distracted side, and I feel just the smallest bit of “pull” into being sucked into my own apprehensions, which usually don’t involve disease but involve feelings of powerlessness in the face of such need.

Of course, I’m kidding around a little bit here, but think a bit about how the fears of others influence us. That seems to happen a lot in the workplace. All it takes is a rumor about some sort of financial uncertainty and folks get all territorial and snippy about little bitty things on the job, fearing there will be personnel cuts. Supervisors in a bad mood might ask a question in a rather curt way, and those under that person immediately start thinking they or someone else screwed up, rather than considering the possibility that their boss is really being grouchy because their cat threw up on the new carpet.

Families are another place where fears can engulf us. A chronically ill family member, at times, can exert a form of emotional control on the rest of the clan because no one wants to be responsible for that person being stress to the point they become more ill, or even die. Most of the time that person isn’t necessarily being manipulative on purpose, but the constant weight of their own fears about their illness can begin to feel like manipulation. Oh, and surprise, surprise–churches aren’t immune either. A parish with a long history of being “a little church in the middle of nowhere” might always feel on the edge of extinction even when they are doing well, because the collective history includes times when they were on the brink of being closed, or the most active member of the parish got angry and left, or the clergy never seems to want to stay more than a few years. Fears never expressed at the vestry meeting are instead expressed in the parking lot or in group e-mails.

Then, of course, there’s the blame game–and that’s where our Epistle today provides some insight. Life being what it is, things go wrong now and then. The best intentions fail. The most comprehensive plans are thwarted by influences out of our control. Rather than use them for opportunities to rethink our positions, and continue to keep hope alive, the tendency of human nature is to draw a protective circle around ourselves and our egos by blaming someone else. The early church was no exception. But our passage asks us to disengage a bit by seeing suffering as as little more universal than we usually do when we react in fear and blame others. No one who has ever drawn breath on the face of this earth has avoided suffering–not even Christ–and it is in Christ’s resurrection despite suffering and death that transforms our own suffering from being an endpoint to simply being a waypoint. Fear doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all of our existence. Instead, it can be a vehicle for transformative hope.

When was a time in your life when someone else’s fear changed you for the worse? When was a time you remember having a fear transformed into a catalyst for hope?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid. Dr. Evans is currently on a mission trip from the Diocese of Missouri to the Episcopal Diocese of Lui, South Sudan.

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