Why Are You Afraid?
This past several weeks the talking heads on the various news programs have been commenting on the fearfulness of our times. I will admit that some of the news is potentially frightening. Yet, once again, we hear Jesus inviting us, no urging us, to let go of our fears. The one phrase he says more than any other is, “Do not be afraid.” Yet, fear continues to be a potent and pervasive force in our lives and in the life of our community.
From the moment we are born, we learn to fear the world around us, certainly to fear the stranger, sometimes to fear even those who are closest to us. Political leaders have long recognized the power of fear in ensuring our conformity to the structures this world, even when doing so does not serve our best interests. Fear is the driving force behind vast segments of our economy, as well as, increasingly, our political priorities.
Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in a lecture at Auburn University said that we are born with two innate, or natural, fears: loud noises from behind and falling from a height. All of our other fears are learned – including our fear of strangers and the unknown. Our parents, and our families, are the chief source for our learning; and once embedded into our souls, our fears are difficult to dislodge and/or overcome.
Jesus recognizes that fear will also cause the failure of discipleship. Jesus’ disciples courageously leave the security of their homes and families to follow him as they proclaim the advent of God’s reign, but they, too, will know and ultimately bow before the power of fear. Faithful proclamation and practice of the gospel inevitably puts disciples on a collision course with the powers of this world. So, as Jesus prepares his disciples for their mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” he is starkly realistic about the threats they will face, at the same time he builds the case for why they should not let this fear master them or hinder their witness.
Is there an answer for our fears and anxieties? I believe the answer lies within today’s epistle lesson. Paul is describing for us both the immediate, and eternal, effects of the sacrament of baptism by linking our baptism with the death and resurrection of Jesus, reminding us that as Christians our lives are already caught up in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
Theologically, Paul’s view on baptism is that it is a journey or a process and its effects are not only for a moment but for an entire life. Believers must understand that the baptism Paul is talking about in Romans 6 does not just wash away the stains of sin, but rather, it is a participation in the death of Jesus the Christ and an anticipation of his resurrection.
The result of this participation and anticipation are that one has to believe in and embody a resurrection life. Christian life is basically a life of resurrection and that is what makes Christian faith unique from other religions. Secondly, baptism does not erase sin, rather it puts it in check. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, baptism builds a wall around a believer and sets boundaries on what to practice and what not. With time, a believer walks into grace and life become a new creation Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17.
One can experience salvation in the now moment, but the full view of salvation is a mystery and will be revealed to us in God’s time. The theological point to be noted is that the follower of Christ is reconciled with God and is in the furnace of being saved. The reconciled person in Paul’s theological view is the one who will “walk in the newness of life.” Salvation in Paul’s proclamation of the Gospels is that it is embodied in the real life of a believer. However, suffering, temptation, and tribulation are not excluded simply because one is in Christ. Rather, suffering is in many ways a process through which God’s salvation can be manifested and realized.
Those who identify themselves with Jesus the Christ in his atonement through baptism can no longer tolerate and even cooperate with sin – which includes our fears. Our life is now grounded, shaped, directed, and formed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, the motivating center of our everyday living is now directed towards Jesus the Christ. Everything we do is determined by Jesus the Christ on whom and through whom sin has been defeated forever.
This is the hardest part of being a Christian, not just in North America but also in the Global South. Christians must always remind themselves that our old self, our culture, our rights, our private spaces, and the desires of our flesh were crucified with Jesus the Christ. Our daily living must demonstrate our newfound and grace-filled status in Christ.
As we continue to live in fearful times, let us remember the calming words: “Don’t be afraid.” In doing so, let us once again remember who we are, and whose we are through our baptism; and surrender our fears to the all-consuming love of Jesus.