Don’t Be Afraid

This is my radio devotion for Tuesda, October 6, 2020, aired on KBBN/KCNI, who graciously airs devotions from the pastors of the Custer County Ministerial Association.

“Dying is easy; living is harder.”

Good morning, I’m Pastor Matt Fowler of Broken Bow United Methodist Church, and that line comes from George Washington’s character in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical Hamilton. Later, he’ll change it to, “Fighting is easy; ruling is harder.” This week, let’s explore some of the things Jesus does and says in the Gospel of Mark that might all fit the following Hamilton-esque pairing: Hearing Jesus is easy; following him is harder.

Here’s a doozy for today: twice in Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells people in the midst of legitimately fearful situations, “Don’t be afraid.” The first instance is Jesus telling Jairus, the synagogue leader, “Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting” (Mk 5:36). Jesus and Jairus were on the way to Jairus’ daughter, who was about to die, but Jesus says this after overhearing news that the girl had died. Then, in the second instance, the disciples are in a boat heading across the Sea of Galilee, hindered by a strong wind. In the near-dark of early morning, Jesus comes walking up to them across the water, and they screamed, thinking he was a ghost. They were terrified. But Jesus says to them simply, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid” (Mk 6:50). Both scenes end with peaceful, happy resolutions. Jesus raises Jairus’s daughter from death into new life, and the winds upon the lake settle down as he gets into the boat.

But, honestly, isn’t “Don’t be afraid” far easier to say than to live? Just as in these gospel scenes, serious, life-threatening things are all around us. I suspect we all have different tolerance levels for risk, or different things that let fear creep into our hearts. But are any of us immune to it?

When I was in college, my dad would always say, “Be safe on the road, and watch out for the other guy.” He never mentioned it, but I wonder: was he a little afraid of someone coming headlong at me in my lane because he had lived through such an accident while his friend, the driver, had not?

Some parents I talk to – and I’m not immune to this – are a little fearful of what our kids might be exposed to on the internet, like YouTube or Tik-Tok, before their hearts, minds, or eyes are ready to see certain things. Others, across the age spectrum, are fearful about the direction of our country – perhaps regardless of party affiliation. Some are, regardless of professed faith, afraid of dying, even if death itself isn’t particularly concerning to them.

Indeed, there’s much we might be afraid of, and yet, Jesus tells people he cares about, people in very serious situations, “Don’t be afraid.” And so, perhaps the only way to listen to and follow Jesus in fearless – or fearing-less – lives, is to develop practices through which we can build our trust in him. In this, prayer and rest, as we talked about yesterday, may be some first steps. Another might be to get to know Jesus more through a regular scripture reading practice, particularly of the gospels. And still one more might be to practice a mantra prayer, perhaps from scripture, to repeat to ourselves whenever we feel fear creeping in.

Let’s pray one of these now from Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” May it be so.

Have a blessed day.

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