Sunday, April 21, 2013

Be not afraid

Have you ever been in a room where the addition of a single person changes the atmosphere?  Just their presence, the force of their high octane personality, creates a swing in the mood of the whole.  I've been in a group of people talking quietly, maybe a bit seriously, and into this environment comes a person who revs the group into a whole different place--teasing, laughing, private jokes with close friends, loosening up even strangers (most of the time, anyway).  And though, most of the time, I think I veer toward being a pretty earnest, serious communicator, there are certain groups (my extended family, for instance) in which I have functioned as the octane that sparks the group. So, oddly, I know what it's like to both be changed and to change a group by the force of personality.

A group of scared men had retreated behind closed doors.  Not just closed doors, actually, but locked ones.  Deadbolted, I imagine.  And why?  Because they were afraid.  Afraid of what was out, who was out there.   Odd to think of these burly, muscled men afraid but it's the truth.  They were dead afraid.  Locked down afraid.  And when I imagine them talking, I think of several things: where it had all gone wrong; what on earth they were going to do next; and what about this crazy story those women--Mary especially--had told them about meeting Him in the garden?  A couple of them had seen a rolled away stone, empty tomb, discarded grave clothes, but--and this is a pretty big but--they were still hanging around in a locked room, questioning what it all meant.

Then in an instant, an sudden, unexpected instant, everything changed.  The very air in the room changed.  Because into that locked room came a new person.  "Don't be afraid," he said to those men who were shaking in their sandals. "I'm not a ghost. Touch me and see.  Touch my hands and feet." Stop being afraid. He says by His presence. His very presence first alarms (of course, I mean, someone appearing in a locked room?  Wouldn't you be scared?).But immediately that same presence changes their fear into joy and amazement.  His very presence!  What they hadn't been sure of they now know to be true.

It is important to note that what they were afraid of hadn't changed.  Only a single thing had changed: the presence of Jesus in their midst.  That's it.  His presence took away their fear.  His hands which had only three days prior had had nails pounded into them and his feet which clearly hadn't even scarred yet confirmed to those men that they had every reason to fear the pharisees who'd been after Jesus' hide.  Yet those same nail holes calmed their fears.  His voice calmed them.  But mostly, significantly, His presence, His very presence calmed their fears.

And once those fears were calmed, Jesus 'opened their ears so that they could understand the scripture,' according to Luke, then He explained everything that had happened to Him. He 'breathed on them,' according to John, and said," Receive the Holy Spirit.."  And there you have it.  Right there (or in the first chapter of Acts, in the longer, more well-known version of this event) is the reason the disciples went from fearful to fearless forever (how's that for allileration?). The presence of God.  It's always--always--about His presence.

So here's the deal--for you and for me.  Definitely for me.  I need to remember this. THIS WEEK we need to remember this, to know it down to our toenails.  To remember it in the watches of the night:  Where there is fear, He is NOT.  Where He is, there is no fear.  So when I am afraid, I am not living as if I am filled by the Holy presence of the Living God.  The Holy Spirit that was given to comfort, empower, to embolden me.  It sounds easy, doesn't it?  But I've struggled with fear.  I've awakened in the post-midnight hours with my heart pounding in worry about a child, a sibling, a friend. And many times those fears came straight out of dreams with not bearing on reality.

 Fear isn't always rational. But sometimes our fears spring straight out of our nightmares and threaten our walking around, daily lives. And that's fear with teeth. This week a city was dead-bolted in terror and the whole world watched in vicarious fear. And, as understandable as it all is, it's also surely enemy territory. Yes, such fear is exactly how the enemy likes it. After all, he is the author and perpetrator of such acts, no matter who set down the bag, pulled the trigger, or what the motive. It's always enemy territory when such evil is afoot. And when such evil is afoot, we have reason to fear. To hide ourselves away.

But in comes that Person.  That one presence that changes everything. Into homes that are locked, into a whole city closed down, He comes. Calming fears, opening eyes, making a way when there seemed to be no way.  And we need Him.  need Him to say, "Don't be afraid!"  Stop being afraid.  If I can speak His name in those dark watches of the night when I'm awakened in fear, He will be there.  Because He already is.  That's the clencher.  He already is.  He already in IN me. We need Him to remind us that He's the victor, no matter how many skirmishes go badly. HE has already won.

That's the point. Jesus tells us, "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."  John 16: 33

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