Throughout scripture, God sends people the message: “Do not be afraid.” To Abram, to Hagar, to Moses, to Joshua, to Daniel, to Mary, to Joseph, to the disciples. “Do not be afraid.”
Sometimes, in the midst of my worries and anxiety, I bask in these words that come from the lips of angels, from the mouth of Jesus, from the rush of the Spirit around and within: “Do not be afraid.” I receive these as words of deep comfort. I imagine my gentle mother God pulling me into her lap and smoothing down my hair, whispering into my ear, “It’s O.K., Joanna. Don’t be afraid.”
Yet this week, as I come to these words in the midst of preparations for our worship service on September 11, “Do not be afraid” sounds to me a bit less gentle, a bit more prophetic. Through the lens of 9/11 and its aftermath, “Do not be afraid” sounds more like an urgent command than a calming encouragement.
The past ten years in this country have been a stark example of what can happen when people are afraid.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been propelled by our fear.
The assault on individual liberties in this country has been justified by our fear.
The use of torture has been rationalized because of our fear.
Assaults on individual Arabs and on Muslim communities have been fueled by our fear.
Fear is not just psychologically uncomfortable; fear is one of the most destructive forces in the world. If we weren’t reflecting on 9/11, we could look at Nazi Germany or United States slavery or the Rwandan genocide or . . . .
When fear takes hold of us—as individuals or as a nation—we go into short-sighted survival mode. We may irrationally fight violence with violence. We may be paralysed into silent acceptance of the evil that surrounds us. Fear has a way of centering us on the self and blinding us to the needs of others.
“Do not be afraid.”
God speaks these words not only to comfort individuals, but to protect us all from the harsh consequences of fearfulness.
And so again and again and again in scripture we hear: “Do not be afraid.”
I pray these words will take root in our souls—not just for the sake of our individual comfort, but for the sake of our communities and our world. I pray that God will grant each of us and all of us the grace of fearlessness so that Christ’s kingdom of justice, of love, of peace may come on earth. Amen.