Fear

I'll bet there're many of you out there that enjoy watching horror movies or maybe TV shows like fear factor! American film producers are cashing in on the human desire to dare to experience fear. Perhaps it is the need to triumph over what is thought of as a weakness. I mean everyone makes fun of the timid one in the group. Having someone clucking at us calls up our hidden resolve to go and do something rash and potentially dangerous. I don't know what it is about being made fun of that feels so threatening to our sense of self worth. Especially since rising to the challenge of someone who is mocking us actually demonstrates how weak our character is and how foolish is our wisdom.

But when it comes to horror movies, the challenge is there to create visual experiences that produce within our bodies that response to the fear of the unknown and only-to-be-imagined possibilities that suddenly could appear around the corner, down the back alleys and dark recesses of abandoned buildings, war torn nations, foreign espionage and alien invasions from another planet. Why? Why do we want to experience fear?

For some, I understand, it is enjoyable to experience the body's natural mechanism to protect itself. The heart pounds, breathing becomes more rapid in order to get as much oxygen to the necessary muscles that might have to kick in and run away. Stress hormones are released and the body sends throughout the bloodstream all the stored up sugar for energy. Blood is directed away from the stomach and surface skin instead straight to the brain and major muscles. This leaves you with butterflies and tingly skin. These physical sensations become addictive and you long for more and more frightening scenes because little by little your body needs them to produce the adrenaline rush as your body gets more and more conditioned and - in effect -handicapped.

For others it's all a big joke. You know it isn't real and you delight in figuring out the special effects, make-up and the seeming stupidity of the film writers. Course they are on their way to the bank to make a deposit. They don't care if you think it's stupid as long as you come to watch it

But what happens when the threat of danger is real? What happens when violence intrudes into your very reality and you have cause to fear for your life? Science tells us that the rational thinking part of our brain shuts down and the survival mechanisms in the more primitive parts of our brain take over. In other words we reactů.we don't think things through. Our muscles get tight and we start to sweat.

Such would have been the last seven days for the disciples who were hiding behind locked doors. They had witnessed their own people, the Jews, incited into a mob that screamed and shouted out for the release of a known criminal instead of a gentle man like their rabbi. That mob had lined the streets as he stumbled by eager to see his tortuous death. They would have been equally eager to catch a few of the disciples and send them to a similar fate. The horror the disciples had witnessed only a week ago was still fresh on their minds and they no doubt traveled carefully through the streets of Jerusalem avoiding the well known streets and marketplace. The horror was fresh and real. The smell still on their nostrils, the sounds still ringing in their ears. They hid, trembling not only because of their fear but confusion as well. They were not enjoying the adrenaline rush that accompanies fear. The question that raced through their minds was, "Now what?" "Now what?" The rabbi that had taught them so well for three years, had spent nearly every waking hour walking and talking with them was gone. He had shared with them every detail of the Father's design for their lives, the hope that awaited everyone that they would meet, the miraculous healings that could happen through their touch. He had commissioned them, "As you go out there into the world, teach. Share the good news of God's love. Tell them about me. Make them students like yourselves, eager to witness. Baptize them, give them the gift of the Holy Spirit, bring them closer to me and to the Father. When I am no longer with you as I am now, go!"

That time was now. Jesus had died, Jesus had arisen, but they were afraid. It seemed the whole world was looking for them, possibly to silence everything that had happened these past years. False stories were already circulating about the "truth" of this Jesus. How could they counter those lies? The lies were certainly traveling faster than they were. How will people know the truth?

And, then he came to them. He appeared though the doors were shut and locked. He was there. Can you imagine the joyful reunion! And he got so close to each one of them, they could feel the very breath of God rippling through their hair, speaking in their ears. Receive the Holy Spirit! And when Thomas was with them, he touched Jesus. Whatever was needed for them to have the courage to go forth into the world was given in that room. The dangers did not abate. We know that eventually all but one died a martyr's death. But they went forward boldly leaving a vast legacy of witnesses both men and women who were willing to face the evils of this world to tell the truth of God's love. Peter stood with the eleven not long after that day. He faced squarely the men who had sent Jesus to the cross, saying, "This man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses."

This is the message and the heritage of all the saints before us and the challenge that is presented to us today. Pope John Paul II passed away during the night, and the world lost a beloved influential Christian leader. He was a man willing to walk among the world's most desperately hurting people and willing to challenge government and social powers that stood in the way of life, justice and mercy. His life was threatened by an assassin, and over time his deteriorating health, but he did not shirk from the duty Christ had laid upon him, upon us all to meet the prayers and hopes of a world longing for peace and life. Popes, bishops, priests and pastors throughout the centuries trace our commissioning back to those moments when Jesus breathed upon the original disciples, saying "peace be with you," and sent them out.

The world is not a less dangerous place than it was 2005 years ago. As Christ's witnesses we are challenged to overcome our fears, to strengthen our resolve, to think clearly, calm our racing hearts and take another step of faith. What stands in your way? Where do you not trust that God will take care of you? As Peter said, "In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith - being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." Brothers and sisters, our lives are not our own. God brought us into existence, God crafted us out of God's own desires, gifted us with a variety of talents to be used to reunite all humankind with the love that brought it into being.

Our lives and everything that defines us are like golden nuggets. Locked up in our houses they are worth nothing but personal satisfaction. Invested or planted in God's fields, we golden nuggets produce hospitals, schools, homes, and sanctuaries. Each nugget has its own distinct glow and patina. Personalities, gifts, and priorities will be different, but if differences get in the way of God's work, then we are nothing but fool's gold. Yes, we may risk losing everything, but that is the definition of Christ. He gave up everything to save us from the sin of the world. As Christians, we say we follow his lead.

So, let's go. Stop watching the world and seeking thrills vicariously. Take that step of faith and face your fears squarely. Eliminate the words, "No, no, I couldn't do that." Change them, to "Lord, I hear you calling and I will answer, yes!"

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