Based on Psalm 130, 2 Cor 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43
Believing…in today’s scripture reading from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying, “…Do not fear, only believe….” (Mark 5:36) Isn’t that an interesting juxtaposition of words? What is it that Jesus is telling us about the power that fear exerts on our ability to believe? How might fear be inhibiting your belief and trust in God?
In my experience, many people lead lives that are ruled by fear. I have seen people create a mess of their futures because they projected fear-based scenarios so horrific that they never took any chances and thus missed opportunities to grow in their careers and to use their God-given gifts – they always played it safe and lived looking backwards. I’ve seen people so afraid of the present and future that they self-medicate with alcohol and/or recreational chemicals and become numb and non-functional in everyday life. I’ve seen people who were so afraid that they had some dire disease that they never went to a physician until it was too late. I’ve seen people who so feared failure or the judgment of a powerful figure in their lives that they never enjoyed the life they were living – it was never good enough. I’ve seen people be so fearful of God that they never allowed themselves to live into the possibility that God could be forgiving, loving and welcoming. Fear can paralyze people into never living the life they were created to live.
On the other hand, I also know that fear can be a motivating and positive factor in one’s life, leading to avoidance of harmful activities, taking precautions to keep oneself safe, creating safer work and home environments, etc. Motivating fear is positive and has some benefit to us and to society. The problem comes with paralyzing fear – fear that limits us as children of God. This is the fear that keeps us from the courageous trust and faith that David showed towards Goliath, or that the Apostles showed to the world as they began to spread the gospel according to Jesus the Christ. Let us go to God and ask for a more apostolic view that chose belief over fear…
The psalmist pens a hopeful lyric of waiting for divine redemption. Things are dark and fearsome and the writer is in need of forgiveness for sins committed. He is pensive as he waits for God to answer his prayers – more so than those who are up all night waiting for the dawn to come again (fearing it won’t). His belief in God overcomes those dark thoughts and fears and he cries, “…O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is hesed, and with him is great power to redeem. It is God who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities….” (Psalm 130:7-8) Only God can redeem Israel (and us) from deep seated and pervasive sin. The writer’s belief in a God who hears, knows and still forgives allows him to wait on the LORD in hope.
Paul is exhorting the believers in Corinth to match the generosity of the believers in Macedonia. The latter had come through some persecutions and had acted on their belief in God to send material help to others (such as a tithe to the church in Jerusalem). Paul is testing the Corinthians to see if they operated out of a sense of scarcity or abundance. If they fear that they will run out of money, then they will operate out of a scarcity model and will keep material wealth for their own communities. If however, their love of God is genuine, then they will give out of their abundance so that there might be a “fair balance” in Paul’s words. Fear can cause us to hoard what we have been given rather than sharing it widely with those less fortunate.
The boats carrying Jesus and the Disciples made it across the Sea of Galilee to the other side – where they were met by large crowds again. As they disembarked, a leader of the synagogue, Jairus, pleads with Jesus to save his young daughter from death. In the large crowd that same day, a woman who had suffered hemorrhages for 12 years and had spent all she had and was no better. In her distress she believed that if she could just touch the hem of Jesus’ robe she would be made whole. It happened just as she had believed and Jesus praised her for her faith which had made her whole again. While she was speaking to Jesus, Jairus was told that his daughter had died. Fear must have gripped Jairus’ heart as he heard those words that condemned his trip to Jesus as “too little, too late”. Jesus, sensing his fear of death, said to him, “…Do not fear, only believe….” Jesus took his inner circle, Jairus and his wife, and put all the scoffers outside. Then he simply told the girl to get up and she did – then he told them to feed her as they normally would.
“Do not fear, Jesus said, “only believe”. The belief described in our scripture verses this morning speaks of a faith that is not limited by negative thinking or barriers. It operates out of a hope that God’s love and faithfulness have always been available and that there is no reason to believe that they would now suddenly go away. It operates out of a knowledge that even when we wait to go to God after we have exhausted all our resources and have suffered for a long time, that God’s grace is available to us when we reach out our hands. Not with an attitude of “well, I’ve tried everything else, what have I got to lose?!”, rather with an open and longing heart and mind for the shalom that only God can give.
Because God’s love never runs out. God’s redeeming power never goes away nor gives up on us. God is always calling to us to come back and be in right relationship. God will forgive no matter how long the night has been, how long we have been suffering without seeking the Almighty, what the odds might be that God alone can make things whole. God’s love is the most powerful and generative force the world will ever know – and we have been given access to it through our baptisms and grace.
Yet, the power of evil puts doubts and fears in our minds. Questions whether God will really show up this time when we pray; whether the worst will happen; whether we really are alone and we have just been deceiving ourselves with thoughts of God; whether we can continually operate out of God’s abundant life or Satan’s scarcity model. Jesus shows us the power that allow us to live into the future that God prefers for us with five words. Do not fear, only believe. Believe that you are a beloved and gifted child of God who has access to God through prayer and the ever-present power of the Holy Spirit. Believe that God will never leave you alone to face the darkness. Believe that God does not play favorites – but that all of God’s children share equally in the promises and power. Believe that fear limits while God provides a future that is limitless in its power to create the world in the way that God wants it to be.
Today, right this minute, put away the fear in your life and lean into a God who is waiting for you to discover your full potential and God given future. Put your life fully in God’s capable hands and trust the teaching of Jesus, “Do not fear, only believe”! Amen and amen.