“Living With Fear”

Matthew 6:24-34
Sunday, 2-27-11

I’ve got the final word on living a long and healthy life. The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans. The French eat a lot of fat and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans. The Japanese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans. The Italians drink plenty of red wine and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans. The Germans drink a lot of beers and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans. The conclusion is obvious: Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is going to kill you.

Thinking of fear, the word “cancer” certainly invites it. Except for cigarettes, what do you think the single biggest risk factor is for cancer, according to statistics? Age.  The odds of breast cancer, for example, go from one in 2,500 before age 30 to one in 8 at age 95.  Statistically speaking, it’s an older person’s disease.

[Source: The Science of Fear by Daniel Gardner (2008)]

Why is cancer so scary?  It’s a serious disease that’s sometimes fatal, and THAT’s when we hear about it most. It gets a lot of media attention, and the cases we hear about are the tragic ones of younger people or people we know about. It has a very human face, just like ours. It seems like it could happen to us or someone we love at any time.

In terms of scary, I also think of Molly Bish and Holly Pirranen.  Child abduction is a very immediate concern here because we’ve been living with it since that happened (maybe you’ve seen the billboard by the underpass by Shearer’s corner).

As real as it is locally, it is still highly uncommon. Statistically, a child under 14 is 26 times more likely to die in a car accident than from kidnapping. (from Daniel Gardner)

When we hear of things like kidnappings, our brains (or our guts) are wired to respond with fear — it motivates us to be careful.

Back when humans were hunters and gatherers, if you heard about a wild beast killing someone, it got to you by word of mouth from someone in your tribe or the one nearby. That meant it was a danger to you, too. Just hearing the news would make you more vigilant, more wary of every sound and movement. Your life may have depended upon it.

There can be a problem, though, when a tragedy reported in the news has the same impact on us as a report of someone in my tribe being killed by a wild animal. It can have that feeling of imminent danger, even if the odds are very, very remote, like kidnapping or cancer. A story about a case of a new and exotic illness can make us want to call our physician with every ache or cough, like the zika virus that seems to be growing in Central and South America. Multiply that by information we get from the internet, movies and TV shows. The news and the pictures make these events seem so immediate, so close by, so threatening, so sinister. They fill us with fear that we could be next. All this is, of course, with a backdrop of the concern about terrorism, the events in the Middle East, the crazy price of oil, and the economy.

When we’re scared, we’re not our best selves. Our minds our very preoccupied with being vigilant and looking out for danger. That takes mental energy, leaving us less able to make effective decisions. I read in a Christian magazine that a group of Americans were asked if they would support bombing Agrabah. Thirty percent said “yes.” Agrabah is a fictional country with a Middle Easter-sounding name.

All this information seems to add to our fear that the world — OUR world, God’s world, the world in which we live our daily lives — that it’s basically, fundamentally unsafe. We live on the edge of fear every day.

Fear for our health, fear for our safety.

And now Jesus asks us NOT to fear.

31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Jesus talks about the fear for lack of food, drink and clothing, and then asks us not to fear. Is fear a switch we can turn off like a light? Am I a failure if I’m still scared about my well-being, about my future and the future of my family? I think about our parents and grandparents who lived through the Great Depression. Not having food or clothing or shelter was IN FACT a daily concern for many of them. How do you set that aside as if it never happened?

As is often the case with Jesus, the question here also revolves around money. Apparently, his followers then were worried about having enough. Hmmm . . . some things never change!

I was chatting with a guy who does financial planning for people. He gave me an interesting piece of information. He mentioned a study done by Concordia College a little while back.

Researchers asked people how much money they needed to make in order to feel like they had enough. The answers were amazingly consistent across the board. It wasn’t a dollar amount, though. Across the board, when asked how much they needed to make, it was always twice their current income. If they made $40,000 a year, they wanted $80,000. If they made $80K a year, they wanted $160,000. If they made $160K, they wanted — amazingly — $320K. Everyone wanted twice their income in order to feel secure. Everyone feared for lack of money, no matter how much they     made.

David Lose looked at it this way: You can’t serve God and mammon. Why does Jesus warn against our allegiance to money?

            The issue isn’t money itself; the problem comes when we make money our god. Or as Luther once put it, “that thing which we trust for our every good.” Once we believe that money can satisfy our deepest needs, then we suddenly discover that we never have enough. Once we decide money grants security, next thing you know, we are in a world of counting, tracking, and stock piling.

            No wonder we worry – there is simply never enough to feel completely secure.” Scarcity – or the sensation of scarcity – creates fear. In turn, fear creates devotion to who or what will protect you.

            Abundance, on the other hand, produces freedom. The Roman rulers of Jesus’ time didn’t like it when he encouraged his followers to turn to the emperor and say, ‘I don’t need you for my security!’

So I wonder, What allowed them to do that, to be free from the tyranny of money for security yet live abundantly?

Vs. 33: But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

The Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness . . . the antidote to a life of fear. Nice idea, but how do we get there?

[From Nadia Ballas-Ruta on www.thinksimplenow.com]

            Overcoming fear doesn’t happen instantly or automatically. It is the result of deliberate intention, and conscious action towards things that scare you.

That reminded me of the training I got as a soccer coach when my son was in the 7-9 year old league. I’m sure I’ve said this before. The instructor, who was from Scotland, asked us, “Practice makes what?”

Eagerly, we responded, “Perfect!”

“No,” he said.  “Practice makes habit.”

Practicing some new habits can push fear aside, put it in its proper place. I have three ideas that might help, and I’ll bet there are tons of others. First, maybe you can watch less news on television or the internet. Being saturated with those images and sounds gives them more weight and power than they should have for our daily living and makes danger feel SOOOO close.

Second, when you’re feeling fear, try to look at it. Take a reality check; get a different perspective. Is it something really worth fearing? Or is it a one-in-a-million shot that just FEELS dangerous? For example, shark attacks are awful and the stories about them are terrifying, but you’re more likely to get hit by lightning.  Especially in Lake Thompson and on Forest Lake.

Third, strive for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. Work on your relationship with God as we go through Lent. Pray often and regularly. Listen for God. Read part of the Bible every day — maybe start with the New Testament.

Ask yourself and God, “What is this saying to ME?” Maybe ask someone else about it, too.

Look ahead to Holy Week to learn about the power of God’s righteousness. We’ll be doing the Tenebrae Service again on Maundy Thursday, where we read passages from the Bible and then extinguish candles until it’s completely dark in here. What a powerful service that is.

From Maundy Thursday to Good Friday we will look despair in the face in our worship. We’ll see that our worst fears can be realized, and that they were for Jesus.

On Easter morning, we’ll learn that not even that could defeat the power of God’s love. We will have lived right into the story of the resurrection in and through our worship together.

The Gospel is not about escaping from feelings of fear forever. It’s about living WITH fear, an inevitable and important part of life. Whether it’s fear for health, money, clothing, food, drink, or safety, following Jesus is about living a life defined by God’s righteousness and nothing else.

Fear: Fear this

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