When I was in college at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, we had a Halloween tradition called Haunted Halls. Every year, students would decorate the basement hallways in the freshman dorms. And the local elementary school students would dress up, travel through the Haunted Hallways, get candy, and in general have a good old Halloween time.
Since my dorm room was in the basement of Prosser Hall my freshman year, I was recruited to be the person to jump out from behind a pillar and scare the older kids. I didn’t have a costume on or anything (apparently I’m scary-looking on my own!), but I did wear all black to blend in with the garbage bag- covered walls.
The thing was, we had to have a system in place for me to know whether to jump out or not, because we didn’t want the younger kids getting too scared. So we had someone be the monitor at the start of the hallway, who would run down to me as the group would be entering, to let me know what age the kids were. If they were 3rd-5th grade, it was go time. If they were younger than 3rd grade, I would just stand out in the open and wave with a big smile on my face, and tell them “Happy Halloween.”
So this system worked really well for the first hour. I scared some 4th graders, some 3rd graders, and waved to a whole lot of 1st graders and 2nd graders. Then the monitor ran to me, really excited. “We’ve got a group of 5th graders coming! Get ready to scare them!” “Oh good,” I thought. “These kids are the oldest we’ve got. I’m REALLY gonna scare them!”
So I’m behind my pillar, listening. I hear the group of kids get closer and closer. As I hear them get right next to the pillar, I jump out, make a scary face, and yell as loud as I can.
And in front of me are—a group of Kindergarteners. The kid in the front of the pack starts sobbing and howling immediately. The rest of the kids freak out. Some start crying, some start screaming. One kid turned and ran back down the hall away from me, screaming and crying the whole way.
Their teacher came running, trying to figure out what happened. I apologized profusely, trying to explain that the monitor had told me it was a group of 5th graders, and that I would NEVER have done that had I known it was Kindergarteners. She gave me the “death look” and led her kids out of the hallway.
I probably scarred those kids for life. I’ll bet there’s currently a 19-year old, because that’s how old he’d be now-- who’s in counseling, and he’s like, “Well it all started in Kindergarten when this woman scared the bejeepers out of me…”
Making kids cry is no longer a hobby of mine, don’t worry. But it did make me wonder about the whole concept of haunted houses. Some people absolutely LOVE them. Just like some people LOVE horror movies. Anyone here like haunted houses or horror movies…? It’s a badge of honor to get through those scary things, without acting like a Kindergartener, running down the hall screaming for the teacher. Some people really like to get scared like that, in those controlled settings.
But even if some people like getting scared from movies and haunted houses, in our regular lives we don’t like getting scared at all. In fact, we are afraid of a lot of things in our lives. And what we are afraid of can affect how we live our lives, and how we make decisions.
I gave an unofficial survey on Facebook this week about what people are afraid of. I just posted on my status, “Question I’m asking you all, for my sermon this weekend: What are you afraid of?” I expected a few answers, mostly some basic responses. What I got was over 80 responses, and some were really deep.
There were the normal creepy-crawly answers— many people said snakes, spiders, bees, raccoons, rodents, bugs, flying cockroaches, scorpions. Someone even said zombies.
And the answers got profound very quickly. Many people said death, or the act of dying. Many said dementia, or the deterioration of mind or body because of age. Many said failure, or hurting their loved ones or letting them down. Some said financial hardship, and debt. Many said they feared their loved ones dying, especially children and spouses. Many said they feared being alone or unloved, or dying alone with no one to grieve for them. Many said not having meaning in their life, or not making a difference scares them. Many people said they fear having a debilitating illness—or health problems in general. Many said they feared for the state of our world today, and our country’s election process.
And the fears got very personal. Someone said they were afraid that their brother would die before they were able to reconcile with him. Someone said that they are scared that their cat ran away because they weren’t a good enough cat parent. I had two people message me privately to say that they were worried that they would or already had passed on a mental illness that they themselves had, to their children. Someone private messaged me to say that he was specifically scared of voicing his own opinion in a public forum, because people are quick ridicule and bash others, especially when the person speaking is on the margins of society.
Although we live our lives as if we are confident, the truth is, we fear a lot of things. Many of those deep fears that people said on Facebook are universal. How many of you heard at least one of your own fears in the ones people mentioned…? Yeah. We are all afraid of the unknown, of the future, of death or illness or being unloved. Fear is a part of being human.
That’s why we hear in the Bible over and over this important message from God, “Do not be afraid.” We hear this in our Old Testament reading in Genesis 15. God tells Abram, soon to be Abraham: “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Why was Abram afraid? He was scared that he wouldn’t have a child, an heir to his family. But God shows him all the stars in the night sky, and tells him that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. Which is true, because WE are all descendants of Abraham. “Do not be afraid.” God says, “I’ve got this under control.”
And Jesus starts our Gospel text from Luke 12 with those same words: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” What were his disciples afraid of? They were worried about having enough, having their needs met. If you were here last week, you heard Jesus’ story of the Rich Fool, who saved up a ton of food and a ton of things—only to die and not be able to enjoy any of them. Jesus tells the disciples not to worry, because God will provide us what we need. “Do not be afraid” Jesus tells them. God has got this under control.
God tells us not to be afraid, because God is in control. God’s promise for us is that God will always be with us, and give us what we need. We don’t have to be afraid—because God’s got our backs.
This past week, I was diagnosed with yet another rare disorder called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS for short. This basically means that I’m unable to be upright for long periods of time because my nervous system is unable to regulate my blood pressure and heart rate. Standing or sitting for a while makes me sick—my heart rate goes through the roof and my blood pressure drops-- and I sometimes almost faint. There is no cure, and doctors don’t really understand the illness very well. I’m on a high sodium diet and high fluids to try to regulate my blood volume and blood flow, and I get to wear these really fashionable compression stockings. So if you see me having to sit down, or greet people on a stool, or chug some water, or take a salt pill or eat a salty snack, you’ll know why. And-- I will be starting 3 months of cardiac rehab, which, if you know anything about rehab, I’m sure will be a complete blast and I will love every minute. Not.
I am terrified. I am scared of cardiac rehab, that it’ll hurt and make me feel worse. I am scared that the rehab won’t work, and that I will be chronically ill for the rest of my life, as some people who have POTS are. I am terrified that my health issues will continue to put a hold on or even end my dreams of having children. I am scared of what the rest of my life will be like, having two rare chronic illnesses that doctors don’t really understand and have no real cure for.
I was drowning in my own fear this week when one of my husband Will’s co-workers wives, Maureen, who also has POTS, talked with me. She said when she’s afraid and having a bad health day, she reminds herself of God’s promises. She gave me Psalm 103:2-4, “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
And she prayed for me on the spot, over the phone, asking that God remind me of God’s promises for my life. She has since messaged me on Facebook frequently, sending me Scripture passages that have helped her and that remind her of God’s love and mercy and healing.
It was Maureen who reminded me of God’s promises and that helped my fear. No matter what happens with my health, I know that God loves me and is with me. I know that we have a God who knows what physical suffering is—Jesus suffered extreme pain and death on the cross, so that we could live free of our sin. I know that God promises to be with me and to provide what I need.
“Do not be afraid.”
The message from God is clear. We all have fears. But God tells us “do not be afraid”. God promises to be with us, to love us, to save us, to provide what we need to live the life that God wants for us. We don’t have to be paralyzed by our fears. God is in control.
And we hear about God’s ultimate promise for us at the end of our Gospel text—that Jesus is coming again, at an unexpected hour. That Jesus will come and bring the new heaven and the new earth, that we hear about at the end of the Book of Revelation. And when that happens, there will be no more crying, no more pain, no more illness. The world will be as it should be. We only see glimpses of this now, but when Jesus comes again our world will be perfect, with God at the center and everyone whole and worshiping God.
We don’t have to be afraid, because God promises to be with us no matter what—and promises that death and pain and failure and illness and things that can hurt us do not have the last word. We will see the day that our Savior Jesus Christ returns and we will live with him forever and ever.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” May we be reminded of this promise from God, every day, every hour, every minute of our lives. Amen?