Rev. Jane R. Dunning
The words, “fear not” appear more than 300 times in the bible. As God, or God’s messenger, approaches a human, these two words often the first form of address. We are a fearful, anxious, worrisome part of God’s creation. The list of human phobias is long and complex, but many psychologists say these are all derived from 5 essential human fears...
Fear of extinction, which includes the fear of death... That panicky feeling when you look over the edge of a high building is an example. This is a primal fear that we share with most of God’s creatures
Fear of mutilation, or serious bodily harm, fear of anything that would harm our body or its function. Again, this is a primary fear for our survival. Fear of separation can be fear of abandonment, rejection, loss of connection with others. This can be fear of being unwanted, not respected, or not valued. This can be fear of the loss someone we love. Fear of loss of autonomy, fear of being paralyzed, restricted, fear of loss of control.And number five is one they call fear of “ego death.” This is the fear of humiliation, of shame, of anything which causes profound self- disapproval, loss of any sense of self-worth. This is what we see when our young people are the victims of bullying... Sadly this is often the cause of suicide.
These are the five basic human fears, and all other types of “phobias” can be placed under these five...
And how does fear affect us? First of all there is the primary reaction of fight or flight. To this, currently doctors are adding the word “freeze.” As they work with those who have suffered a traumatic event, they find that some people react by totally freezing... unable to cope in any way.
Fear makes us selfish... Our basic reaction is to think only of ourselves and those close to us. This can be a form of emotional freezing... It makes us unable to interact with those around us. Fear makes us unresponsive... our mind is frozen and we cannot face the situation in any kind of creative way. We cling to old patterns and old reactions... another form of freezing. This form of mental freezing makes us short-sighted and unable to find a way out of the current situation.
In the passage from Luke’s gospel we have a member of the crowd asking Jesus to make sure that he gets his share of the family inheritance. This could be tied to a basic survival fear of not having enough to sustain life, but Jesus refuses to become embroiled in what is clearly a family argument about money, not about survival.
Jesus tells the story of the rich man who had everything anyone could want for his survival and for the future... Oh, he said I will build bigger barns and store more goods, I will make more money, have more things, just for the pleasure of knowing I have them...
Jesus says “Take care. Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."
Fear of not having enough for survival is a valid and an important fear, but when the response to that fear becomes the accumulation of wealth and possessions as an end to itself, it has become greed...
If normal fears can freeze us and cause us to become self-absorbed at a time of crisis, Greed will do this even more so. Greed focuses only on the self. The accumulation of wealth becomes more important than anything else, and Greed will not allow for any focus on the needs of others. Greed is not aware of the needs of the community, and Greed is not able to function well with others. Let greed rule your life and it becomes the god that you worship, the golden calf that you cherish.
'And God says, to the rich man, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
“For one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions...”
We can be rich in money or property but if we focus with greed on those riches, we will not be able to make the connections with others that our spirit needs to thrive. If we keep a clenched fist to protect what we have, we will never be able to reach out with open hands to others and include them in our lives..
We have a choice. We can live our lives with fear and a clenched fist, or we can take the risk of opening our hand and reaching out to embrace the world around us.
I am beginning to realize that my contacts with those I meet along my journey add a vast wealth of richness to my life. Perhaps this is what life is all about... Those very special connections that we form, even day by day, enrich our lives beyond belief.
For each of us, may God help us to engage the world around us and to celebrate the connections, even when they are difficult. Help us to be fully present and to live in the moment, and help us to more fully love and appreciate our neighbor.
I want to close with a little piece by Australian commentator, Michael Leunig. He draws isolated little boxes, scattered across the page, each holding a tiny figure. The walls on the boxes are high, so that none of the tiny people can see the others... Each tiny person is totally isolated.
Then he writes the following:
Dear Lord, help us to choose love.
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