Sermon – May 10, 2020 – Fifth Sunday after Easter

Do not let your hearts be troubled.

Do not be afraid.

Fear not.

You probably have heard that Jesus says something to the effect “do not be afraid” about 70 bajillion times through out the bible. Probably you were given a more exact number by a different style of preacher than I, but for the sake of my own style of preaching, we will go with 70 bajillion times that Jesus tells us to not be afraid. 

I understand that for many people, maybe you in particular, Jesus’ words bring you comfort. You sit back and rest a little bit, you unclench your fists, and stop chewing on the side of your cheek for a moment, because Jesus told you to “Not let your hearts be troubled.”.

I will admit to a different experience. When Jesus says “Fear not”, I tend to ask Why Not?! Whenever Jesus tells us to not be afraid, it is a spot on recognition that something very frightening is afoot, and the most appropriate physical and emotional response is in fact FEAR.  And if you aren’t afraid, I wonder what horrible thing has happened to you, that this is not scary? 

In our gospel text today, jesus has just told the disciples the scariest story ever – about how one of them will betray him, they will run and hide, their lives will be in danger, he will by killed by the people, and then rise again, where he is going they cannot go, get behind me satan. And then he ties that little nightmare up with a sparkly bow of “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

This reminds me of a summer night a few years ago when I heard my husband putting my two young daughters to bed with similarly reassuring words “Goodnight girls, there is a tornado watch tonight, okay? so sleep well.”

At about 1 in the morning our then 4 year old child appeared at my bedside weeping because there was a tornado watching her sleep. 

So, I invite us today to translate the bible a wee bit, and just see how that feels. Whenever Jesus says ‘don’t be afraid”, we all agree that this is his kind of awkward recognition that we are really scared. 

Let’s help him out. How does this feel to start our gospel text today? 

“I know your hearts and minds are really troubled right now and this is all very confusing. I get it. You can be scared and confused, and still believe in me and believe in God. Right now, especially because you are scared and confused, stay close. Shelter In Place, under the expansive roof of God’s love – there is plenty of room and safe spaces to tuck yourself in. There’s more than enough room for you & God will never kick you out.

What if when Jesus said Fear Not – we translated that to “I know you are afraid. Stay close. I’m with you.”

I think I’ve talked about our possible physiological responses to fear before, but I’m going to mention it again….

So, when you are being chased by a rabid dog or have to lift a burning car off of your leg, we can all give thanks for our incredible fight, flight, or freeze system, that makes it possible to not really FEEL and consciously take in the danger, so that you JUST RESPOND quickly to save your life.

But, too often we respond in a similarly numb way to sustained fear and anxiety – like more than 5 intense minutes – like maybe a few weeks of Jesus’ foretelling of his own trial, torturous death, and then the bewildering and probably frightening resurrection appearances. 

Fight, flight, or freeze is not a way to live. It is essential for survival in dangerous moments, but not a way to live. 

Another response to sustained stress – that is not immediately life threatening – is named Tend and Befriend. In tend and befriend you feel the stress, but the fact that you actually FEEL it is key. If You start to go numb and not feel the stress – that’s when it’s time to be concerned.

In tend and befriend you are able to care for yourself and others, in response to and in the midst of the stressful situation. Your response to the situation is appropriate care for self and others near you, and taking appropriate measures to protect and stabilize your surroundings. But, all of this doesn’t mean that you won’t feel afraid, or frustrated, or sad, or confused. Tend and Befriend is itself a response to fear, grief, or frustration.

But, it is not responding to stress with the numb and overwhelmed sensation of PANIC that is associated with Fight/Flight/Freeze, in which you are reacting without ability to think clearly or feel all your feelings, for the sake of YOUR Surival. 

I imagine you already know where I am going with this. 

Many in our community have responded to the current crisis by sewing countless face masks so that you can feel safer when you leave the house, whether that it to your workplace, the store, or to the doctor’s office. Wearing the mask is also an appropriate response to the stress – you are caring for yourself and for others. Thank you.

Diverse Faith communities, schools, and other local organizations are working together possibly like never before. This has been the stress response – instead of the survival instincts of fight/flight/or freeze — so many vulnerable organizations themselves have responded to the crisis by caring for themselves by caring for each other – creating CUBetter Together to provide an even greater network of food and necessary resources during this time of unprecedented need in our community.

Musicians, Authors, and other artists have cancelled shows for months out, losing unfathomable amounts of money. Many of them have turned their cameras on so that they can bring us some relief through their music, their words, their delightful humor – and raise money for those who have to work, for those who have lost their work, for those who were struggling long before this happened.  Instead of hoarding their gifts away in self-preservation, they have turned it all inside out —- giving live concerts, live readings, sharing their humanity with us in this moment, instead of keeping themselves separated off on a pedestal. I have DELIGHTED in seeing Steve Martin playing the banjo in what I can only assume is his backyard, just in his sweatpants and coat. I have fallen in love with YoYo Ma – who I had never even really seen or listened to for an extended period of time. But, getting to be in his living room watching him play? This has brought me so much delight.  Or John Krazinski who is making a WONDERFUL little show called Some Good News about the fun, and hopeful life that is happening alongside all of the fear, anxiety, and heartache. He makes fun of no one but himself. He threw an incredible Prom party a couple weeks ago, and this last week he put on a Graduation ceremony for all of those graduating from High School, college, and even preschool. 

Know that you staying home, as best you can, checking in with neighbors, friends from church, and family, staying put – this is the work we can do right now.  This is maybe the Most Important way to respond to our very understandable fears for the future and the present, as an act of Tend & Befriend. 

We know what the panic of fight, flight, or freeze looks like in this too. 

Hoarding supplies for only YOUR survival, demanding services for YOUR convenience and sense of normalcy, and not changing any personal habits for the survival of your ego and sense of control.

I pray that you can hear in Jesus’ words his recognition of our fear and anxiety, and our very human desire to know what is going to happen next and have some say in it. I pray that you hear him encouraging you to not fight, freeze, or run away from God now, but instead tuck in closer. And stay put. Shelter right there in that warm nook of God’s love as we weather this storm we are in. 

I pray that we can trust in God’s promise to stay put with us, that we don’t get to take over and control this – and we dare not try. Trust that where we are, tucked in tight with God and one another, is where we need to be. This is the only way through.