I don't remember the sermon or the commentator at this point. What I do remember is this gist of the commentary: the phrase repeated incredibly often in the Gospels is "Do not fear." There are variations, of course, but it's there, over and over and over, again. The angels spoke those words when they spoke of Jesus' birth. Jesus spoke those words when he calmed the storm, when he walked on water, when he called disciples, when he preached--and a whole bunch of times there!
Today, in one of those meetings that was going nowhere, one of my lay leaders asked the question of the pastors, "What's our greatest hindrance in going forward?"
My answer was quick and simple: fear.
I stand firmly by it. I wish they could have heard it better. Maybe there are others who can hear it now.
Church, please, do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid to toss out programs that aren't effective and wear you out.
Do not be afraid to try something you have never tried before.
Do not be afraid to hear stories of people and from people you do not understand.
Do not be afraid to make room for those stories and those people who tell them, even when it's going to mean thinking a little differently than you once did.
Do not be afraid to read the Bible with those stories in mind.
Do not be afraid to read the Bible as if you don't already know what it says.
Do not be afraid to admit, "We were wrong."
Do not be afraid to admit, "We don't know."
Do not be afraid to live in the gray space.
Do not be afraid to walk out in faith and trust that God will surely be there.
Do not be afraid of the things you don't know or understand.
Church, please, do not be afraid. Just because the culture doesn't think you are important doesn't mean it's true. But you have to stop being afraid.
You see, I've seen fear in a church firsthand, especially that fear to see and hear differently. I grew up in a church that told me time and time again, "God would not speak to you in that way." It was, of course, in response to entering ministry. I grew up in a church that was certain God would not speak that way, could not, no matter how loudly I heard God's voice.
They were unwilling to re-examine, re-interpret or listen with me. So I left.
I now understand a lot better why other folks my age have left. They've heard far too much, in too many ways, "God can't be speaking that way."
So church, please, do not be afraid. Re-examine. Re-interpret. Listen hard and listen with. God will show up. You might be surprised at what God has to say, but since it is God, whatever the word is will lead to goodness.
Hear the Good News: "Do not fear, only believe."
In case you have to look it up, that quote's from Jesus.