Running in Fear

 

The Easter Sunday sermon at First United Methodist Church, Sweeny Texas

16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8, Common English Bible)

Two gas company employees, a training supervisor and a young trainee were out checking meters one day. They parked their truck at the end of the back alley and worked their way down. At the last house a woman looked out of her kitchen window, watching the men as they checked her meter. Finishing the check the senior man challenged his younger co-worker to a race down the alley and back to the truck, just to prove he could still run. As they came running up to the truck, they realized a lady was hot on their tails, huffing and puffing, actually catching up with the two. They stopped and asked her who she was. She told them she was from the last house on the block. So, they then asked her the next logical question, “Why are you chasing us?” She said as she was still huffing and puffing, “When I see two gas men running hard as you two were, I figured I better run too!”

All too often we are like that lady. We are afraid when there is no reason to be afraid. We look at the circumstances around us, we don’t like what we see, and we become afraid. Then once we are scared, we run. We run in fear. It may be that our running is literal, like the woman in the joke, it may be more a a mental or spiritual sprint. Whatever the case, all too often, far too many of us run in fear, when there is nothing at all to fear.

That was the case as the women went to the tomb on the first Easter morning. They certainly didn’t feel things were back to normal in their lives. It may have been to the rest of the world, but it was anything but normal for them. Grief was still very real and very present. The job they had to do wasn’t an easy one. They loved Jesus and now he was dead. There were no morticians in those days, at least not for common folks. The women got a body ready for burial. But, to make matters worse, this was now the third day the body was in the tomb. One can only try to imagine the unpleasantness. Oh, and one more thing to add to the burden.

After Jesus’ death, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus brought Jesus’ body and about 100 Roman pounds each (about 75 modern pounds) to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. The third day, the women came to the tomb carrying even more spices. Scripture does not tell us how many pounds they brought but it must have been significant because Mark, the Gospel writer who is always in a hurry, made a point of telling us they brought more spices. So, they were grieving, traveling early in the morning, worried about how they would do their task with a giant rock in the way and carrying the burden of a significant weight with them.

When the women got to the tomb, how would they move the giant stone sealing the entrance? On their arrival they found it was already moved and a young man was there. Other gospel accounts call him an angel. The women were scared. Who could this guy be? The young man tries to sooth these grieving and probably jumpy ladies. Under the circumstances, lots of us would be at least a bit frightened. He tells them that Jesus isn’t there, he had risen. Finally, he tells them to go tell the disciples and peter Jesus will meet them in Galilee.

The women left the tomb scared. Well, the Scriptures say it a bit stronger than that. “Overcome with terror and dread they fled the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.

The women had good reason to fear. Things weren’t what was expected. They thought the tomb would be as they left it on Friday. They expected to find the stone still in place and Jesus’ lifeless body inside. Instead the stone was moved and no Jesus. Just this young man telling them Jesus was alive. They knew better. They saw his dead body. They knew he was dead. He wasn’t asleep. He wasn’t almost dead. They saw the guard stab him with a spear. There was no doubt this man was dead. They saw his dead body on and off the cross and dead bodies don’t just come back to life. Well, there was Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and one time with a little boy. But, Jesus brought all three of them back to life and now Jesus was dead. Who on God’s green earth would bring Jesus back from the dead. Who would bring him back to life? Not finding things as expected, who among us wouldn’t have at least a bit of nervousness brewing in our bellies?

They were probably scared because of what people might say if they followed the angel’s instructions. In the Biblical period, women weren’t considered to be credible witnesses in most cases. But even if they were, who would believe such a story? Everyone the women would have told saw Jesus’ dead body too. There was no intelligent reason to believe this craziness.

So, at least initially, they said nothing to anyone. They had good reasons to fear. At least they were good reasons on a human level. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us would admit we would be scared under similar circumstances and we would probably run in fear as well. We don’t mind things we understand, well at least for the most part. When we don’t understand what we are seeing? Well…

A freshman at Eagle Rock High School won first place at the greater Idaho Falls Science Fair in 1997. He was attempting to show how conditioned we are to alarmists practicing junk science and spreading fear. In his project he urged people to sing a petition demanding strict control or total elimination of the chemical dihydrogen monoxide.” And, he had plenty of good reasons, since it 1) can cause excessive sweating and vomiting. 2) It is a major component of acid rain. 3) It can cause burns in its gaseous state. 4) Accidental inhalation can kill you. 5) It decreases effectiveness in automobile brakes.

He asked 50 people to support a ban of the chemical. 43 said yes, six were undecided and only one knew the chemical dihydrogen monoxide is better known by a much more common name, water. The title of his project was, “How Gullible are We?” His conclusion was obvious.

At least on the surface, people had plenty of reason to fear. All of those things sound pretty scary. It is going to frighten people, especially those who don’t know the chemical name for water. But, when you know, worry is a bit silly.

The same can be said about the women at the tomb. Jesus had already given them all they needed to know. Had they been able to pause and think about it for a second, they may well have reasoned, he had risen just as he had said. If they had thought a little bit they may well have reason to know and understand God was already at work.

God was with them. And, eventually (we really don’t know how long but it is doubtful it was long) eventually the people involved overcame their fears and would go and tell the disciples, who, at least at first, didn’t believe the ladies. When we pickup the story at verse nine, we see they actually did go find the disciples and told them about it. They did have reason to fear. But, God was at work and eventually Jesus appeared to the disciples and they too believed.

When the women realized God was with them, there was no reason to fear. In her poem, “But God,” Annie Johnson Flint speaks to this idea.

I know not, but God knows;
Oh blessed rest from fear!
All my unfolding days
To Him are plain and clear.

Each anxious, puzzled “Why?”
From doubt to dread that grows,
Finds answer in this thought;
I know not, but He knows.

I cannot, but God can;
Oh, balm for all my care!
The burden that I drop
His hand will lift and bear.

Though eagle pinions tire,
I walk where once I ran,
This is my strength to know
I cannot, but He can.

I see not, but God sees;
Oh, all sufficient light!
My dark and hidden way
To Him is always bright.

My strained and peering eyes
May close in restless ease,
And I in peace may sleep;
I see not, but He sees.

On a human level, the women had reason to fear. But, on a spiritual level, they had nothing to fear because God was with them. They could see God was with them from the empty tomb and Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene. Fear was no longer their emotion. Joy took over.

And, just as God was with the women, God is also with us. Things happen in our lives. Things are not always what we expect them to be. Just like the women at the tomb, on a human level, we have reasons to fear. But in spite of all that might give us cause to fear, in spite of how upside down our world may feel, God is with us. The world may not understand our faith. The world may not want to hear what we have to say. The world might want to ridicule us for what we believe. Still, God is with us. God is with us and will see us through whatever trials come our way.

At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona one of the great moments in sport occurred. Britain’s Derek Redmond had dreamed of winning a gold medal in the 400 meters. His dream was close as the gun sounded in the semifinals. He was running the race of his life and could see the finish line as he rounded the turn off the backstretch when the unthinkable happened. He felt a sharp pain in the back of his leg. He fell face first onto the track with a torn right hamstring.

Sports Illustrated recorded the dramatic events:  As the medical attendants were approaching, Redmond fought to get to his feet. “It was pure animal instinct,” he would say later. He set out hopping, in a crazy attempt to finish the race. When he reached the stretch, a large man in a t-shirt came out of the stands, hurled aside a security guard and ran to Redmond, embracing him. It was Jim Redmond, Derek’s father. “You don’t have to do this,” he told his weeping son. “Wes, I do,” said Derek. “Well then,” said Jim, “we’re going to finish this together.” And they did. Fighting off security men, the son’s head sometimes buried in his father’s shoulder, they stayed in Derek’s lane all the way to the end, as the crowd gasped, then rose and howled and wept. Derek didn’t walk away with the gold medal, but he walked away with an incredible memory of a father who, when he saw his son in pain, left his seat in the stand to help him finish the race.

That is what God does for us. When we are experiencing pain and we’re struggling to finish the race, we can be confident that we have a loving God who won’t let us do it alone. God is with us.

The story of Jesus, from birth to death, to the resurrection is the story of God’s love being so great He became human. He lived among us. He died for us. And, best of all, He rose again. Through His life and death, He gives us life. Through His resurrection we have the hope of resurrection, we have the hope of resurrection.

There is much to fear in life. If you see two gas company employees running at a dead sprint, running in fear might be a good idea. But, it seems to me, the worst fear of all would be to live life without God being a part of our lives. But God is a part of our lives. There is no reason to run in fear. The resurrection might have seemed frightening to the women. But the resurrection is our hope, not a reason to run in fear. We can stop running. God is with us. God will always be with be with us. We have nothing to fear.

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

 

Author:

"The Pastor Ponders" is my attempt to share some of my thoughts. I often share what I am thinking with my dog "Bishop," but he keeps his thoughts to himself. He will even go to sleep sometimes while I am sharing my thoughts with him. The truth is, if it doesn't involve getting his ears scratched, his belly rubbed or some kind of treat, he really doesn't care. I will say this for him, he never argues with me or tells me I am wrong. So, I decided to share some of my thoughts with whoever might come across this blog in their ramblings around the Internet. Bishop and I live in Sweeny, Texas where I am the pastor of First United Methodist Church. I have served here for the past two years. For the past 27 years I have served United Methodist congregations throughout East Texas including rural Madison County (Elwood UMC), Lovelady (First UMC) and Kennard (Center Hill UMC), Canton (First UMC), rural Smith County (Mt. Sylvan UMC and Union Chapel UMC), Grapeland (First UMC), Tyler (Pleasant Retreat UMC), Santa Fe (Aldersgate UMC), Freeport (First UMC) and Oyster Creek (Oyster Creek UMC), Diboll (First UMC), and now Sweeny (First UMC). My wife Cindy and I have been married for over 40 years. We have two grown sons. Wayne and his wife Nikki and all our grandsons (Kaleb, Noah, and Jaxon) live in Southern California. Christopher and his wife Morgan and both our granddaughters (Jenna and Natalie) live in Tyler Texas. I enjoy preaching and all aspects of preaching from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading, playing the guitar as well as a bit of drawing. I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two years working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I sing bass with a local barbershop chorus called The Coastalaires. I have also recently begun doing a little wood carving. I also enjoy playing with Bishop, something he likes a great deal better than listening to my thoughts. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, specializing in Microcomputers from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. When I was a student at Carolina, the school was in Iron Station North Carolina. They have since relocated to Manassas Virginia (Yeah, go figure, a school named Carolina geographically in Virginia). This blog is mostly devotional writing, but there are other things here too. Just about every week I will either post my sermon manuscript or a video of the worship service. On occasion, I will post something I see in society. Occasionally I write a short story, a poem, or a song and will post it here too. I will say this, my motivations for writing this blog are really selfish. I write it to get what I am thinking out of my head and onto something a bit more permanent. They say, after all, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. And, should you desire, you can one-up Bishop and actually tell me what you think. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. With Joy and Thankfulness, Keith Sweeny, Texas May 2018

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