Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and do not be afraid." And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. Matthew 17:1-8
Jewish tradition says that there are 613 commandments in the Torah. Tack on the rest of the Bible for Christians and we have a whole lot of commandments we are supposed to follow. We tend to pick and choose our favorites to focus on and follow. It’s usually the ones that come most naturally to us, you know, the ones that are easy to follow. We often dismiss the ones that seem a little too difficult with a quick cop out (“oh, Jesus meant that symbolically!”) and then we go on to judge everyone else who can’t follow the few commandments we have down perfectly. We seem to forget to look at what they ARE following that we are failing at miserably! And yet there is one commandment that seems to pop up continually that ALL of us can’t seem to figure out: “DO NOT BE AFRAID.”
Fear. It can be one of the primary motivators running our lives. We allow fear to be in control of our relationships, our families, our towns, our churches, our nation. But 1 John 4:18 tell us that perfect love casts out fear. Not only from St. John the Evangelist, but reading through Scripture we hear it repeated over and over again by God to his people and even from angels to individuals: “Do not be afraid. Fear not.”
Then Jesus is transfigured in front of his disciples and he couples two of my favorite commands in one powerful sentence: “RISE, and do not be afraid.” (for more on “Rise”, see Fifth Sunday of Lent reflection) Fear can cause us to react in a ‘fight or flight’ instinct, but there’s that third option so many of us get in our dreams when we’re about to be attacked: We freeze.
Many of us will stay in a job we hate for YEARS out of fear of making that move. What if I miss my job? What if I hate my new boss? We’re afraid to make the move out of the town we grew up. Where will we go shopping? What if we get lost? What if it’s too dangerous? We’re afraid to let go of bitterness and the pain that grips our life. What if everyone forgets that this person hurt me? We’ve lived too long with the pain – it’s become a welcomed friend. What if I don’t know myself after I let it go? We’re afraid to let go of our kids and let them fly free. What if they fail? We’re afraid to move on in love. What if it’s too messy to try again? We’re afraid to go see the therapist. What if it’s too painful to open up the scars and past trauma? What if people find out that I’m hiding something? We’re afraid to cry. What if someone finds out that I’m not as strong as they thought? What if, what if, what if…
Jesus tell us to rise and do not be afraid. Whatever fear is keeping you frozen, hear God’s commandment: Do not be afraid. This is not a soft pat on the back. This is a command. Stop being afraid. Make the move. Forgive the person. Schedule the appointment. Let it go. ‘For God did not give us a spirit of fear but rather of power and love and self-control.’ (2 Timothy 1:7) It's my husband's and my two-year anniversary of moving to San Diego and I can't tell you how terrifying it was to sell our possessions, give away our scarves and hats and snow boots (okay, just kidding, that was awesome), leave our family and friends, quit our jobs, drive 6 days through the ugliest states in the US (sorry not sorry, Oklahoma), and arrive in the most foreign of places possible: a SoCal beach. ;) And while it was not all easy, here we are two years later saying, "Moving here was one of the best things that happened to us." I am daily thankful I didn't allow fear to cripple me (and daily thankful for an amazingly talented, supportive choir who have become my family and friends).
Chris Tomlin wrote a song called “Whom Shall I Fear” and the refrain says, “I know who goes before me. I know who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side.” When we think of the Transfiguration, we see a powerful King, a Light not of this world. To think that this Savior goes before us and stands beside us is all we need to follow His command.
Don’t forget this week who stands by your side. Don’t allow fear to cripple your life. Whatever it is that has a grip on you and keeps you frozen still, rise and do not be afraid.