You have made us for your own, O Lord, and we are restless until we find our rest in you. Amen.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, only I will remain.”
Frank Herbert, one of the most successful science fiction writers America has produced, wrote these words and put them in the mouth of Paul Atreides, the hero figure of the five novels in his Dune Saga, Herbert’s most famous series of books. In case you don’t know, the setting of these novels is in the distant future and takes place over millenia. The books deal with complex themes: human survival and evolution, ecology, and the intersection of religion, politics and power. Herbert dealt a lot in all of his books with some of the same themes we deal with in the 21st century: resource allocation, racism, religious violence, leadership, the nature and definition of God. And fear. Every time I hear or read or otherwise encounter the 365 instances related to fear in the New Testament, I think of this quote: I must not fear—fear is the mind killer.
Fear is the mind killer. If we look more deeply at what Jesus is trying to tell the disciples in Matthew this morning, we can detect that same sentiment: don’t be afraid, fear will kill you. The portion of Matthew we’re in is a long-running teaching session called The Missionary Discourse: Jesus preparing the disciples to be sent out into the world for ministry—preparing them for apostleship.
He knows it’s going to be the most challenging thing they’ll ever do in their lives. It will be hard physical and emotional work, certainly hard spiritual work. People are going to reject them – they won’t listen, they’ll think these men are crazy, they might even imprison them. They’re not going to be openly hospitable. Jesus knows they’ll need the authority he’s giving them to carry out God’s work. He gives them a set of instructions for their journeys that is infused with two themes: #1: there is a great cost associated with discipleship, with apostleship. And #2: fear is the mind killer—Jesus might have said the soul killer—don’t be afraid. Because all of this will be worth it.
You probably know the little story of the farmer’s chicken who proposed to the cow that they make the farmer breakfast. The cow cheerfully responded: “I’m in! What will we give him?” The chicken replied, “I’ll supply the eggs, and you supply the meat.” The cow’s face dropped as she realized the implications of the initial invitation. She sadly replied to the chicken, “For you that’s devotion, but for me it means total sacrifice.” And she walked away.
Mostly I think we ARE the cow. We’re willing to give up something for the good of the cause, but we’re stopped in our tracks when that something turns out to be everything. Discipleship is costly. It requires that we set aside pride and self-centeredness; it requires the scales to fall from our eyes so that we may see the unclouded and devastating reality of our worlds; it requires that we give up control and the “right” to always be right; it requires repentance and forgiveness and a great deal of what seems to be impossible reconciliation. It requires change—deeper change than many of us are able to bear. And at the heart of the inability to change and follow a costly but unimaginably fruitful life of discipleship is the mind killer, the soul killer: fear.
Just like the disciples, the times we’re living in ask us to acknowledge that yes, being bearers of the Good News is costly. But we must not fear the changes we’ll be asked to make in order to bring the kingdom of God near—they will make us who we’re called to be. Robert Wicks in his new book Riding the Dragon writes about being “dangerous listeners”, that is, we should listen to our lives as if our lives depended on it: “Any occurrence that moves us out of taking life for granted is a gift....[T]he question is whether we will listen to and take advantage of these periods of imbalance.” We mustn’t fear that we feel unequipped for the journey because as it turns out, God gives us all we need. Together we can face the fear of what we’ll look like as change takes place because God is always with us and Jesus is stronger than the mind killer.