Facing Fear

CBC had a facinating program on Doc Zone a while back.  It was called the ‘Age of Anxiety’.   It was a program that examined our society’s leanings towards anxiety and how Anxiety is becoming one of the fastest growing medicalized treated disorder in our culture –it also looked at the pharmisical companies and how fast different drugs are being created to treat these disorders – it implied that the pharmicitical companies are playing a hand in the growing trend towards finding a disorder to treat with drugs – and it asked the important question about whetheror not  unhappiness is a medical condition that needs to be treated with medication.

Some interesting ideas that emerged in the program:

  • 18 % of American population has a diagnosed anxiety disorder.
  • ¾ of the pills in a pharmacy are for anxiety, and anxiety is the number one reason people go to a pharmacy
  • There is now an anxiety app for your smart phone
  • Anxiety is now a treatable condition for our pets
  • By the age of 32 – 50% of the population might qualify for an anxiety disorder

We are fearful people.

  • We worry about life, and death and the state of the world.
  • We worry about our health, our children, our family, our bank accounts.
  • We worry about our jobs, or our lack of a job, we worry about our retirment or if you are part of my generation whether or not we will get to retire.
  • We worry about climate change and global warming and whether the price of oil of oil will keep the prices low at the pumps or cripple the Canadian ecomomy with a low dollar.
  • Some of us worry so much that it affects us physically,
  • some of us worry so much that it paralizes us and normal life is no longer possible.
  • Some of us worry ourselves to death.

Please hear that in no way am I making light of mental illness, depression, or even anixiety disorder – it became clear to me when I was researching this sermon that anxiety disorder is a complicated and complex diagnosis that cripples some peoples lives and causes extreme pain and discomfort.   The anxiety that I am speaking to is not that – this darkness that I and I believe Jesus is addressing is the discomfort in everyday living events and the cultural trend to find a diagnosis that explains common human feelings such as lonliness, unhappiness, greif, saddness.  What I am refereing to is the cultural trend to over treatment and seeking to find a magic pill to fix something that is actually a part of the normal human condition.

We seem to have forgotten that it is okay to feel sad and lost and lonely and greiving – we have lost track that these feelings are part of what makes us human.  And sometimes when these feelings of loss and lonliness and pain and sorrow come upon us – we need to remember that it is okay to sit in the feelings and honour the uncomfortableness of it – and not try to rush through, or medicate them with alcohol, or food or over work or social media or, or, or whatever pill we use to numb our discomfort.

The people walking in the desert with Moses are calling out to God to numb their discomfort – to save them from their sad, lost and lonely feelings, to remove them from their desert wandering ways…

The people wandering in the desert with Moses have reached yet another time of being lost and lonely and sad and despairing.  They have been wandering around this desert for a few years now – they have lost family members, they have burried loved ones on the way – they seem to wander in circles – year after year – struggling to find enough food and water to survive – oh, yes – God has provided – there was release from captivty – and the parting of the red sea – not to mention the food, manna that appears each morning to make bread – and the water that comes from a varity of rocks at opportune times – but this still is not what they signed on for.  The people wandering with Moses have lost the glow of the promise of God – of a new life and better life and all they can feel is the hot sun, the repetitive diet, the dry, parched desert that streaches out before them day after day after day – and they can see no end in sight.  And so they do what they know to do – they complain – because that is what has worked for them in the past – we are hungry Moses – and God gave them manna and quails – we are thirsty Moses – and God gave them water from a rock – we need structure and purpose Moses – and God gave them laws – the ten commandments.  And so today they complain again

“The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”  Help us God – save us from our sad lost and lonely feelings…

And God gave them snakes – not only snakes – poisonous snakes.

God sent snakes to the people – as gift, as challenge, as response to their present need.


It is a stretch I realize to think of snakes as a gift – to look into the eyes of that creature – that poisonous creature in that case – and say – thanks God – appreciate it.  And yet – here it is crux – here is the point of the story – when Moses takes the snake – the thing the people fear more that what they were originally complaining about – when Moses takes the snake – puts it on a stick holds it before the people and says – look –look here – look this snake in the eye and when you face this when you raise your heads and look beyond yourselves and into the eyes of what you fear most – you will be healed.


Look into the eyes of what you fear most and you will be healed.  Talk to the alligator in your pillow Naomi…
Notice that when the people ask God to take the snakes away, God doesn’t do that. Just because we think we know what we want – just because we think we know what we need to make all the bad feelings – the poisonous snakes as it were – go away  – just because we think we know what is good for us – what will make us feel better – it is not necessarily so.  Instead look at what God is doing in this story – God does not take the snakes away – Those things are still there among us. Instead, God gives the people a new chance a different chance at wholeness. It is like Jesus said to Nicodemus in the words of the Message:  “In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.”

In order to be healed, the people have to look up from their own shadows, lift their eyes from their own complaints, and see, face to face, the very thing that has caused so much pain and so much grief. Only by confronting the snake head on – looking it in the eyes can they move through the darkness into the light. Again – what Jesus was getting at in conversation with Nicodemus – you must look at where you are and face it and from that place then set a new path, a new course – be born again into a new life – a life that is open to seeing the light in the midst of the darkness – a life that focuses on the light instead of the darkness – a life that sees God at work in the world, lighting the way…and thus gaining life – real life, not a life shrouded in the darkness

And so to us — Only when we face our fears, our brokenness, our need, can we move through them—only when we truly open ourselves to a new way of looking at the world – being born again can the light of God shine in our darkness.  That’s why

  • people who are afraid of flying can take classes on airplanes,
  • why people afraid of animals are encouraged to have controlled encounters with them
  • why people afraid of heights should try out indoor rock climbing.
  • why people who are afraid of water by wading in gently in a safe environment
  • why facing our fears can help us get over our fears

We can learn, we can look these fears and hurts in the face, and we can entrust them to a God who cares for us more than we can imagine. That snake on the stick did not cure anyone, it is a symbol, a symbol of fear and anxiety, a symbol of distress and a lack of trust in God – and so by looking up at the snake and facing our fears the we are enabled to could see beyond ourselves – to glimpse the light in the darkness and allow God who to give us a chance to heal.

God heals – and God heals by showing us what was are afraid of and making us confront our demons – our poisonous snakes –look them in the eye. And as they made mention on the Doc Zone program – it used to be years ago when we feeling lost and alone we would to turn to the church and religion for answers and support when we’re living in time of turmoil, when we had questions about life and death and what’s in between – Now a days we think of our fears and dark emotions as a condition that can be treated and we look for a pill to be prescribed that will fix the sadness, loneliness, grief, sorrow and make it go away.  Maybe we need to borrow a page from the past and instead trust that when we look into the eyes of that which we fear – when we live and walk through these difficult and challenging time that God is there – like the snake on the stick – healing us, helping us, comforting us – calling us beloved child – God is with us –the light has come in the darkness and we are never ever alone – thanks be to God.  Amen.


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