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The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon

The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at The Divinity School, Duke University. He retired after serving eight years as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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Bishop Will Willimon: Fear of God

May 24, 2012

When Jesus rose from the dead the disciples were told, "Don't be afraid." Those who knew Jesus best, and were in turn known best by him, knew that, while friendship with Jesus is sweet, it is also demanding, difficult, and, at times, even fearsome.

As the Bible says, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."  Presumably, it's not fearful to fall into the hands of a dead god, an idol who never shocks or demands anything of you, who is no more than a fake, a godlet, a mere projection of your fondest desires and silliest wishes. Out in Galilee-a dusty, drab, out-of-the-way sort of place, just like where most of us live-the disciples of Jesus were encountered by the living God. That Jesus could not only give death the slip but also be in Galilee suggests that the risen Christ could show up anywhere, anytime. And that's scary.

Here is God, not as a high-sounding principle, a noble ideal, or a set of rock-solid beliefs. Here is God on the move, moving toward us; God defined by God, God ordering us to be on the move into the world with God. And that's a joyful thing-but more than a little scary too. When it dawns on you that the living God is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah we didn't expect, the Savior we didn't want, God in motion-well, fear is a reasonable reaction.

The modern world has many ways of turning us in on ourselves, eventually to worship the dear little god within. Christianity, the religion evoked by Jesus, is a decidedly fierce means of wrenching us outward. We are not left alone peacefully to console ourselves with our sweet bromides, or to snuggle with allegedly beautiful Mother Nature, or even to close our eyes and hug humanity in general. A God whom we couldn't have thought up on our own has turned to us, reached to us, is revealed to be someone quite other than the God we would have if God were merely a figment of our imagination-God is a Jew from Nazareth who lived briefly, died violently, and rose unexpectedly. This God scared us to death but also thrilled us to life.

- From The Best of Will Willimon, Abingdon, 2012

Taken with permission from the Bishop's Blog, North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church


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