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Edward F. Markquart

Afraid of the Unknown 

EASTER     I Cor. 15

Deep inside of all human beings is the fear of the unknown.  We are intuitively afraid of that which we have never experienced.  We’re afraid that it will hurt us or harm us.  We’re afraid of that which unknown may attack us or destroy us.  All of us are intuitively afraid of the unknown. 

Let me give you several examples.  I could give you hundreds but I will give you three.  One movie that my family and I enjoyed immensely was the movie “E.T.” It is a terrific film about this “extra-terrestrial” who comes on a spaceship to visit the planet Earth. Eventually, this ship leaves earth and ET is accidentally left behind and is left all alone.  He is totally afraid.  Little ET is afraid.  I mean, you’re always afraid of the unknown even if you are an ET.  He was so afraid, and he hid himself into a shed behind a little boy’s house.  The little boy’s name was Elliot, and he was about eleven years old.  He and his brothers were playing games one night and they had ordered pizza. Elliot went out of the house and got the pizza from the van. As he walked to the house, he took his baseball and threw it into the shed.  The baseball came zipping back to him.  Elliot was absolutely terrified and so he ran into the house. All of the boys came out with their knives.  Why did they have knives?  Well, because they were afraid of the unknown.  People are always afraid of the unknown.  The boys saw the tracks of ET but they didn’t know what the tracks were.  And of course, they were afraid because they were afraid of the unknown.  Well, the next night there wasn’t only fear but there was also fascination.  There is always fascination with the unknown.  On the next night, Elliot, this eleven-year old boy, had a flash light, and he went out into the cornfield.  It was misty and foggy and dark, and he was carefully going through this cornfield with his flashlight, and all of a sudden he shined the flashlight on the face of ET who screamed, “Ahhhhhh.” Elliot was just as terrified and he ran and ET ran…because they were both unknown to each other.  They were both afraid of the unknown.  And they were both fascinated with the unknown. And so the next night, Elliot was suspicious that ET was hiding in the shed, so he took some Reese’s candy and put some Reese’s candy by the door.  And pretty soon, out came the fingers, and then the hand, the grotesque hand. Now you saw it for the first time and you were afraid.  You didn’t know if it was going to get you or not.  And you were afraid because you are always afraid of the unknown.  You are afraid because it may harm you or hurt you.  You are afraid that it may destroy you or be powerful.  Intuitively, we human beings are afraid of the unknown.

And so there are all kinds of movies about UFOs, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Aliens.  These films are based on the same principle:  people are afraid of the unknown. 

Let me give you a second example.  Snorkeling.  My family and I were in Hawaii a few years ago. We were on the island of Kauai and we were snorkeling.  I am not sure about you but I am afraid of deep water.  I don’t mind shallow water, but I fear deep water. You don’t know what’s down there, and it may come and get you. Well, one day we were snorkeling and I left our kids and I went out to a reef all by myself.  I went down as far as I could, deeper and deeper and deeper, and the water got darker and darker and darker.  And I finally got down to the bottom, and there was a giant black something and it started to come up.  Was it a squid?  Was it a giant octopus?  I don’t know.  I didn’t wait around to find out.  I swam as fast as I could.  I was afraid and you would have been afraid too.  You would have been afraid because it was unknown to you.  And you would be afraid that it would hurt you.  You would have been afraid because you thought it could destroy you.  Because you and I are human, we are afraid of the unknown.

Third illustration.  My family and I go over to Fort Warden, located near Port Townsend.  There is a World War I fort over there.  There are these huge concrete canyons, like enormous damp, dark, black concrete basements.  They are huge buildings built beneath the earth. They have steel entry doors, and when you go past those steel doors, it gets very dark in there, and wet.  You take your children along with you and you close the door behind you and have no flashlight. And you start to walk.  Are there rats?  Are there bats?  Are there spider webs? And then you scream, and everybody else screams, and everybody is afraid and they run as fast as they can to get out of there.  Why?  Why?  Because we are afraid.  Intuitively, we are afraid of the unknown.

And so during Columbus’s day, we were afraid to sail out into the ocean because if you got far enough, you would fall off the earth…into what?  I mean, nobody knew for sure, but people were afraid of the unknown even then.  And people are still afraid to go to the Bermuda Triangle because of fears of the unknown.

I would like to suggest to you this morning that our fear of death is really fear of the unknown.  We fear death but not because we know what death is.  After all, do you know anybody who has come back from death and told you how awful it was?  Of course not. Nobody has ever come back from death and said:  “It was awful.  Man, you don’t want to go there.  They poke you with big needles all day long.  At night, they hang you by the rafters and burn you up one side and then torch you down the other. Death is awful.  Terrible.  You must be totally afraid of it.  You don’t want to go there.”  Have you ever had such a conversation with someone who had just arrived back from the land of the dead? Do you know anybody who knows what death is?  I don’t know anybody who knows what death is.  We are not afraid of death because death is known to us but because we don’t know what death is.  What we are afraid of is…the unknown.  And when we are afraid of the unknown, we are afraid that we are going to be hurt.  We are afraid that we are going to be destroyed.

We are all deeply afraid of the unknown and so we cling to life.  We cling to the present.  We don’t want to die and we have this intuitive fear that the next life will not be nearly as grand as this one.  And so we cling to our known world.  Just like the people during the days of Columbus, they clung to Europe because they were afraid if they went out into the sea they would drop off and be no more.  They clung to the world, the present world because they were afraid of the unknown world.  And so we ourselves, being afraid of the unknown world, cling to the present world.  We fear that our belief in God is an invention to satisfy our own needs for immortality, to make us feel more secure and happy in this, the only life on earth.

This fear of the unknown reminds me of a parable that is very important to me.  It is called the Parable of the Twin Fetuses.  “Once upon a time, twin boys (or twin girls) were conceived in the same womb. Seconds and minutes and hours passed by as the two dormant lives developed.  The spark of life glowed until it fanned fire with the formation of their embryonic brains.  And with their simple brains came feeling.  And with feeling came perception.  A perception of surroundings, of each other, and of self.  When they perceived the life of the other and their own life, they knew that life was good.  And the fetuses laughed and rejoiced, the one saying:  “Lucky are we to have been conceived and to have this world.”  And the other fetus chimed in, “Blessed be the mother who gave us life and each other.”  Each budded and grew arms and fingers, lean legs and stubby toes.  They stretched their lungs and churned and turned in their new found world.  They explored their new world, and in it found the life cord.  They found the life cord that gave them life from the precious mother.  And so they sang, “How great is the love of the mother that she shares all she has with us.”  And they were pleased and they were satisfied with their lot. But…weeks passed into months, and with the advent of each new month, they noticed that they were…changing.  They noticed that they were…growing older.  And each began to see a change in themselves and one said:  “We are changing.  We are growing.  What can this mean?”  “It means,” replied the other, “that we are drawing near to our…to our…birth.  We are drawing near to our birth.”  And then a chill suddenly crept over the two, and they were both afraid.  For they knew that birth meant the leaving all their secure world behind.  Said the one, “Were it up to me, I would live here forever. I would stay in this womb forever because I know its safe here.”  “We must be born,” said the other.  “It has happened to others who were here before us.”  For indeed, there was evidence of life there before, that the mother had born others.  “But might not there be life after birth?” said the one.  “Well, how can there be life after birth?” cried the other.  “Do we not shed our life cord and also the blood tissues? And have you ever talked to anyone who has been born? Has anyone ever reentered the womb after birth?  No!!!”  He fell into despair and in despair, he moaned, “If the purpose of conception and all growth is that it is to be ended in birth, then truly, life must be absurd!”  Resigned to despair, the one stabbed the darkness with his unseeing eyes and he clutched his precious life cord to his chest and said:  “If this is so, if I must be born, life is absurd and there must be no mother after all.”  “But there is a mother,” protested the other.  “Who else gave us nourishment in our world?”  “Oh, we get our own nourishment and our world has always been here.  And if there is a mother, where is she?  Have you ever seen her? Does she ever talk to you?  No.  We invented the mother because it satisfied a need in us.  It made us feel secure and happy.”  Thus, while one raved and despaired, the other resigned himself to birth.  He placed his hands in the trust of the mother.  Well, hours passed into days and days fell into weeks, and it came time.  It came time for them to …be born.  And both knew that their…birth was at hand. And both feared what they did not know.  And as the one was the first to be conceived, so he was the first to be born.  The other followed after.  And they cried as they were born out into the light.  They coughed up fluid, and they gasped the dry air; and when they were sure that they had been born, they opened up their eyes and they found themselves cradled in the warm love of the mother.  They lay open mouthed, awestruck at the beauty of the mother that they had never seen before.”  (AGAPE magazine)

I love the poem:

Afraid of death,
Afraid of that?
Afraid to see the Savior’s face,
To hear His welcome and to trace,
The glory gleaned from wounds of grace?
Afraid of that?
Afraid to see the Master’s face,
Welcomed home in warm embrace,
Afraid of that?

I would like to tell you a story that is part of my history.  It is also a parable.  The story is about a six-year old boy by the name of Saa. He was an Asian boy and he grew up in the land of Laos, where there was devastating war going on. Saa was separated from his mother and father during the war, and he had to live with his grandma, grandpa, and cousins.  The news finally arrived that his father and mother had been killed in the war.  Saa was so sad.  He was utterly sad.  Well, the years passed by, one and two and three years.  Now, Saa was a little nine-year old boy and he loved his grandma, grandpa and cousins, and he was getting used to his cousins being his new brothers and sisters.  One day, in the mail, came a telegram and it said:  “Your mother and father are alive and they are living in Seattle, Washington, and they want you to come and live with them.”  “O no, it can’t be true.  It can’t be true.  I mean, it’s too unreal.  It can’t be true,” Saa thought to himself. “How do I know that it is not a hoax?  How do I know that it is not a joke?” he wondered to himself.  And then Saa looked at his grandma and grandpa and his cousins now brothers and sisters and said:  “I don’t want to leave here.  I love you.  I know this place.  Do I really want to go to an unknown world?  Do I want to go?”  Saa left and got into an unknown airplane; he had never been in an airplane before.  He listened to unknown languages being spoken by unknown tall white people.  He was afraid.  He came to the Seattle airport and the doors were opened, and there were his mom and dad, standing there, beaming, and waiting for him.  And Saa ran up and hugged his parents.  He was so happy.  He was so relieved that the telegram was true.  You see, Saa had been afraid of the future, afraid of the unknown.

The message of Easter is clear.  God is gracious and our sins have been forgiven.  Jesus Christ has conquered death, and when we die, we shall return home to our Heavenly Father.  Jesus said, “In my house are many mansions, and I am going to prepare a place for you.  If this were not so, I would not have told you.  I tell you the truth.  You are going to come again to my Father’s house.  I am preparing a place for you.  There is no need to be afraid of the future, for the future is going to be far more glorious than the present you now see.

The unknown future has been made known to you.  Amen.

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