The Cowardly Lion wasn’t one of my favorite Wizard of Oz characters when I was younger. Something about him made me cringe — perhaps I saw myself in his pervasive fear.
The Lion feared things that couldn’t hurt him — his tail, his shadow. He also feared what could hurt him — the witch, for instance. But when it came time to rescue Dorothy, the Lion marched bravely into the castle even though he was deeply afraid. He was willing to do what needed to be done.
I’ve learned to appreciate the fearful-but-not-cowardly Lion. It’s one of my favorite characters now. The Lion reminds me that courage isn’t the absence of fear; rather, it’s about recognizing our fear and refusing to let it imprison us.
Courage is an indispensable part of love, faith, and relationship. They exist only to the extent that we have the courage to take a risk and try to live them.
Courage is the foundation of faith. Jesus often encourages his followers to live bravely because the kingdom of God grows only to the extent that we have the courage to enact it.
Where do get this courage? We know the answer!
Paul Tillich reminds us in The Courage to Be that God is the source of all courage. Every time we let God’s love direct us, we take another step beyond fear, even if our legs are shaky.
Those moments also spread courage to others. We show them the way and we en-courage them with our example.
Of course, it’s not easy to live courageously. Jesus repeatedly had to encourage his dear friends to be brave, reminding them that God is with them. Those words needed time to sink in.
After Jesus was executed and his friends experienced that he was still with them in some ways, they nonetheless continued to hide in safe spaces. They lacked the courage to bring the good news of love and healing into the broader world.
Who could blame them? They’d just seen what happened to Jesus. Caesar and his religious minions — the ones most threatened by Jesus’ message — would lash out at them, too.
Then and now, the Caesars of the world and their enablers will push back against the message of unconditional love, inclusion, justice, equality, and peace.
We need our Pentecost moments. We need reminders that God always prevails over Caesar and his minions. We need to leave our safe spaces and take up the challenge.
We can’t be a light for the world if we’re hiding under a basket. If we want to grow as people and as faith communities — if we want to be communities of faith — we need to be willing to risk it.
Let’s ask the source of courage to help us find such courage. Better yet, let’s ask God to remind us how much courage we already have — more than enough for what we need to do.
Let’s courageously stand up for anyone who is treated as less than an equally beloved child of God in any way. Let’s courageously push back against those who demand supremacy.
Let’s courageously challenge those who harm others and the environment. Let’s show what it means to love all God’s family and all God’s creation.
We already have enough courage to change the world. All we must do is use it, even if we feel fear in the pit of our stomach as we step out.
Faith isn’t meant for safe spaces.