June 25, 2017

June 25, 2017

Deacon Blaine Barclay

In our gospel today, Jesus teaches about Fear, what to be afraid of, and what not be afraid of.

We live in an age of fear and anxiety; not just particular fears, like the fear of heights, closed in spaces, nuclear war, climate change; but a more generalized fear, fear without an object, if you will. Sometimes, we are paralyzed by our fears, we fear commitment, intimacy, vulnerability; we try to choose not to choose, floating in the Lotus Land of indecision, but this is itself a choice.  We try to tame our fear, with shopping, alcohol, distractions, entertainment, addictive behavior patterns that will banish our fears, hold them momentarily at a distance.  One author describes our world as, ’the anesthetic society’, so pervasive is our frantic need to banish or not feel our underlying fear.

I take it as a given that anyone who is half awake to the human condition, especially in the modern age, is at some level afraid. Jesus speaks directly to our situation of fearfulness. Three times in today’s gospel Jesus tells us not to be afraid. ’’Fear no one….  Do not fear….  So do not be afraid….’’ Jesus calls us out of our fear, wants to cure us of our pathological fears that are a symptom of our woundedness, our sin, our lack of trust.  Jesus also teaches us about a different kind of fear that will cure the wound of all our other fears, ’the fear of the Lord’.  I would like to briefly walk through these three fears, and in conclusion, say something about the authentic fear that will heal them all.

First. ’’Fear no one: for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known’’.  In other words, do not be afraid to live with transparency, to live in the light, not holding back, full throttle, with the innocence, but not the naivete, of the child.  Do not be afraid of what others will think and say because you are a Christian. ’Proclaim it from the house tops’.  Do not be afraid to openly live the gospel, don’t be a ’closet Christian’. ’’Fear no one….’’

Second.’’ Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul’’.  In other words, do not fear the threat of violence.  If death or suffering is the cost of virtue, bring it on. It may be just the slow, daily, martyrdom of longsuffering, of patience in adversity, of tenderness and kindness in the face of difficulties.  Or, a more shattering violence, a more pervasive threat, that reminds us of ’the cost of discipleship’, that grace is not cheap. ’’Do not fear….’’

Thirdly. ’’So do not be afraid: you are of more value than many sparrows’’. ’’Even the hairs of your head are all counted’’.  Now, we think of sparrows as a song bird, but in the time of Jesus they were the meat of the poor.  If you went to market and couldn’t afford a good cut of meat, or a pigeon, you could always buy some sparrows for next to nothing, to garnish your table.  The point is, that as little and insignificant as the poor, and the meat of the poor, are, ’’not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father’’.  God knows even the little things, especially the little things. God embraces, to the bottom, the little things; the baby in the manger, the 12 year old  studying Torah, the widow who’s son dies, the loaves and fishes, the broken bread, this scared hands, ‘the hairs on your head’.  There is a saying, ’the devil is in the details’.  God is also in the details.  God loves us, not in general terms, but with a particular love, that is not afraid to get messy, or, count the hairs on a balding head, at least in my case.  God is in the details, ’’so do not be afraid’’.

Finally, how do we find our way to live this ’perfect love which casts out all fear’’? (as St. Paul says) How to make a beginning in walking in this fearless way?  In the terms of today’s gospel, ’’Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul’’.  But how can one authentic fear heal all our other fears, the ones that drag us down, and hold us back?  Scripture tells us in many places, ’’The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’’; This is the fear that Jesus is teaching us today, not a slavish fear, like a fear of punishment, that holds us back from wrongdoing. That kind of fear misreads the character of God. ’The fear of the Lord’, is more like an extreme awe, wonder, astonishment, and reverence, in the face of the over powering mystery of G_d. A ‘wow’ fear.  Think of a moonless, cloudless night, where the stars go on forever; the bottomless depths of the ocean; hanging by your fingernails on the side of a high cliff; the birth of a child; the fierce tenderness of love; these are all pale shadows of the absolute awe, wonder, astonishment, and reverence, that we should experience in the presence of God. In the words of the old hymn, ’’Sometimes, it causes me to tremble, tremble, Tremble….’’