A sermon preached by the Rev. Linda Harrison
Epiphany, Jan 7, 2018
Isaiah 60.1-6; Psalm 72.1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3.1-12; Matthew 2.1-12
Fear drives this gospel story … from the very beginning of the story the writer tells us that Herod, the puppet-king of the Empire, was frightened by the news of the birth of Jesus. He feared the loss of his position, sanctioned by Rome. Loss of position meant loss of wealth and status and comfort.
Herod, the ruler, was himself ruled by fear.
So much of our world continues to be ruled by fear today – fear of the “other”; fear of environmental apocalypse; fear of limited resources and wealth. As Father John has said, existential dread runs rampant upon this earth.
Not all fear is bad or ill advised, of course. Fear is a tool of self-preservation. Fear of falling keeps us from running headlong toward the edge of the cliff, fear of fire keeps us from getting burned, fear of tigers keeps us from becoming dinner.
And, there are fears that are not so good. Fear of people who do not look, sound, or act like us can, in the extreme, lead to genocide. Fear of losing status or privilege in society can lead to the oppression and subjugation of large segments of the population. Fear of limited resources leads to greed and hoarding by a few, thus consigning many to poverty.
According to the gospel story, Herod’s fear resulted in the slaughter of every innocent child under the age of two in and around Bethlehem. Herod’s fear is ultimately rooted in greed and idolatry.
Our personal fears may not be as destructive or violent as Herod’s, but our fears can indeed contribute to our own isolation, tip toward relationship denying, and can certainly become paralyzing.
It takes careful discernment and prayer to recognize which of our fears keep us safe and which of our fears keep us apart from God and neighbor, which of our fears are rooted in our need to control, and which of our fears show our lack of trust in God. And there should be no self-flagellation in this discernment. It is human to fear. There is neither shame nor sin in fear itself. The potential for sin comes in how we choose to respond to the fear.
To let go of fear and to walk in faith and trust in God takes prayer, study, and discipline. And I can tell you from personal experience, the richer my prayer life is, the deeper my trust in God is, and the less I am ruled by unsubstantiated fear. It is a disciplined practice, and one, I admit, I sometimes do not practice with the greatest of disciplines.
What are your fears? I invite you to sit in silence for five minutes and name your fears. Remember, you are only to acknowledge your fears. I assure you that God loves you unconditionally and beyond measure just as you are at this moment, in your fears and your strengths and your sorrow and your joy. So, please, no self-reproach, just honesty in the love of God.
After you have noted your fears, I invite you to give them to God by simply saying, “God, I give you my fear(s) of ______. Help me to be ruled by your love.”
There will be no fanfare or angel choruses. It will be a quiet affair. Perhaps there will be a slight lightening of your heart in acknowledging your fears in words and in inviting our loving God to be with you.
If you are a person who journals, it might be helpful to write down your fears and the invitation for God to take them.
I suggest at least a weekly practice of noting your fears and inviting God to take them. They will likely be the same for some time; we human beings play the same tapes over and over. I also invite you to find scripture passages that are meaningful to you, that assure you of God’s love and steadfast presence. Psalm 139.1-18 is my all-time favorite for such reminders.
Either Father John or I would be happy to help you with other passages if you do not know where to start.
Lent begins February 14. Consider making this your Lenten practice. How wonderful to relinquish fear and approach Easter filled with the assurance of God’s love!
May we begin to let go of the fears that paralyze us, those fears that keep us from doing the will of God. May we be ruled by the love of God and may we bear witness to that love in this world so full of fear.
Blessed be God forever. Amen.