Last Sunday Brenda referred to fear in her sermon. As she spoke a light bulb flashed for me. When we say “perfect love casts out all fear” we are naming love as the opposite of fear, not courage, safety or security. Somehow I've missed that up till now. We spend so much energy trying to guarantee our comfort, safety and security. But Scripture reminds us that those are not the antidotes of fear at all. In fact, our very pursuit of safety and security will always make us even more afraid!
Love is the antidote to fear. Love. Not a feel good love but a love that is intent on we ourselves being the agent of change. We do that by willing what is best for the other, respecting the others right to a decent life, even when we can't stand their guts. Even when they've bullied, demeaned and hurt us.
Someone once said that we can summarize all of Jesus teachings in three short phrases. Love your enemies, Feed my sheep. Follow me. Love your enemies, love your obnoxious family members and neighbors. Love bigots, crackpots, illegal immigrants, criminals, those of different races, colors, religions. Love fanatics and self aggrandizing politicans of all sorts. Not easy, so it's no wonder we have instead focused on economic security, the right to carry, the myth of redemptive violence, building fences of all sorts, demonizing those who are different. Agape love, that is God inspired love that enables us to rescpect and value those we can't stand, those who are committed to hurting and even killing us is the hardest things we can possibly do. As if to underscore that the very first Bible stories that include human beings involves blaming and jealousy.
Back in the 70's when I was going to Newton, Kansas for church meetings I got to know Peter Ediger. Pete was an outspoken peace advocate, pastor and poet. At one of those meeting he shared a dream. In his dream he saw a long row of big boxes in which many people (he described them as the damned) were agitated and pacing back and forth. The thing was these boxes had only three sides. The fourth was completely open. Nothing kept the frantic people inside their boxes, yet no one turned around. Everyone kept facing the three closed sides, wailing, complaining, lamenting their situation. In the dream, Peter called out to them, “You are free, Turn around and step outside.” But the people said “go away you damned radical” and kept tearing their hair and walking back and forth beating aginst the walls, refusing to turn and face the opening.
This weekend we celebrate our nation's birthday. In many ways our founding fathers were radicals who stepped outside of the box and embraced a new way of being and doing. But over the years we've become comfortable in the three sided boxes we've created. We've become reluctant to turn around and step outside, because that would require change, loving our enemies, welcoming immigrants, embracing those who are different, being open to those who challenge our biases and assumptions. It would require us to change. Not them, but us..
Love is the antidote to fear, not because it transforms the other or makes us any safer, at least in the short run, but because it transforms us. Freed from fear we can embark on new paths, engage in new activities, look through a new set of eyes, feel new feelings. Free, we can risk, become more like the people God intended us to be.
Much of the time I am ashamed to call myself Christian when I see the evil done in the name of Christ, but today I proudly proclaim myself a Christ follower, timid though I may be in my following. The church's call to “repent and be saved” is not just a valid one, but an essential one if we are to survive as a species. Repent. Change direction. Turn around. Step outside the box. Embrace change however frightening. Be saved from ourselves, our self destructive policies and actions, and our fears.
After a hurricane in the 70's Mac Albright suggested we take the church kids rubber rafting. Being a bit nuts I agreed. We gathered up our gang of about 15 middle schoolers and took off. We had 2 rafts; a big one that accomodated most of the kids, and a smaller one for four. Mac assurred me that Link, his nephew, was a veteran rubber rafter and he could manage the small raft. Yeah right. We hadn't gone far before we tipped the raft over and fell in the water. Fortunately the stream was shallow enough at that point that we could wade to a little island and catch our breaths. Delighted with our adventure we climbed back in and set sail.
And then disaster struck. Real disaster. At a broken dam, now clogged with all sorts of debris sucked into a whirlpool in front of the dam, throwing the four of us into the raging water. Somehow I managed to pull myself out, grabbed hold of Link's arm and pulled him to safety. Gasping, the two of us went in after Eddie Richardson. But where was Fid? Diving back in I found him trapped under the trash, his foot tangled in some string. am convinced that some power greater than myself gifted us that afternoon for there is no way I was strong enough to have dived under that water, grabbed Fid's arm at the shoulder, disentangled his leg, and pulled both of us up out of that swirling sucking vortex. As soon as we'd surface enough to catch a breath of air, it pulled us back under. But by the grace of God, Fid and I eventually crawled out of the water and debris to safety. And then the four of us got back in the raft and finished our trip down stream. Having narrowly escaped death we all needed to join the others.
When I dropped Les and Fid off at their home, Fid ran into the house shouting, “Mom, Dad, Mrs Shutt saved my life!” That's when I understood the Biblical imperative “repent and be saved.” The ways we chose to live, the choices we make have serious long range implications. Biblical writers understood that when we focus on greed, self interest, war and violence there is only possible outcome. Death and more of the same. Unless we repent, unless we step out of our three sided boxes, nothing will ever change. Salvation involved stepping out of our boxes. Not saved as an evacuation plan to heaven, but saved so that God's energy can flow through us to help others. Saved to live in relationship with others and our world. Saved to work together for the betterment of humankind. Saved to belong to a joy filled beloved community of faithful followers. Saved to be grateful rather than greedy. Hearing Fid call out “Mrs Shutt saved my life” I found I really wanted to spend the rest of my life helping others step outside of their three sided boxes.
If we are to save our broken war torn, hate filled, greed infested, self-centered world, then we have to be the first ones to turn around and step outside of the box. We must be the ones to embrace that promised love that defies human understanding and casts out all fear. Difficult as it is to trust in an unseen God, we can do this, not that it will be easy. It won't. The old familiar ways of being and doing are like that watery vortex that kept pulling us back under the broken dam. But being so flooded with love and concern for those kids that afternoon I completely lost all fear and concern for my own safety and that momentary burst of love was enough to mobilize my strength to pull Fid far enough out of the water that two other little boys could do the rest.
And that's how it works! A scrawny little woamn and two kids complete the metaphor. Perfect love exists in imperfect scrawny improbable people for that love is not about us and what we can do on our own, it is about joining others in small actions and efforts. Being with, needing, depending on,, sharing with, weeping with, laughing with others. Together love flows through us from a power greater than all of us. Together love can and will free us to turn around and make that first baby step out of our three sided boxes into God's open future. Amen