By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
Today’s gospel lesson is about fear and love.
Jesus is slowly making his way to Jerusalem, stopping along the way to teach, preach, and heal. As Jesus is preaching to a crowd some Pharisees came up to him and said, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you” (Luke 13:31).
Jesus responds by saying, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Luke 13:32-34)
This brief interaction between the Pharisees and Jesus is ripe with emotion. For Herod, we can only presume it is fear driving his actions. Why would such a powerful man be afraid of a wandering preacher and healer? Because he had everything to lose. Herod had long ago abandoned God’s way for a cushy job with the Romans. As one of the Roman Empire’s local rulers, he had more power, authority, and wealth than he could ever know what to do with. Yet the more Jesus preached about God’s Kingdom, the clearer it became how far astray Herod was leading God’s people. Jesus represented a very real threat to Herod’s power and authority. In his fear that Jesus might actually be the real deal, he plots to eliminate this threat the only way he knows how: murder.
And the Pharisees are behaving scarcely better than Herod. They are afraid. They, too, are at risk to lose power and authority as the religious leaders of God’s people. Just as with Herod, if it turns out that Jesus is truly a prophet, let alone the Son of God, then they too could lose everything. God’s people might realize that all this time the Pharisees have been misleading them. The Pharisees have grossly misunderstood God’s desire for his people.
So what do they do in their fear? They act out. They try to thwart Jesus from his mission, by trying to spread fear and anxiety about a potential death threat. What Herod and the Pharisees didn’t understand, is that there was no way to scare Jesus away. Jesus is God’s Son and God is love. Perfect love casts out fear.
In his exchange with the Pharisees, Jesus calls Herod a fox and refers to himself as a mother hen. At first glance this might seem odd, given the fact that foxes destroy hens. Yet there is reason Jesus chose the image of the mother hen, longing to gather her chicks under her wing. Jesus chose the image of a vulnerable, loving mother protecting her little ones as a metaphor for God. Jesus chose an image where the unconditional love of a mother casts out any fear, and instead musters up the courage to face any danger or risk. This is the love waiting for each of us in our relationship with a vulnerable, loving mother God. That love, if we let it, can give us the courage to cast aside all our fears. God’s love can give us the courage to take unimaginable risks.
Take for example the young woman that Bishop Fisher has preached on many times, Vicki Soto, a teacher at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut. Vicki Soto loved to teach and help kids learn. She had a joy for life and was beloved by her family and friends. Yet when a gunman entered her classroom and approached her students huddled together in a closet, she threw her body in front of them. She took the bullets that were intended for her children and died at age 27. Several other teachers did the same, draping their body over the little bodies of their students, protecting them from what destruction might come. When Bishop Fisher tells Vicki’s story, he goes on to say, “We know from our hearts that is what love looks like. And Jesus goes further. He says that is what God looks like. And Jesus is on a mission from God – a mission to create a world of mercy and compassion and hope. Herod can’t create that world. More guns can’t create that world. But the Vicki Sotos of the world can. Maybe Vicki Soto and the teachers of Sandy Hook can help us understand God better. And inspire us to live out who we are – a people created in God’s image.”
Vicki Soto was able to act with such love and courage because she lived each day with love. Vicki and her fellow teachers are an example to each of us in living a life of love.
This is not the first time we have heard about fear and love this Lent. Some of you may recall what Frank Powell had to say about fear and love in the article I shared on Ash Wednesday entitled, the “9 Sins Christians are Okay With”. He named fear as one of those nine sins, and let me remind you, in his own words, what he said about fear:
“The phrases “do not fear” and “do not be afraid” appear(s) 365 times in the Bible. Ironic? I think not. And here’s what I think the church misses about fear. Let me pose this as a question. What is the opposite of fear? Courage? Bravery? William Wallace? Wrong. Wrong. And right, but you’re ruining my point.The opposite of fear is…LOVE. Add to this the reality that God is love. So, according to the Transitive property of mathematics, the opposite of fear is…God.
If you’re a child of God, the one sin that shouldn’t plague you is…fear. Yet, Christians are the most fearful people on earth. Even our salvation is rooted in fear. Does it bother anyone that the primary method of bringing people to Jesus has been to scare them away from hell?That’s fear language, the antithesis of God. Look at what John says: ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love(1 John 4:18).’
The church is scared to make decisions out of fear. Christians are hesitant to step into dangerous situations out of fear. The catalyst for our obedience is fear. Where’s the love? Several weeks ago, I decided to remove the words “fear, scared, and terrified” from my vocabulary. Maybe you should do the same. It could change how you see the world. And God.”
This week, I want to invite each of us to prayerfully reflect on the role fear plays in our individual lives and our life as a community of faith. Are there aspects of your daily life where fear is steering you? What would your life look like if you were to let go of that fear and instead let the love of God steer you?Amen.
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