Sermon by The Rev Kathy McAdams
St John’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, MA
June 22, 2019
When Joyce first gave me this bulletin to proof, I puzzled over the cover. “Fear.” Was it meant to promote fear at St John’s? I don’t want to condone that. Even when we speak of the “fear of God”, we’re really talking about respect and awe at God’s magnificent power, not that we are actually afraid that God would hurt us. I don’t think that’s the kind of relationship God wants to have with us, one of fear and loathing. That’s the God of the Old Testament. God sent Jesus to change that understanding, and to create a New Covenant of love.
But fear is how the Gerasenes felt about Jesus. They heard how he had healed a man from demon possession, and instead of standing in awe of him, they “were seized with great fear”, and actually asked Jesus to leave their country. Can you imagine? Asking Jesus to leave, after he’s just healed one of your neighbors? I find the phrase interesting, that they were “seized with great fear.” In fact, the Gerasenes were possessed, captivated, paralyzed just as the man who had been possessed by the demons. Except now he was free, and they were imprisoned. He was with Jesus, witnessing to his marvelous works, and they were pushing him away, asking him to leave.
That’s what fear does. It separates us from God, from each other, and even from the best parts of ourselves. It paralyzes us and holds us captive. It prevents us from following God’s call and achieving God’s dreams for us.
Fear of “the other,” of people who don’t look or sound like us, can turn into anger and hate. Out of our fear, we fail to recognize Christ in the stranger, and we can treat them in ways that are less than human. I believe this is what’s happened in the US, with our policies toward immigrants and asylum-seekers. The rhetoric about immigrants increases our fear of violence and scarcity: “THEY”, the other, is going to come here and kill our daughters and take all our jobs and our public monies, and there won’t be anything left for “US.” This fear soon turns to anger and hate, and soon we are rounding up families, and separating children from their parents. Just as the Gerasenes, we are “seized with fear,” and we send Jesus away, back to his home country, with no regard for what might become of him. What if we believed that God loves all of His children, no matter which side of the man-made line they were born on, and that we are all brothers and sisters? What if we believed that we all deserve that love? What if we believed that God calls us to love each other? What if we believed there is enough of everything to go around; that we all are going to have enough of what we need?
What if we believed that God is keeping his covenant with us, to be our God and protect us, all of us? Our side of the covenant is to be God’s people: to keep his commandments and hold him in our hearts, to love God and love neighbor, as Jesus so succinctly summed them up. So if we believe that God is protecting us, then we have no need for fear, and our hearts can fill with love (the opposite of fear). Our hearts can fill with God. We’re no longer possessed by fear, so we can go about fulfilling our part of the covenant with God. Think how many ways we can find to welcome the stranger, to care for the orphaned and the widowed, to heal the sick, visit the prisoner, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. Think how many ways we can find to love God and our neighbors, when we are not paralyzed by fear. Because fear is a 4-letter word.