From Fear to Love
By: Pastor Krista Ducker
(Gary Norton at 10:00 service): Our scripture comes to us today from Psalm 27, verses 4-5:
We are continuing our Lenten journey through Henri Nouwen’s book Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Each week, we have focused on different movements of the spirit as we mature in Christ: from Opaqueness to Transparency, From Illusion to Prayer, From Sorrow to Joy, from Resentment to Gratitude, and this week, from Fear to Love.
In the companion video for this week’s movement, REv. Rebecca Trefz, our District Superintendent, highlights Nouwen’s insight that that these movements indicate not stepwise progressive stages of development, but rather, “movements, from the things that enslave and destroy to liberation and life.” As we have witnessed countless times throughout our global history, nothing enslaves and destroys like fear does. And consequently, nothing frees and rebuilds, like love can.
In this chapter, Nouwen reminds us of the story in scripture, in Matthew 8, of the disciples huddled in terror as their boat crashed among stormy sea waves; Jesus, calm and steady, reminded them of the truth--they were held in the presence of the One who held sway over the wind and waves. And their faith was strengthened.
There are many things that can trigger that deep pit-of-the-stomach dread that is an all too familiar feeling these days. Perhaps it is the looming phone call from a doctor with what could be a serious diagnosis; perhaps the fear we will be rejected by a loved one or a colleague if we find the courage to tell the truth; perhaps we fear for our children in a culture that seems all too willing to injure the sensitive and vulnerable; even a simple act like opening our social media apps or turning on the news can bring on feelings of fear, anxiety and dread without warning. We live in uncertain times. In such times, it is natural to respond by building our walls, putting up our defenses and protecting our turf. But this is not the way of love. Fear leads to bondage; but love leads to freedom.
Nouwen offers a powerful cautionary picture of the end result of our fearful efforts at self protection: isolation;
This is the end of all our capitulations to fear. It is the way of the world we live in; but it is NOT the way of the world we come from. Let us remember that our home is not of this world; we are citizens of another country; God’s country. And in that country, love, not fear, holds sway.
Our home is with God; the God who chose to dwell with us, so that we could find our home in him. In the Gospel of John, Nouwen reminds us, we are told that Jesus came to earth to “make his dwelling place with us” (1:14).
Jesus admonished his disciples (and by extension, us) to “abide in me, as I abide in you.” (15:4) As once we Adam and Eve did with God in the Garden of Eden, Jesus invites us to dwell, to live, to hang out, with him, there to find rest for our souls. In Jesus, we have enough. In Jesus, we are enough.
I don’t know about you, but I often feel like the way of this world is the way of “never enough.” There’s never enough time; never enough money; no matter how much effort or energy, or wit, or humor, or resources, we pour into the things of the world, it is never enough to quiet the shouting voices of fear in our minds or untie the knots in our gut. The truth is, the world uses us. But God loves us. Sometimes even in the church we can get confused and forget that we follow the way of Jesus; we are an outpost, a way station, a pit stop for the faithful on the way to our true home with God. We need to look more like God’s world, than this world. We need to remember our way is not a way of fear, but a way of love.
I’ve heard it said that the phrase “Don’t be afraid” occurs 365 times in the bible. I’ll admit I haven’t counted. But I like that idea. One for every day of the year; a reminder every day that fear is not the essence of our being. In Hebrew, the command looks like this:
In Hebrew you read from right to left, not from left to right; so the first word is actually that one on the right: al. Then you read the word on the left: tiyra. Al-tiyra. What I love about the word order is that reads a little like Yoda; “Not afraid shall you be.” Or, put a little more simply; “be not afraid.” Notice how the emphasis changes; it is not a negative (do not be afraid), but a positive; “BE not afraid.
The state of freedom from fear is how we should be; in the very core of our beings, we are unafraid people. We have been created for love; love of God, love of neighbor, love of ourselves. Fear is foreign to our nature, and it is the mechanism by which this world lures us back into slavery. But we have been freed. Our home is with God, and God’s way is love.
So when we are afraid, how do we find our way back to our home in love? Through prayer, Nouwen tells us. So much of what drives our anxieties and fears is the enemy’s lie that we are not okay; that we will not be okay; that somehow we can worry our way into okay-ness. But when we pray--that is, when we take time away to waste time with God and open our hearts to God’s loving Spirit work within us--we are reminded that all the machinations, pressures and distractions of the world only serve to lure us away from our true home in God; the God of love.
The work of love is daily work. It calls us toward a movement of growing up into Christ. It is not a quick fix. It isn’t glamorous. It won’t make us famous. But it will make us free. Every day we have a choice:
Will we run like the prodigal toward the empty promises of the world, or will we turn toward our true home in God?
I know we have wandered a bit from our text today, so let me remind us of it; from Psalm 27:4-5:
Often when I have come across these verses I have focused more on the first one: that I would live in the house of the LORD forever. But it’s interesting to read these two verses together; they imply that God’s loving protection doesn’t stay just in one place. Look at it; God hides us in God’s shelter; God conceals us under his tent; God sets us high on a rock. So think about it; these verses taken together tell me that God’s home moves with me. Whether I am at worship, or whether I am out doing my daily work, or on a journey, wherever I am, God’s protection is with me.
That means that at any point in my day, and you in yours, we can be covered in God’s protection, like a tent. We can find a way station along the way for shelter. When we are confused and can’t see the way, we can trust that God will set us in a place of clarity. What if we looked at our times of prayer this way?
I want to invite you to try that this week. In your devotion time, or in those moments you steal for quiet reflection in your day, especially if fear begins to take hold, say to yourself; “I’m going into God’s tent for a little while.” The psalmist reminds us that God is always with us, always caring for us, always available, anytime of the day. Even if it’s just for a minute or two--we can go into God’s tent; we can hide in God’s shelter; we can seek to find a high rock where we can see clearly. God’s home is not a specific place; God’s home is wherever we are.
The people of Israel were accustomed to moving around. For most of their history they were nomadic peoples; sometimes they were able to worship at a temple, but even then, many of them were spread far and wide; a vast diaspora that continues to this day. For them, as for us, the mobility of God’s presence, whether it was symbolized in the Ark of the Covenant, the pillar of fire, the pillar of cloud, or the sacred words of scripture, has provided a grounding sense of home.
For us, that home is Christ who saves us. That home is the Holy Spirit, who guides and sustains us. That hope is God, our creator who made us, breathed life into us, and continues to make us new. We can be unafraid. God is with us; and we are going to be okay.