Focus: Love in an Age of Fear

A sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Easter: Acts 9:1-6, (7-20), Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19

Last Wednesday morning I was reading the New York Times, as I do every morning, well almost every morning. I was captured by a photograph. It was the eyes that grabbed me; at first, I thought he was blind, but no that wasn’t it. Then I noticed his right hand is bandaged, covered in a bright blue wrapping. He held a folder with a few papers in his left arm; which is in a sling and that hand is also bandaged, covered in a similar bright blue wrapping. The kippah (kih-PAH) or yarmulke (jɑːməkə) finally triggered the recognition, this is the Rabbi of the synagogue in Poway, Calif. attacked by a white American male terrorist.

The image is powerfully, eerily haunting. I do not often read letters to the editor, I read his. In part he wrote

I was preparing to give my sermon Shabbat morning, when I heard a bang, had a table fallen over or Lori Gilbert there to say Yizkor, mourning prayer for her mother, fallen? I went to went to see, and I saw the terrorist who killed her. He shot me, my right index finger was gone, my left index finger injured. The active shooter training kicked in; I ran to children in the ball room grabbing and pushing with my bloody hands to get them out. Almog Peretza, veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, ran after me to help get the children to safety; he was shot. The terrorist’s gun jammed. Oscar Stewart an Army veteran and Jonathan Morales an off-duty border patrol agent rushed toward the terrorist and he fled.

I do not know why I had to witness scenes of a pogrom (the massacre of a particular ethnic group) in San Diego County like the ones my grandparents experienced in Poland. I do not know why God spared my life. I do not know God’s plan. All I can do is try to find meaning in what has happened; and to use this borrowed time to make my life matter more. I pray that my missing finger serves as a constant reminder to me. A reminder that every single human being is created in the image of God; … a reminder that my ancestors gave their lives so that I can live in freedom in America; and a reminder, most of all, to never, ever, not ever be afraid to be Jewish (Goldstein).

The same day David Brooks, a columnist I regularly read, wrote An Era Defined by Fear. He begins “Another synagogue shooting.” And continues to explore how fear pervades our society and sets the emotional tone for our politics.

On Sept. 11, 2001 … a nation that had once seemed invulnerable suddenly felt tremendously unsafe. Since then we have experienced all manner of shootings, schools, city centers, rallies, churches, Mosques, and synagogues. Today’s politicians rise to power by stoking fear. Childhood trauma adds to our mounting fear. Traditional media and social media have responsibility for the rising fear [by their (our) use of fear to increase readership]. Fear itself has begun to take control … so that we are unable to hear good news. For example, we are in the longest economic boom in our history … nobody feels it. Fear stokes anger … anger stokes more fear. It drives out all thoughts of others. In an atmosphere of fear grand ideologies clash, and we begin to [speak and think] in binaries, oppressor versus the oppressed, good groups verses menacing groups (Brooks).

In the earliest days, before there was even a church widespread violence against the Way, was driving many Christians out of Jerusalem back to their homes in faraway places. Even as the Jesus movement was spreading to the ends of the earth, persecution was following. And Jesus acts again, he calls Saul, sends him blinded and disoriented, by divine light, to Damascus to meet Ananias. He also calls Ananias, who answers as Samuel did “Here I am Lord.” and Jesus reveals his calling. Ananias is fearful, he knows of Saul’s murderous tirades. Jesus tells him to be at peace, “I will be with you.” If Jesus had not sent Paul to Ananias Paul would never have figured what he was to do. It is Ananias who explains his mission, and introduces him to the rest of the faith and to the community of faith. Ananias lays hands on Saul, calls him brother, makes the Jesus movement story clear, and heals Saul’s blindness. He is the human means by which Saul is filled with the Spirit There are 3 gleanings to share this morning

  1. no one is beyond the saving reach of God/Jesus/Spirit
  2. conversion always leads to commission, – we are saved from and saved to serve, and
  3. A call is not simply a matter between ‘me and Jesus,’ it is something that requires the discernment, confirmation and direction of the community of faith (Campbell qtd. in Mast).

That work begins with Ananias and is the work of every congregation, and The Commission On Ministry in the Episcopal Church. Charles Campbell notes

The living Christ is ‘loose’ in the world … persecuted, ‘ordinary’ believers provide the gifts of discernment and enemies become brothers and sisters, and violence is replaced by witness (Mast).

This is the hope for the world This is the hope for our nation This is the hope for Blytheville This is the hope and the work of St. Stephen’s and all churches, all people, and all communities.

This hope, this work, appears in all sorts of ways. Rabbi Goldstein continues

the terrorist who shot up my synagogue called my people, the Jewish people, a “squalid and parasitic race.” No. We are a people divinely commanded to bring God’s light into the world (Goldstein).

He is right, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all of Abraham’s children, all of God’s people, are divinely commanded to bring God’s light into the world. We are all divinely created to be a blessing to all the people in the world (Gen 12:2-3) (Thompson).

Brooks notes that some people, notably Christians, believe the perfect love casts out fear. He is not so sure a Franklin Roosevelt is on the horizon; but this is not the end of hope. He is beginning to see how governance, people collectively trying to solve practical problems, people collectively just getting stuff done, might be the light the darkness of fear will not overcome (John 1:5). Fear will come in the night; but eventually you have to wake up in the morning, get out of bed and get stuff done (Brooks).

Getting stuff done looks a lot like feeding and tending God’s sheep, and that can be very difficult (Kesselus). Nonetheless getting stuff done is what Paul did. It is what Ananias did. It is what Rabbi Goldstein is doing, It is what we, individually, as a congregation, and as a community, are all about. It is how we individually, as a congregation, a city, county, state, and nation, open the eyes of our faith and behold Jesus’ redeeming work (BCP); by which we are a blessing that brings love into an age of fear.


References

Brooks, David. “An Era Defined by Fear.” The New York Times (2019). <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/29/opinion/politics-fear.html?rref=collection%2Fbyline%2Fdavidbrooks&action=click&contentCollection=undefined&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=3&pgtype=collection&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 5 5 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Goldstein, Yisroel. “A Terrorist Tried to Kill Me Because I Am a Jew. I Will Never Back.” New York Times 29 4 2019. web. <nytimes.com/2019/04/29/opinion/rabbi-chabad-poway-antisemitism.html>.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kesselus, Ken. “Lambs and Sheep, Easter 3 (C).” 5 5 2019. Sermons that Work.

Mast, Stan. Lectionary Epistle Acts 9:1-6, (7-20). 5 5 2019. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Oden, Amy G. Commentary on Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]. 5 5 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Pankey, Steve. “Already Restored.” 30 4 2019. Draughting Theology.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

Thompson, Barkley. “To be a blessing.” 17 3 2019. God in the Midst of the City. <https://rectorspage.wordpress.com/2019/03/17/to-be-a-blessing/&gt;.

Wall, Robert. New interpreter’s Bible The Acts of the Apostles. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.