Easter 2 Casting Out Fear
April 3, 2016
Today we begin with a question:
What are you afraid of?
What kind of things scare you?
A Facebook friend posted a picture of a spider
that she found on a bedroom wall of her house this week.
People responded in various ways,
my guess depending on how scared they are of spiders…
One responded in all caps: “IT’S A TARANTULA…MOVE IMMEDIATELY!”
Another person was more circumspective and wrote,
maybe it’s a wolf spider?
(Which apparently would be a good thing!)
If not spiders,
what are you afraid of?
We’ve been taught to fear…
Every day the news reminds us that the world is a scary place.
Last week- Good Friday actually –
a neighbor of mine was killed.
He was stabbed to death in front of the apartment building next to mine.
The following day a news reporter stopped me
as I walked my dog past the area where it happened.
With her cameraman behind her she asked me,
“What do you think of what happened here last night?
Are you frightened?”
Well, from all accounts it was an isolated incident.
I wasn’t feeling all that concerned for my own safety and I said so.
The reporter didn’t seem to believe me.
She kept asking me, “Why aren’t you concerned?
Why aren’t you concerned?”
Well, after she’d asked me the same question a few times,
I started getting concerned!
And maybe that’s how we’re taught to fear.
We are indeed a fearful people.
We fear nuclear attack.
We fear ISIS.
We fear immigrants and those different from us.
We fear terrorism.
We fear the spread of the zika virus.
We fear guns.
We fear gangs.
It’s not surprising that candidates
who convince us that they have the solution to our fears,
There’s nothing wrong with being afraid.
But how we respond to fear does matter.
Jesus’ disciples don’t respond to fear very well.
It’s not that their fear is irrational.
As his followers,
they have good reason to believe that they will be the next to be put to death.
But what they’ve done is that they have imprisoned themselves,
waiting on edge of their seats
for the ominous pounding on the door,
with someone ready to arrest them.
The Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi
served 15 years under house arrest for political activism.
“The only real prison is fear,
and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”
Jesus comes through the locked door to the disciples
who are scared, paralyzed and helpless
and he offers them freedom from fear.
He offers 3 gifts of healing.[i]
The first is peace.
Three times in this passage he says, “Peace be with you.”
The second gift he brings them is a purpose – a mission.
He says ‘You can’t stay here…you are to be my apostles..
I’m sending you out into the world!”
“As the father has sent me, so I send you!”
(That’s my confirmation verse by the way!)
The third gift he brings is the gift of the power of the Holy Spirit.
He breathes the spirit into them.
They have God within them… they will never be alone.
Peace, purpose, and power.
3 gifts to break down their fear.
John ends his gospel with the words,
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
Through believing you may have life in his name.
What is the purpose of belief?
According to John, it’s to have life!
As Suu Kyi says, the only real freedom,
the only real way to have life,
to live freely…is to escape from the fear that surrounds us.
How we do that –
how we escape from fear matters…
because of course, there are several options.
A different John – 1st John – says that “perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:18)
Well, as we know all too well,
fear can cast out love as well.
How we escape from fear matters.
What we do to become less fearful, to cast out fear,
can also make us cast out love.
Years ago on his children’s television show,
Mr. Rogers – my generation’s embodiment of love –
did a series of shows on the themes of conflict and change.
It was during the the Vietnam War.
On the show, one of Mr. Rogers’ puppets, King Friday,
was posting border guards, installing barbed-wire fences
and calling on passersby to keep out
those who wanted social change.
“Down with the changers!” he proclaimed. “Because we’re on top!”[ii]
Sounds remarkably contemporary!
Mr. Rogers knew and taught that fear can cast out love.
So what do we do with our fears?
What do we do with that list of things that frighten us
– ISIS, nuclear attack, terrorism, and the like?
Jesus gives to us the same 3 things he gave the disciples:
He gives us peace…
Over and over again he reminds us that his plan for us is peace.
He gives us a purpose – our mission is to love – and love will cast out fear.
And he gives us power…
the Spirit has been breathed into us.
We are never alone.
If the news reporter asked me again today,
“Why aren’t you concerned? Why aren’t you concerned?”
I hope I might say,
“because I choose love rather than fear.”
[i] Alyce McKenzie, “Locked In and Locked Out: Reflections on John 20:19-29,” http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Locked-In-Locked-Out-04-02-2013