"Do not abide in fear"
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
April 29, 2018—Easter 5B
Acts 8:26-40; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
Abide in me, as I abide in you. It’s a farewell promise made to a group of disciples who will soon feel as though they have been left alone. So it’s an assurance: live in me, live in the way that I have shown you how to live, and I will live in you. I will LIVE! And I will sustain you. I will feed you. And you will thrive. You will not wither and die and be fit for nothing other than being thrown into the fire. You will live!
Abide in me, and I will abide in you!
It is a promise. It is an assurance to the disciples and to the community that produced the gospel and letters of John. They are under attack; they are trying to live in a way that runs counter to the culture around them (sound familiar?). And they need to remember this, they need to know this: that if they live in the way of Jesus, then Jesus will live in them. GOD will live in them. And they will abide.
They will abide. They will love with the very love of God. Imagine that. Not the love that you and I are capable of, but the unimaginable love that God has for all creation. It will live in you. It will grow in you. And (miracle of miracles) it will grow strong enough, perfect enough, that it will even overcome your fear.
Imagine that. Your fear. Fear, which is born of a protective impulse, a need for us to sense danger and prompt us to react, prepare, or flee. So necessary, if one is facing a predator, a fire, an approaching enemy. In those cases, fear is our warning system that prepares us for fight or flight, for response or avoidance. That’s when we actually need fear. That’s when the sense of God’s abiding presence can simply strengthen us; can give us the courage to battle what we must battle, to endure what we must endure, to respond to what we face in the wisest and best way possible.
Yes, fear can be a protector. But fear can also kick into overdrive. In a world without prowling lions and neighboring tribes fighting over resources, our fear seems to seek other targets. The instinct kicks in, latching onto things like failure, embarrassment, or any unknown. THEY become the roaring lions outside the tent. And so fear becomes not a protector, but a thief. It whispers (or, indeed, roars) that risk is going to devour you in the night. That job is beyond you. That relationship might destroy you. That new business venture will bankrupt you. Those travel plans are insane. Those social activities will lead you somewhere new, and you will be rejected. You will fail. You will lose something precious.
Fear lies. Fear has no idea, frankly, where any of these things will take you. But it speaks as though it is sure. As though whatever you are contemplating is deadly.
Imagine, then, what it would be to abide in God, and let God abide in you. Imagine knowing that the unimaginable power and love of God dwells within you. So … even if the relationship ends. Even if the job doesn’t turn out to be what you had hoped or thought. Even if you arrive at your planned destination and find yourself with no idea of the language or the culture or where you want to go next. Even then … God abides within you. You live in God’s power and God’s love, and it lives in you. So breathe it in. You can love wherever and whatever you are. And you can take the next step. You have not failed in some “game over” kind of way. Fear lied about that. You are still on the journey.
Fear lies. And when we believe those lies, fear becomes a thief. It steals the experiences, opportunities and growth that God has placed before us as a gift. If we believe that we can’t, so often we don’t. If we believe that failure is somehow fatal, then we turn away from all that we might have achieved, and all that we might have learned, no matter what the outcome.
Imagine, then, what you might become, if you were to ground yourself in God’s love, in God’s power, and face into that fear. If you remember that fear is so often a thief and a liar, and grab hold of the courage to do whatever it is anyway.
No, not if it’s purely self-destructive. Don’t play Russian roulette. Don’t destroy yourself with alcohol or drugs or ridiculous and reckless behavior. And if your fear is actually the fear of getting caught, then please do pay attention to that fear. That is. in fact, fear as a protector. That fear should, in fact, be heeded!
But so much of our fear does not fall into those categories. So much of our fear just lies, and steals things from us. It blinds us to the truth: about who we are and what we’re capable of. And it distorts our vision of the world and other people, telling us lies about who and what they are, and what kind of danger they might pose to us.
Fear, then, separates us. It cuts us off from the love of God in which we should abide. For how can we love God, when we hate any of God’s beloved, when we in fact feed on and nurture our own FEAR of so many of God’s beloved?
As scholar Judith Jones observes, “If we love others as God has loved us, there can be no boundaries. God’s love, made visible and present in Jesus, is the source for the love we share with others. Jesus ignored the limits that religious communities imposed. He ate and talked with people whom the religious leaders had rejected as heretics, as sinful, as filthy and despicable. He touched people who were considered untouchable and welcomed people whom everyone else had kicked out. His harshest words were reserved not for the impure, but for unloving, self-righteous people who saw some of God’s children as beneath their attention and certainly as unworthy of their love.”[i]
Our fear cuts us off from each other, setting up camps, setting up boundaries, setting up in and out, good and bad, my side and your side. Imagine, then, abiding in the love God has for all people. Imagine letting that live in you, grow in you.
Think of the people, the group of people, you most fear………… What would it mean to love them? To abide in the love God has for them, and let that live in you? I know it’s scary, but ask yourself: What damage do you believe they will cause you or the world? And why do believe that? Is it possible they believe you to be a similar threat to what they value and love? Is their fear justified … or might it just be overblown?
Fear has a way of separating us by blinding us, by lying to us, by feeding us stories and perceptions. So … imagine God’s love casting out all the irrational parts of our fears. Imagine abiding in the love God has for your enemies. Imagine that love abiding in you, living in you. How would that feel? What would that mean, to love them? What would it do to you? How might it change the way you respond to them?
Jesus promises his terrified disciples: Abide in me, and I will abide in you. Abide in God’s love and God’s love will abide in you. It will live in you. You will live in it. And it will cast out fear. It will cast out the fear that lies, that steals, that separates you from God and each other. Live in that love, let that love live in you, and you will not wither: you will thrive and flourish and know life abundant! May it be so, Amen.