Love casts out fear (Edie Wakevainen)
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St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
February 3, 2019 – Epiphany 4C
Jer 1:4-10, 1 Cor 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30, Psalm 71
How do you feel when you just don’t know what lies ahead? It seems like every time we open an email or answer the phone or look at social media, there is another loss. It’s natural to feel afraid. In fact, fear of the unknown is considered to be a fundamental fear, one shared by many if not all human beings. This isn’t a new thing. Consider our lesson from the Hebrew Bible. It was around 625 BCE that Jeremiah described the fear he felt upon learning that God called him to be a prophet. As a boy not yet proficient in public speaking, he didn’t know what would unfold as he lived into his call. And he was afraid.
Perhaps the people who reacted so violently to Jesus in our Gospel lesson were afraid, too. When the lesson begins, we hear that the people spoke well of Jesus. Then he told them about situations in which grace was extended to strangers outside of their Jewish circle—to a widow in Sidon and a Syrian leper—and they were filled with rage. The people were so angry that they drove Jesus out of town and wanted to hurl him off a cliff. Why such anger in response to what was essentially a factual news report??? Perhaps the driver was fear. Anger often stems from fear. The people in the synagogue that day may have feared losing out to a group of unknown outsiders. And their fear of this unknown erupted in anger.
Whether we knew it or not at the time, we all stepped into a huge unknown when Brian took his last breath this past Monday night. I would imagine that many of us are struggling with so many questions. And new ones keep coming up--apparently by the minute. What do I say to Clare? Should I send a card or write a letter? Should I call her or text her or send an email? Would it be a good idea to arrange meals to be delivered for her and the kids or would that be unwelcome? What do I do if I need a priest in the upcoming weeks? How long will she be away? When she does return, will she continue with everything as it was before Brian got sick? How long will she struggle with grief? He was our friend, too—how do we handle our grief without burdening her? And on and on and on. I can’t imagine how long our list would be if we each wrote down our unknowns on a big piece of paper. And even if we have dealt with a similar situation in the past, every situation is different and so we are challenged anew.
The thing is that there are no answers to these questions. We have walked into a space that is completely new and unfamiliar, and we cannot imagine what lies ahead next Sunday, not to mention next month or next fall. And we ought not be surprised if we are afraid. It’s completely normal for us to fear this unknown. Fear of the unknown is a basic, fundamental human fear.
The good news is that we have a way to deal with the fear—and that is with love. Remember the Bible verse that says, “Perfect love casts out fear”? That’s from the first letter of John: Perfect love casts out fear. Perfect love is agape love—the self-sacrificing type of love that puts the other’s needs before our own. Perfect love doesn’t require perfect people—that’s another piece of good news.
Showing that kind of sacrificial love as God calls us to do will help us handle our fears. Our New Testament lesson from 1 Corinthians 13 describes how to love this way. I invite you to consider the beginning of verse 7, which says, “Love bears all things.”
“Love bears all things” is our way to navigate this unknown. It is the answer to every question related to how to help and support someone who is experiencing devastating loss, the kind that turns the world upside down and makes us want to shake our fists angrily at God. Instead of trying to find answers, or give advice, or fix something that cannot be repaired, we are told that the way to bear each uncertainty that arises is with love. Agape love, the self-sacrificing kind that puts the other’s needs first, is the GPS that will lead us forward.
Right now, it’s early days. Perhaps the best way to love Clare right now is to pray for her and the family. The psalms are lovely prayers, and the psalm set for today is especially appropriate for us. In the days to come, I invite you to pray Psalm 71: to pray that she will take refuge in God, that God will keep her safe and deliver her, and that she will know the hope and sustaining strength that come only from God.
And remember, too, that God is with all of us whenever we suffer, regardless of the loss. We lose our loved ones. We lose jobs. We lose our way. In the incarnation, Jesus came to earth, fully human and fully divine. He lived among us. He wept when his friend Lazarus died. He suffered an agonizingly painful death on the cross. God was with his son in his suffering, and God will be with each of us every step of this journey through the unknown. God knows our struggles, sorrow, and pain because Jesus experienced the full range of human experience. And God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. May we walk in the light of that hope and reassurance.