Saturday, July 30, 2011

Proper 13A 2011

We were all shocked and dismayed by the bombing and murders in Norway last weekend. We share the grief of the parents and families of the young people and adults shot down by a gunman dressed as a policeman. He appears to have done this vile act to attract attention, and Oslo court denying him access to the media for at least six weeks seems reasonable.  We remember Timothy McVeigh detonated a similar bomb in Oklahoma City April 19, 1995 and was finally executed 10 years ago. And we read often of terrorist murderers in Afghanistan dressing in army and police uniforms, evil masquerading as good.

          One thing all these have in common is fear. Anders Breivik feared Muslim immigrants would end traditional European Christian civilization. After the Waco siege two years earlier McVeigh feared government power. Afghan terrorists fear Western influence. Many of us to a greater or lesser degree have a number of fears.  

          The first epistle of John (4:18) says “love casts out fear.” Christians know the love of God in Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit dwells within us. The Spirit of Truth gives a right judgment; the Spirit of Power enables us to wrestle with our fears and transform them love. Overcoming fear with divine love is not easy, but by God’s grace it is always possible.

          We see examples in today’s Scripture lessons. Jacob had good reason to fear his brother Esau; Paul feared for the salvation of his fellow Jews; the disciples feared a hungry crowd. In every case God’s love prevails. In the midst of our fears and troubles God’s love prevails. We do not always see the result; we live in hope that God’s love will prevail. We look for how God is at work in the world redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus and we celebrate God’s presence in every situation.

          There may be people alive who have always been obedient to the will of God, whose calm and productive lives have never awakened them at 4 am to pray, “Dear God get me out of this mess and I’ll never do it again!”  Such people might exist; I’ve just never met any.

          St. Paul reminds us (Romans 3:23 and 5:12) that “all have sinned” and all of us fall short of the glory of God. After Peter’s first sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:37-38),  the crowd were cut to the heart and said, “What should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Repentance helps replace fear with love.

          Paul knew this. On his way to persecute the church at Damascus n experience with the risen Lord threw him to the ground and blinded him.

          In today’s Genesis reading Jacob spent all night wrestling with “a man” and finally received a new name. No longer was he to be called Jacob, the second born twin, grasping his brother’s heel, the cheater and liar, but Jacob’s new name was to be Israel, combining the words for fight and for God – Israel who contends with God. Before that long night struggle Jacob had tried to cheat and connive to get his own way–with his brother Esau, with his father Isaac, and with his uncle Laban, only to fail and fail again. 

Jacob had come through the Golan Heights to a stream  near the mouth of the Sea of Galilee. Laban was north; Esau was south. Esau had tried to kill him once. What was to prevent his trying to kill him again? Jacob sent his family and herds before him. If Esau was still angry he could capture them and Jacob might again escape, or might not. Fear, fear of losing his property, fear of losing his family, feat of losing his life, all these were natural responses to his situation. To work through that fear to a new response of faith required considerable wrestling, wrestling with his history, wrestling with his conscience, wrestling with his life and for his life, repentance and faith.

          But the love of God won through in Jacob’s life. The love of God won through in Paul’s conversion experience, and the love of God wins through in our lives. Truly, God’s love casts out fear.

          We see this in the Epistle, where Paul’s fear for his fellow Jews’ salvation brings him to deeper faith in Jesus the “Messiah who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.”

          And finally the disciples worried fear about feeding 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish is met by the overwhelming love of God in Jesus blessing.  God’s love casts out fear. “God be blessed forever. Amen.”

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