“Fear and Love”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

February 21, 2016 — Second Sunday in Lent

Luke 13:31-35

 

In the city of Monstropolis, they have a peculiar way of generating power. They don’t use coal, or oil, or natural gas. They don’t use nuclear reactors. They don’t use wind turbines or hydroelectric dams or solar panels. Their energy does not come from the earth, or the sea, or the sky.

If you’ve seen the Pixar movie Monsters, Inc., then you’ll know that the power that runs the city comes from a different source entirely. In the city’s hulking power plant, employees called “scarers” pass through magical doors that transport them into the bedrooms of sleeping human children. As you might expect, when the children awake to find monsters coming out of their closets, they scream, and the resulting energy is captured back at the power plant in Monstropolis and poured into the city’s electrical grid. Then the scarers exit back through the closet door and go on to the next bedroom.

The scarier the monster, the more potent the child’s scream. So the scarers are trained in various scaring tactics, tailored to the age and preferences of the child in question. The power company tracks which scarers generate the most scream energy and rewards them with prizes and recognition, which leads the competitive monsters to develop their own special touches to wring every ounce of fright they can from their unsuspecting targets.

Monstropolis is a city that runs on the power of fear. And although I am quite sure that Jesus had never heard of Pixar or Monsters, Inc., he knew a thing or two about places where fear is the coin of the realm.

 

During Jesus’ lifetime, the land of Palestine was ruled by the Roman Empire, which exercised its power and maintained control of its vast territories and unwilling subjects through the use of fear. The empire’s puppet rulers in Palestine at that time were the members of the Herodian dynasty. They came from a Jewish heritage and claimed a Jewish identity, but their allegiance was with the Romans, and they had fully adopted the fear-based tactics of their imperial masters.

There was Herod the Great, who was in power at the time of Jesus’ birth. In an attempt to wipe out any threat to his reign, when he heard of the birth of the King of the Jews from the wise men visiting from the East, Herod the Great ordered that all young children in and around Bethlehem should be slain. Jesus and his parents escaped the slaughter by fleeing to Egypt, where they stayed until Herod the Great died a short time later, leaving his sons to take over where he had left off.

There was Herod Archelaus, who inherited the rule of Judea, the region around Jerusalem, when his father died. Herod Archelaus was known for slaughtering 3,000 Jews while they were at worship in the temple in Jerusalem, in punishment for challenging his rule.

There was Herod Antipas, who inherited the rule of Galilee, the region around Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, to which Jesus and his family eventually returned. Herod Antipas was the one who ordered the execution of John the Baptist as punishment for criticizing his behavior.

It is Herod Antipas to whom today’s scripture refers when the Pharisees come to Jesus to warn him that Herod wants to kill him. But no matter which Herod was doing the threatening, if a Herod was after your blood, it was serious business. So you would understand, wouldn’t you, if Jesus had taken the warning to heart and high-tailed it out of town.

That is not at all how Jesus responded. “Go and tell that fox for me,” he said to the Pharisees, “Tell that tricky old coward that I will be busy healing and setting things right until God determines otherwise, and nothing a sneaky little man like yourself can do is going to deter me.” Jesus was clear about his mission, focused on his purpose, secure in who he was and to whom he belonged, and a little earthly fear was not going to get in his way. He knew that he was connected to something much bigger than himself, that he was playing a part in nothing less than the salvation of the world.

But he was human, after all, and so I suspect that Jesus was not unaffected by the news that Herod had designs on his life. I imagine that he must have trembled a bit to think that this tyrant was set on destroying him. But the fear could not possess him. It could not freeze him like a deer in the headlights. It could not prevent him from doing what he was called to do, from being who he was called to be.

So, followers of Jesus, the question for you today is this: what would you do if you were unfettered by fear? Who would you be, how would you live, what call would you answer, what part would you play in the salvation of the world if the potential consequences could not possess you? And what is it that holds you back? What is it that you are afraid of? And what would it mean if you could let that fear go?

 

At the end of the movie (spoiler alert), the scarers of Monsters, Inc. discover that there is a power that is ten times more potent than the power of screams, and that is the power of laughter. Likewise, though Palestine under the Herodians may have run on the power of fear, Jesus was fueled by a source of power that was orders of magnitude stronger than anything that the Romans and their puppets could ever hope to do. That potent force was the power of God’s love—the very power that brought order out of chaos at the beginning of time, that called forth life and declared it good, that led people in the ways of justice and mercy, that could not be destroyed even by death itself.

Friends, the power that sustained Jesus in the face of Herod’s threats is ready and waiting to sustain you, too. The power of God’s love dwells within you already, and it is stronger than anything this world can possibly throw at you.

 

ErasingFearsSo, as a symbol of the truth that fear cannot separate us from the love of God, I invite you now to come forward as you are moved up the side aisles. On either side, you will find a chalkboard. I invite you to write on it the name of a fear that holds you in its grasp. Then, let the person behind you be a sign of God’s love as they take the eraser and wipe your fear off the board, before writing their own fear, which will then be erased by the following person, and so on, down the line.

As you come, remember this: that Jesus was no stranger to fear, and yet he also knew that the love of God casts out our fear and gives us the strength we need for the lives that are ours to live. This is the promise of our faith, and it is for you, for you are nothing less than beloved children of God.

Here we go.

 


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