Proper 14C’22
7 August 2022
Luke 12.32-40
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. Amen.

On the geo-political front there’s terrorist plots, and China’s threatening military exercises. There’s Russia’s movement away from Democracy, and the horrific war they have brought to Ukraine, with the destabilization of a nuclear plant.   Conspiracy theorists, media moguls, and government regimes, create propaganda, that manipulate the American public, leaving us scratching our heads as to what’s really going on. Political parties that are so power crazed they are willing to wreck our wonderful country in the pursuit of power and control. There are women who are reeling after the supreme court decision that seems to be turning back the clock on women’s rights. Climate changes have brought drought and wildfires to the west and flooding to our neighbors in Kentucky. COVID has killed millions across the world, and has impacted thousands with long-term ill- health effects; and Monkeypox has been declared a national health emergency. This is my litany of fear, and I’m certain you could all add plenty more fears to my list.

When I read the Gospel reading for this week, my first impression was, ‘Oh great everybody has enough to be scared about already, and now they can come to church so I can scare them to death about God’: “The Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Many who are presently in, or who have grown up in a more fundamentalist religious backgrounds hear the echoes of the warnings of travelling evangelists that Christ could return any moment, or who have been fed on the “Left Behind” series of novels, so that every time China, Israel, or Russia does something drastic the book of Revelation is brought out to interpret the news headlines. Fear may sell, but in the end fear doesn’t work. Fear may work to bring about some immediate behavior change but they’re mostly temporary, fear cannot sustain anyone over the long haul. OH, and this newsflash just in…it’s been the “Last Days” since 33 AD.

In spite of apocalyptic fears, we don’t need to forget that Jesus does start our reading today with the words, “Do not be afraid, little flock…” The message to “fear not” is given in both the Old and New Testaments well over 400 times, more than enough for each of the 365 days in a year. God knows all too well the crippling and paralyzing properties of fear, particularly when it infects our relationships with one another, and with God. Fear blocks self-disclosure and creates defensive walls between us. As the singer/songwriter, Frank Turner puts it in his song “Be More Kind”:

          History’s been leaning on me lately;
          I can feel the future breathing down my neck
          And all the things I thought were true
          When I was young, and you were too
          Turned out to be broken
          And I don’t know what comes next

          {he continues with another verse:}

          They’ve started raising walls around the world now
          Like hackles raised upon a cornered cat
          On the borders, in our heads
          Between things that can and can’t be said
          We’ve stopped talking to each other
          And there’s something wrong with that

I wonder sometimes if we in the church get caught up in this cycle of fear that can leave us feeling anxious and weary? Bible passages such as this one today, if misinterpreted can add fuel to flames of our shame. But is there another way of looking at it? A way that is hopeful and life giving rather than life draining?

Rather than telling folks to do the impossible, that is to remain vigilant, to be on alert around the clock 24/7/365, we would do better to do as the writer Gene Lowry advised, “to position ourselves to be surprised.” There really is a surprise in the reading where we see that Christ’s desire isn’t to catch somebody red handed not doing things right so that he can punish them. We see Christ’s true desire is to have a close loving relationship:

“Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes and knocks, truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.”

We do this by being fully present in the present moment, by first receiving God’s kingdom, and the law of this kingdom, unlike the world’s kingdom, is the unconditional love of God. To live in this way is to realize that we are unconditionally loved by God who has freely given us the kingdom, and because of his love we are enabled to show up as best we can, treating each day as a dress rehearsal for the Big Day of Christ’s final return, and living generously and welcoming those who enter our lives as Christ – a person to be treated with dignity and respect, someone that I may be able to offer some sort of help either practically or spiritually. Remembering that as much as we have done it to the least of these, we have done it to Jesus. Living in God’s kingdom now, praying, serving, and seeking God’s kingdom and God’s will to happen on earth. Because Christ offers us, his “little flock” the treasure of his Kingdom, free of charge, with grateful and generous hearts we can offer the unconditional love of God in Christ to all those who are hungry for it. This is the perfect love that will cast out our fear

I’ll leave the last word for Frank Turner and his song:

          In a world that has decided
          That it’s going to lose its mind
          Be more kind, my friends
          Try to be more kind

          Like a beacon reaching out
          To you and yours from me and mine
          Be more kind, my friends
          Try to be more kind