Casting Out Fear
Epworth United Methodist Church
November 13, 2016
I don’t need to tell you that it has been a shocking week. The election heightened our divisions and sent shock waves through our country and around the world. There are divisive fault lines running through our country, our regions, and many of our families. The Woodhouse family divide runs right between brothers Brad and Dallas. Brad ran a pro-Clinton Super PAC and Dallas is executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party. For a time during the run up to the election they stopped talking.[i] There are even divisions in our church.
And… there is enough fear to go around for everyone: fear for our planet, for men and women of color, fear for refugees and immigrants (like Emily, the student I mentor through Rotary who says she’s finding it hard to cope), fear for our Muslim sisters and brothers (like our daughter’s roommates), fear for our children and what they are seeing and learning from all of this. There is also fear of ongoing unemployment in depressed areas of our country, fear of the impact of trade agreements and fear of what the election will mean to international relations. There is anxiety on both sides of the aisle about what will happen next. In fact, we are united in our fear and anxiety. But that’s not real unity, because usually fear deepens divisions.
We need to remember that we are not the first people who have lived through painful or terrifying times. Many of the earliest Christians were poor and vulnerable. They faced persecution and death after Jesus was murdered. Stephen, and James the brother of John were killed for their faith. Paul was whipped, beaten, and stoned.
So, what did the first Christians do in the face of fear? We hear about it in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles today. They came together, prayed – together, ate – together, pooled their resources – together, took care of the most vulnerable – together. And the scripture says their time together was joyful and full of thanksgiving. What transformed their fear? Their love and care for one another. Only love in action can do that.
The First Letter to John talks about that transformative power: “There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear.” (1 John 4:18) Or as another translation puts it: “There is no fear in love, but [the fullness of] love casts out fear.” It says love casts out fear, echoing the ancient language of an exorcism. That’s appropriate because great fear can lead to great acts of evil against others.
We cannot be defined by our fears. In fact, fears eat away at our identity and our sense of self. We are not defined by our divisions or political affiliations. No party, no institution can hold your spirit. No human-made structure can contain the full essence of who you and I are. The values that define us as people of faith and conviction are deeper and broader than any institution. The Gospel of John says, “This is how everyone will recognize… who you are – by your love for each other.” (John 13:35)
Today in this divided country, in this divided world, we need to remember who we are. Maya Angelou said, “Hate has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet.” Only respect and loving action can bridge those divisions in our world, our families, and our church. Like the first Christians we need to advocate for the most vulnerable in what we say and do. We need to stand up and be Epworth, to continue to live out the values that we profess: that we welcome every person, that we cherish children, that we are committed to social justice – that we make love real in action.
We all want what is best for our country and our world. There’s much we cannot control in life, but there is at least one thing we can control: our own actions. After the message we will sing “You Are Mine.” As we sing you are invited to come up and light a candle as an act of commitment to loving action. You are invited to take a moment of prayer at the rail as well if you like. What will you do to act with love and courage for those in the most pain? What loving action will you take across the divide? In mathematics the operation of division yields a smaller and smaller number. Our divisions make us smaller. We are truly in this together – always.
The Greek philosopher Epicurus said, “A [person] who causes fear cannot be free from fear.” I say, “A person who acts with love and hope cannot help but experience love and hope themselves.” Remember your own call. Remember your own strength, the power to transform lives and the world through lived-out love. Howard Thurman said, “I will light Candles…,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.[ii]
Light a candle, make a commitment to courage and love manifest in action, love that will burn within you all year long.
We need nourishment for that kind of action. So, everyone needs to go downstairs and eat in our all-church luncheon. Everyone is invited. Let’s go support one another like our early ancestors in the faith and see if we too experience the exuberance, the joy, and the thanksgiving they discovered – together. Amen.
[ii] I Will Light Candles this Christmas, By Howard Thurman