Sunday, May 8, 2011

Homily for Misericordias Domini – The Third Sunday of Easter (Easter 3)

(Audio)

John 10:11-16; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Ezekiel 34:11-16

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Well, the FBI’s Most Wanted list is one man shorter this week. Public Enemy no. 1 is dead. Do you feel any safer? Do you feel any less fearful? Ironically, you may actually feel more fearful. After all, there is a certain comfort in knowing your enemy. Better the enemy you know than the enemy that you do not know, right? When you know your enemy, you feel that you know yourself – that is, your enemy is “them” while you belong to some group of people called “us”, “us” and “them”. It’s comforting to be “us”, isn’t it? Being “us” means that you know what you believe, you know what you value, you know that you are right, but most of all, being “us” means that you know that you’re not “them”. So, with Public Enemy no. 1 dead, with “them” being short one more man, why do you not feel any safer? Why do you not feel any less fearful? Ah, because, there’s always another enemy, and it is the nature of fear to keep you fearful.

I learned from a wise professor when I attended Doxology in 2009 that no man is my enemy. Let me repeat that for you – No human being is your enemy. I had to learn that, and still it’s hard for me to remember, and it’s even harder to believe! I suspect it will be hard for you too, and that you will have to learn this. But it’s true, no man is your enemy. And yet, you do have an enemy, an enemy that is common to all men, and you may be surprised to hear that your enemy is not Satan, the devil, though he is most assuredly against you, but the common enemy of all men is not Satan, but fear.

Satan is not your enemy, because Satan has been defeated in Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection. Likewise, for the same reasons, death is not your enemy, because death has been defeated. But, fear is your enemy because it is the fruit of unbelief. Neither Satan nor death can keep you from life in Jesus Christ, but fear can do that because fear keeps you from fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. If you truly believe that Satan is defeated, then why do you fear him? And, if you truly believe that death is defeated, then why do you fear death? And, if you truly believe Jesus when He promises you that, even though you die, you will live forever, then why do you put your fear, love, and trust in worldly and material things and in the health of your body and in the labor of your hands? And, why do you fear losing these things?

Do you not see how your fear of losing things keeps you in slavery? You fear losing your job. You fear losing your home. You fear losing your health. You fear losing the love of your spouse and your children. As a nation, we fear losing our possessions and our way of life. We say that we fear losing our freedom, but I wonder about that when we are so enslaved by fear of losing all the things we’re so afraid of losing! The time, energy, money, and resources that we spend on keeping and defending our possessions is immense and all consuming. It is like mighty shackles and chains that keep us from living in freedom and without fear.

But, why are you so afraid? What are you truly afraid of? Jesus Christ has conquered God’s enemy, Satan, so that in Him you have no enemy either in spirit or in flesh. Christ died to set you free, and He rose again from the dead as living proof that death and Satan have been defeated and you are free. But, Satan and men alike will use fear to cast you back in chains, to enslave you once again. They will lie to you and deceive you so that you begin to doubt that you are free in Christ, so that, setting your sights only upon this earthly life, you begin to fear once again losing earthly and material things. Indeed, fear is a powerful enemy that can motivate you to become selfish and unloving, angry, hateful, violent, and murderous. Fear can become for you an idol, a god, and fear is not a god that loves, or gives, or sets free, but fear is a god that takes, and binds, enslaves, and kills you and those you would and should love.

Jesus died to set you free from fear that you may worship the living God who is love, who gives of Himself, and who has set you free from sin, Satan, and death that you may live forever in Him. He has said to you repeatedly, “Do not fear”, and He has given you His Peace in His Son raised victorious from the grave. He lovingly and graciously gives you all that you need to support your body and life and more, for when you give to others of what He gives to you, He continues to give you even more. He doesn’t force you to give, He doesn’t force you to do anything – fear does that – but He invites you to give of what He has given you and He promises that in your giving you will also receive.

On the contrary, fear keeps you self-centered and curved in on yourself. Fear never gives but always takes. Fear separates you from others and it compels you to name them enemy. Fear compels you to name your brother your enemy, to judge him and condemn him, then to cut him off and to kill him. But, God is love, and love never does harm to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Love always gives, even to those who would harm you. Love always gives, therefore love is always free, not coerced or compelled. And, with the measure you give it will be measured back to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be poured into your lap.

Today is Misericordias Domini, which means the mercies of the Lord. But, this Sunday is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday and it is also Mother’s Day. The images of our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ and of our loving mothers serve as two perfect examples of the sacrificial love and mercy that you are called to in Jesus Christ. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He does not flee in fear when the wolf comes, as do the hired hands, but instead He throws Himself into the jaws of the beast to protect His sheep. The Good Shepherd does not fear the wolf because He knows the Father and the Father knows Him, that is, because He fears, loves, and trust in God above all things. Though the wolf can hurt Him, and even kill Him, He does not fear, because neither wolf nor death is His enemy and the love of God is stronger than both wolf and death. The hired hands, on the other hand, forsake their callings and run from the wolf, leaving the sheep under their care to be killed. Because of fear, the hired hands are turned in on themselves and care nothing for the sheep. Such a powerful enemy is fear.

A mother, too, out of love, willingly bears suffering in her body as she conceives and bears a child, causing physical anguish, sometimes even to the point of death. A mother does this because she recognizes what has been given her by God in this privilege of being involved so personally and physically in God’s creation of life that she sacrifices herself for the love of God and for the love of life in bringing forth a child. Perhaps here, most clearly, we can see how fear, fear of losing material and worldly wealth, fear of losing comfort, health, and life, too often causes mothers and fathers to take rather than to give, to hate rather than to love, and to kill rather than to give life through the ungodly abomination that is abortion. Such a powerful enemy is fear.

Fear is the absolute opposite of love, and that is why fear is your greatest enemy. As your Pastor, I know that you are afraid, and your God knows that you are afraid. All around you, in the news media and in the images you see and in the words that you hear, these tell you that you should be afraid. There are people who want to take your money. There are people who want to harm your children. There are people that want to kill you. You are afraid of losing your jobs, your homes, your comfort, your health, your security in retirement. There are endless wars on countless fronts. There are terrorists and terrorism. There are tornados and earthquakes and tsunamis and the threat of nuclear disaster. There are cancers of all sorts and tainted food and drink and air. Our youth are in danger of drugs and alcohol and promiscuity. There are cyber-predators, cyber-bullies, and cyber-identity theft. And, church attendance and income is down while financial obligations are up, what will we do? We are so afraid!

In his first inaugural speech, after a time arguably much worse than now, speaking of the Great Depression and the prospect of turning the U.S. economy around, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This is most certainly true, that is, if your fear is in, or the result of, anything other than your God. For your God does indeed expect that you fear Him – that is, that you revere Him and trust in Him and love Him above everything else, above all that you have, above all that you need or want, above even your life and your death. But, your God who expects this fear of you also says to you, “Do not be afraid”, for He alone is the giver of life and of all things needful and not a solitary soul comes into this life or leaves it apart from His will and power. And, He has revealed Himself as the God who loves, even the God who is love, who has loved you so that He laid down His own life unto death that you would live with and in Him. So, apart from your God, there is absolutely nothing in heaven or on earth that you should fear or fear losing – absolutely nothing. And to live without fear, dear children in Christ, is to be truly free.

Blessed be the Father who has set us free from fear through the death and resurrection of His Son in the love of His Holy Spirit. And, to this Most Holy Trinity be true fear, love, and trust, and glory and praise both now and forevermore. Amen.

In the + Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

2 comments:

Jody Lent said...

Excellent. So much so that I heard it and was blessed by it from a thousand miles away.

Arya samaj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.