Fear and Love
July 6, 2008
Fear can paralyze us. Fear can undo the good that we are trying to accomplish. A young priest, who had only been ordained three months, was having a very difficult time preaching. Every time he approached addressing the assembly, he was so overcome with fear that he found himself tongue-tied and confused. The problem became so severe that he decided to schedule a meeting with the bishop. He outlined the problem. He was uncertain of how to continue. The bishop listened patiently and assured him that with practice things would improve. But then he said, “If I could make a suggestion, I find it always helpful to begin my homilies with a joke. Not only does it get the audience’s attention, but it breaks the ice and relaxes everyone, including myself. I would suggest that you adopt this procedure.” The young priest said, “Well, you know, I’m not very good at jokes.” The bishop said, “Nothing complex; something short. For example, last week I began my homily this way: ‘My dear friends, I spent last evening in the loving embrace of the woman I love.’ And then, after a long pause to build the tension, I said to everyone’s relief and laughter, ‘I had dinner with my mother!’ You see how that kind of a light-hearted approach breaks the ice and can relax you?.”
The young priest thought he should take the bishop’s advice, and so all that week he worked very hard on his homily. He kept practicing the bishop’s joke. But by the time it came for Mass to begin, he found himself fearful and confused. And by the time he was ready to give the homily, he was in a near panic. He addressed the assembly, “My dear friends, I spent last night in the arms of a hot woman!” A gasp went throughout the assembly. The priest’s mind went blank, so he continued, “But for the life of me, I can’t remember who she was.” And then in desperation he added, “But she was recommended by the bishop.”
Fear can paralyze us. Fear can undo the good that we are trying to accomplish. That is why Jesus’ words in today’s gospel are so important. Jesus tells us that if we come to him, if we place our fear into his hands, he will put our souls at rest. He will calm our hearts. Now notice that Jesus does not promise to take the causes of our fear away or to lift the burdens from our shoulders. But he says that if we trust him, we can carry those burdens, because his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Now this promise of Jesus is extremely important and makes his words in today’s gospel some of the most significant that we can find in the Scriptures. There are real fears in our life. We have fears about our health. We have fears about the economy. We have fears about the decisions our children might make. We have fears about divisions that exist in our family, or security in our country. All of these fears can paralyze us. But if we give those fears to the Lord, if we can trust in his presence, then we can face the future with the confidence of his love. And that is good news indeed.
Thirty years ago members of this community founded this parish as a place where men and women of faith could gather together to worship and to encourage one another in the belief that God is real and that God’s presence can help us cope with the fears and burdens of life. God has blessed our community. All that we do here is an attempt to build that faith that we share in God’s presence and care. After communion today our new Cluster Coordinator for Youth Ministry, David Napoli, will be introducing himself and sharing some of his vision about how the faith we share can be deepened in our young people. But everything we do in this parish, from GIFT to Bereavement to Vacation Bible School, is an effort on our part to support one another in the belief that God is real and that our faith in God can help us live.
So as we share together this Eucharist today, let us encourage one another in the reality of our faith and the power of the good news. There are always reasons to be fearful. But fear need not overcome us. God is real, and with God’s grace we can carry our burdens. With God’s help we can replace fear with love.
Listen to the Ladies
July 3, 2011
Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” Jesus is actually quoting a passage from the Old Testament book of Sirach. The words that he is quoting are those of Lady Wisdom. Frequently in the Old Testament, Wisdom speaks, and Wisdom is presented as a woman. Wisdom describes who God is and what it means to serve God.
In the words that Jesus quotes from the book of Sirach, Lady Wisdom tells us that if we labor, if we are burdened, if we have any need, we are to come to God because God will not turn us away. God will welcome us and give us rest. Lady Wisdom tells us that our God is one who loves us and is with us. We need not fear approaching God, because God welcomes and helps us in every need.
Now of course, as soon as we recognize the generosity and welcoming of God, we realize that we have a responsibility to be generous and to welcome others. This brings us to the second lady that I wish to set before you today: Lady Liberty. She stands in New York harbor. On the base of the Statue of Liberty is a poem by Emma Lazarus who gives Lady Liberty voice. Her voice is remarkably similar to Lady Wisdom. It is one of invitation and welcome. Part of Emma Lazarus’ poem reads like this:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
send these tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Almost a century ago our nation held open the golden door to millions of immigrants who sailed past the Statue of Liberty, were welcomed into this country, and eventually became citizens. Indeed, many of us here today are descendants of those immigrants. We can see that welcoming them to this country accepting the diversity of races, creeds, and cultures did not diminish our country but strengthened it. In fact, it made us who we are.
So Lady Wisdom calls out the generosity and welcome of God and Lady Liberty calls out the generosity and welcome of this nation. It would be wise on this holiday weekend to listen to these two Ladies and to commit ourselves to be people of generosity and welcome. We could begin in our own families and relationships, making sure that we are willing to receive and respect people that are different from us: people that we meet in our schools, in our workplace, in our neighborhoods. But also, as citizens, we should commit ourselves to see that our country keeps open the door of citizenship to those who wish to immigrate here. We should work to make sure that our policies are fair and just.
People of all political backgrounds agree that our immigration system is broken. We should, then, as Christians and Americans, work to fix it and to bring our faith into that enterprise. As people of faith, we believe that this country and our freedom are gifts from God and we acknowledge those gifts not by hoarding them but by sharing them. When we do that we follow the example of those Americans decades ago who welcomed our grandparents and parents to this great nation.
Lady Wisdom and Lady Liberty call out a message of generosity and welcome. Let us hear them. Let us acknowledge the generosity of God which has given us so much and then use the gifts that we have received to welcome others.