love casts out fear

‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’

Helping Hands isolated on white

As Bishop Rickel, of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, recently blogged, “The words are getting dangerous. Fear is winning. Some among us are becoming self-fulfilling prophets, playing into the hands of those who wish us harm, instead of living out of our ‘better angels’.” Words and actions both, fear is everywhere, and the responses are increasingly alarming as our Muslim brothers and sisters are targets of harassment, taunts and violence. And far too frequently we hear of bystanders who do nothing, say nothing, allowing the hateful events and words to stand, sanctioning them by non-response. Which is exactly what those who wreak terror are counting on and intending.

What is the alternative?  What’s our response as Christians? What are we to do in the face of very real fear?  Choose love. Jesus says ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ And in responding to the question of who is my neighbor, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. He shocks his listeners—and us—in revealing that our neighbor is Other, the outsider, the one many were suspicious of. Further, Jesus commands us to ‘go and do likewise,’ to show mercy to anyone who is in need.

Martin Luther King, Jr, in his “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech, describes the precarious road to Jericho and especially the treacherous ‘Bloody Pass’, where ambushes occurred with regularity. He imagines how the priest and Levite might have felt, wondering if robbers were still lurking, and King suggests:

And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’

And King continues:

But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’

What will happen when we love our neighbor as our self—not as much as, mind you, but as, as if that person was an extension of ourselves? Then we are guided by the second question, as we recognize that something has already happened to ‘us’ in that larger sense. When we get that, our response is swift and sure, loving and compassionate to friend and stranger alike.  Such dedication, such commitment to Jesus’ call to love our neighbor as our self does not guarantee our personal safety. Indeed, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death the very next day.

2015-12-03 EJBut we follow One who himself didn’t put personal safety very highly. Jesus clearly could have avoided crucifixion, but He loved every human being as Himself, and therefore faced into fear, violence and terror not with more violence, but with Love. It is clear that those who choose to respond to fear through hate, come to look very much like hate itself.  Loving is the only way to heal the world and that which breeds hate. 1 John 4 upholds:

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 

What question are we asking ourselves when we face the fear evident in our world and in our hearts? How do we ground ourselves in Love that we may love as God loves us?  Steeped in Love, may we speak and act with courage in the face of fear, wherever and whenever we encounter it.

Hope to see you Sunday!