The Seven Deadlies: Fear

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached October 31, 2010 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings:
Psalm 27: 1-7: "Whom shall I fear?"
Luke 12:1-7: "Fear not!"
  Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

We all have fears - we're all afraid of something. Those who are afraid of public speaking suffer from glossophobia - which comes from the Greek "glossa" which means "tongue."

In fact, there are a lot of things we're afraid of in this world. We know the more common phobias like triskadekaphobia, or fear of the number 13. Or claustrophobia, the fear of confined spaces or agoraphobia, the fear of crowded public places, or perhaps Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders.

Speaking of creepy crawly things - when you fear those in general it's called Herpetophobia. Since it's Halloween, let's explore some others along that line: the fear of demons is Demonophobia. The fear of corpses is Necrophobia. Fear of witches and witchcraft is Wiccaphobia. And if you fear Halloween itself you suffer from Samhainophobia.

But, wait, there's so much more to be afraid of. If you fear beautiful women you suffer from caligynephobia. A fear of chins is geniophobia. a fear of flutes is aulophobia.

But there's also automatonophobia, a fear of a Ventriloquist's dummy. There's even Lutraphobia, or a fear of otters. My personal favorite is aviophobia - a fear of flying. There's one we all suffer from: politicophobia - or a fear of politicians.

Of course you could just skip all that and be a neophobe - someone who is afraid of anything new, or you could be a panophobe - someone who is afraid of everything. Then of course there is the phobophobe - someone who is afraid of phobias!

I hope tonight, that none of you is a teleophobe, afraid of religious ceremonies, or a theophobe, afraid of God or religion. And I really hope you're not a melophobe - which is someone who is afraid of music, because our first song tonight comes from the amazing Peter Mayer - a singer/songwriter from Minnesota whose music we've enjoyed before. Tonight's song is appropriate for tonight because it mixes fear and Halloween in a very Jubilee! way. The song is called "John's Garden."

Farmer John wandered back
And when he reached the pumpkin patch, began to speak
He said "the weather's getting colder
Summer's over and it's almost Halloween
That's the day, the reason you were raised
When everything about your life will change
You will have eyes to see, and for that night, you'll be
A bright lamp burning in the darkness
But remember that candle shines
for only the briefest time In a jack-o-lantern's heart"

You could say the ancient Hebrews were "panophobes" - they were afraid of everything, and with good reason. If they weren't being spirited off to Egypt to be slaves, they were being attacked while they tried to enjoy their promised land. They had enemies all around them - the Babylonians, the Romans, or local enemy tribes. They were a people who lived with fear not just as a neighbor but a constant companion. If the fear of other people wasn't bad enough, then there was fear of disease, or famine, or drought, or flood. There were no Urgent Care doctors nearby, or far-away places to import food. These desert dwellers were pretty much out there on their own, exposed to their enemies and the elements.

Still, in this atmosphere that could foster so much fear and despair - these ancient people found a way to rejoice.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh - my adversaries and foes - they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.

Despite all the death, disease, war, and famine around them, the ancient Hebrews knew that fear was nothing that would help them. Instead, they understood, despite all the terrors and horrors of life around them, that there is more going on than they could see or understand.

Their light, their salvation, did not come from any worldly source. They knew they could not be saved by their intellect, or by their mighty armies, or by their farming acumen. Instead, they knew, the only thing they could trust was the mystery. The only thing that could end their fear - that could empower them to be confident in the face of adversity, is their trust in the Holy.

Breathe deeply.

The pumpkins held a meeting then
Some were very apprehensive and afraid
"Could this really happen to us?
What could be the meaning?" is what they were saying
"This is home, it's all we've ever known"
Then one bold, outspoken pumpkin spoke
He said, "I don't need eyes to see, it sounds like a lie to me
I like it just fine here in John's garden
And remember that candle shines
for only the briefest time In a jack-o-lantern's heart"

There is much to ask and to ponder in the pumpkin patch
When imposing old October shows up at last

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

How would it changed the way you lived if you understood that there is nothing to fear in this world? How would it changed the way you lived if you understood that fear, while it can seem menacing, really has no ultimate power over you?

What we fear most, it would seem, is that our lives are not important - that we are just a blip on the screen of eternity - never to be remembered - never to make a difference in this world.

In her book A Return to Love, writer Marianne Williamson writes:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Like pumpkins in John's garden, we resist that call to come to life - to be our authentic selves - to live fully and love wastefully. We are afraid to shine - to show that inner light that glows within each of us. We are afraid to show the glory of the Holy that resides in each of us. We are afraid to be uprooted from our comfy pumpkin patches and used by the Holy to spread God's love and compassion in this world.

Jubilants, let go of that fear - stop playing small - you are powerful beyond measure. I invite you, this Halloween night - to shine like a jack-o-lantern.

Then a pumpkin from the farther end
Who had been silent up till then,
Over the commotion, said
"What would you rather have my friends
A chance to shine, or die here on the vine?
The better way seems very plain to me
You will have eyes to see, and for that night, you'll be
A bright lamp burning in the darkness
And maybe that candle shines
for only the briefest time
In a jack-o-lantern's heart
Oh, but one goblin's smile should make it all well worth while
You know you might even see the starlight
And knowing that time is brief,
makes it that much more sweet
When you have a jack-o-lantern's heart"

Our second song tonight comes from singer/songwriter Holly Near. She got her start as an actress in 1969 with an appearance on the Mod Squad. She also made appearances on All in the Family and the Partridge Family. But, instead of continuing with her acting, she decided to pursue her music and has become better known for her protest songs. Tonight we'll do her song "I Ain't Afraid." I'll sing this first part and ask you to join in with me.

I ain't afraid of your Yahweh,
I ain't afraid of your Allah
I ain't afraid of your Jesus,
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your god
I ain't afraid of your churches,
I ain't afraid of your temples
I ain't afraid of your praying,
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your god
Rise up to your higher power
Free up from fear, it will devour you
Watch out for the ego of the hour
The ones who say they know it
Are the ones who will impose it on you

Jesus was definitely not one to suffer agoraphobia. In our Jesus story, we find our guy before a huge crowd - thousands of people who were so eager to see him they were trampling each other for the best seats. They were afraid they might miss even one word that Jesus would say.

Oddly, though, Jesus ignores this enormous crowd, and starts speaking to just his disciples - and his topic is fear. He tells them:

" ... do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!"

Now, the disciples, just like the ancient Hebrews before them, had a lot to fear. They lived under Roman rule and could be taken off and tried and killed as rabble-rousers at any moment. They could be killed by these rowdy crowds, or left to starve since they had left their jobs to follow this Jesus guy all around the country.

But, Jesus tells them their fear is misplaced. Don't be afraid of anyone who can kill your body - because that's all they could really do after that. Instead, if we are to fear anything in this world it would be "the one who has authority to cast into hell."

Okay, who the hell is that?

Well, it all hinges on that word "hell" doesn't it? The word used here in the original language is not "hell" but "Gehenna" - and Gehenna is a literal place that Jesus and his listeners would know well. Gehenna was a valley near Jerusalem that was used at one time for human sacrifices and then for burning trash. It came to be a metaphor for eternal punishment.

In a very literal sense, then Jesus is telling his disciples that the only being worth fearing would be God - the big Cahuna - because only God has the power to cast you to the flames if God so chose.

But, I submit that this literal reading of Luke misses some larger points that Jesus was making. First of all, I don't personally believe in an eternal hell. If God casts us into the flame for anything it would be to burn off our garbage. We are all hoarders when it comes to spiritual garbage. If we feel the fires of Gehenna licking at us, it is only to burn off the dross and to fully heal us - so that we can let the Holy shine through us.

I also believe that we can, indeed, experience hell right here and now. No need to die first. If hell is anything that separates us from God, then hell is all around us. We all have our personal hells - distractions, addictions, or affections - that separate us from God. These are the internal demons that we all fight - those demons of doubt, self-pity, self-loathing, anger, fear, lust, greed, gluttony, envy, sadness, depression, despair, desperation.

As French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, "Hell is other people." Often our hell is imposed on us by others, and Jesus said these people are worthy of our fear. We are put in hell by terrorists who commit acts of violence in the name of their God. We are put in hell by fundamentalist Christians who use the name of their God to condemn and shame anyone who doesn't believe as they do. We are put in hell by fundamentalist religionists of all stripes who justify their oppression or extermination of other people in the name of their God. These people, Jesus said, are worthy of our fear.

Fear anyone, Jesus is telling us, who seeks to separate you from the Holy by telling you that you don't believe rightly, or live rightly, or talk rightly, or worship rightly. These people should be feared because we internalize their hatred and criticism and we begin to believe it. We believe that we're not worthy of God's love. We believe that we're not good enough, or smart enough, or likable enough. We believe we're worthless and no good. And we are in hell.

Breathe deeply.

I ain't afraid of your Bible,
I ain't afraid of your Torah
I ain't afraid of your Koran,
Don't let the letter of the law
Obscure the spirit of your love it's killing us
I ain't afraid of your Yahweh,
I ain't afraid of your Allah
I ain't afraid of your Jesus,
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your god

What are you afraid of? What fears are holding you down tonight? What terror tempts you to play it small - to stay in John's garden - afraid to shine your light of the Holy into the world? What fear monger is taunting you - creating despair and horror in your heart?

In one Halloween episode of the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy and her Scooby Gang go to a party at a frat house. The frat brothers had found an old spell book and thought it would be fun to use it during the party. Buffy and her friends were too late to prevent the ultimate effect of the spell - the manifestation of a fear demon.

As the demon appears, you see it break through the floor and rise above you to a towering and fearful height. Then, the camera angle changes and you see Buffy and the gang surrounding the fear demon. In reality - he's only about a foot tall.

Scooby gang member Xander remarks: "Big opening Ö little show."

The fear demon is undeterred by his size and yells, in his tiny voice, "Fear me!"

Scooby gang member Xander leans down and says: "Who's the little fear demon?"

Giles, Buffy's watcher and the high school librarian says: "Son, don't taunt the fear demon."

But, the scene is a reminder that we often give our fears far more power than they really have. We see our fears as big monsters, towering over us, about to devour us, when in fact - they're nothing more that foot tall fear demons.

We must rely on our trust in the Holy to change that camera angle, so we can see our fear for what it is - tiny and insignificant. In the end, one of Buffy's troupe simply steps on the demon - squashing it.

I invite you tonight to squash your little fear demons. You have nothing to fear. Jesus assured his disciples and assures us tonight that the Holy has it all under control.

"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in Godís sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows."

The Holy is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Holy is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

I ain't afraid of your churches
I ain't afraid of your temples
I ain't afraid of your praying
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your god
Rise up to your higher power
Free up from fear, it will devour you
Watch out for the ego of the hour
The ones who say they know it
Are the ones who will impose it on you
I ain't afraid of your Yahweh,
I ain't afraid of your Allah
I ain't afraid of your Jesus,
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your god

Oh, Yeah!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

Copyright © by the author All Rights Reserved

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