It’s fall and I’m once again on stage with my daughter singing and dancing with our community theatre group. Since 2010 I have been grateful for the opportunity and for the encouragement that many of you have offered to spend these opportunities with my children while I can. I hope that I’m as convincing in encouraging others. This year we are performing a musical setting of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. When rehearsals began, I don’t know that I ever would have imagined that I would be hearing the gospel proclaimed through Mel Brooks’ comedy - but that’s what I’ve been experiencing for the last month and a half. Oh, I’m not talking about the heavily laden innuendos, or the outrageous sense of foolish humor that one would assume that Mel Brooks would add to the reframing of a classic Frankenstein story. No, what I’m talking about is how his story takes a frightful monster and through the love of the creator not only tames him but fills him with humanity. It’s sort of a fun twist, and a delightful musical as well. The monstrous metaphor of transformation from fear to love keeps tugging at my soul. In song and dance I witness how fear destroys while love heals. I keep thinking about the text from 1 John 4: “God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. […] There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us.”
Our world has learned that fear is an incredibly powerful motivator, whether it’s robo-call scams, politicians, or news cycles. We hear often that fear connects to that most basic part of our brains, and while there are moments when the fight or flight response associated with fear is appropriate, what I observe in my own life is that most of the things I fear will never come to pass. Mark Twain wrote: “I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” Or, in a more sobering assessment of five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne said: "My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened." Our faith invites us to live life in a different way, governed not by all that paralyzes us with fear and worry, but rather by all the ways we experience God’s love and are given the chance to share that love. How often do we stop and wrap ourselves in the promise that God first loved us?
This last week I was inspired by a construction worker who was talking about how he loves to share his faith simply by sharing God’s love with all those around him. I listened to him describe how he made sure that he greeted everyone with a smile and a warm hello, regardless of how grumpy his fellow workers were. I heard him talk about how he didn’t worry about the differences in people or their expressions of faith or perspectives in life, even when they were confrontational or negative toward him. He shared how hard it was sometimes to dig deep into that love of God and stay grounded when people were hurling insults at him and how gratifying it was when those angry and sometimes bigoted hearts softened ever so slightly. I was inspired to hear how people were drawn over time to that gracious, non-judgmental faithfulness. Here was someone who quietly lived the power of love instead of the power of fear.
As Christians, we have the chance to offer a little leaven to the world, to live that love with which God first claimed us. Through loving “the other” we fundamentally change our relationship with “the other” and create the possibility of a deeper encounter with the reflection of God's love before us. Our heart expands when we greet another in love, especially if it’s difficult.
To live in love, knowing that the ultimate source of that love is God, is to trust in our capacity to love extravagantly without worrying if we’re getting it right. I have said for years that I’d rather be judged guilty of loving the wrong people instead of guilty of not loving the right ones.
On Oct. 20th, our annual meeting will look at an Open and Affirming statement that the Inclusive Church Initiative has developed for our congregation. We will vote on whether we can affirm that statement. I hope that in this context as well, we can consider what we’re afraid of, and how the power of love might cast out fear. Indeed, I would pray that we would pay more attention through each day to the messages of fear that bombard us and consider how different it would be for us to respond to them with God's love.