What shall we cry?

A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”[1]

What shall we cry in this season of Advent? Advent is a season that makes us so aware of the peculiar place we followers of Christ occupy. The peculiar place we occupy is in this created world and in the kingdom to come. It is a peculiar place because it presents us with the challenge of balancing the sometimes-contradictory values of two different places. What shall we cry in this season of Advent? How do we give voice to this peculiar place?

I think this is just how Isaiah must be feeling this morning as the voice “cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”[2]

This voice is not is not Isaiah’s voice but that of one of the heavenly attendants. Isaiah knows full well what follows is good news for a desperate people, but he is at a loss about how to relate it to a people who are oppressed by their anxiety and sense of insufficiency. It seems that the good news of comfort, justice, and eternal rest are just beyond the reach of their present comprehension – their ability to see them. If only they can get up higher or improve their view.

I think we too are, in many ways, afflicted with a similar shortsightedness. We are besieged, as were Isaiah’s people, before their exile. However, our adversary is a different kind of Babylon. Our Babylon includes the great marketing and social media empires of consumerism and self-infatuation that generate scads of anxiety about having it just right – the right gift, the right decorations, the right food, and the right opinion so that we fit in.

This subtle form of oppression causes us to begin to lose our authentic sense of identity in the face of its onslaught of anxiety and insecurity as we are assimilated by these empires.

Like our spiritual ancestors of Isaiah’s time, we struggle to see beyond our present circumstance in order to glimpse the future and eternal reality. Amid the noise and distraction it is difficult to glimpse the kingdom to come, especially when it is not clear when the kingdom will come. Sometimes it feels like we are left with a contradiction – the time is at hand. Oh, but not yet!

Followers of Christ have struggled with this contradiction for over two thousand years, and this struggle finds voice in Peter’s second letter as the author tries to calm the anxiety of his readers over the issue that the kingdom has not yet come. In this letter we are reminded of what sort of people we are to be – people of holiness – especially as we wait.

The adjective “holy” describes this state of holiness and devotion to God; however, we may give it too little thought and struggle to give expression to holy. So try these on for size:

  • When something is holy, it belongs to God – as we do as a part of creation.
  • When something is holy, it is complete – it has integrity, it is authentic, it is whole.
  • When something is holy, it is beautiful – as we each are in God’s eyes.
  • When something is holy, it is pure – as we become through baptism and the forgiveness of our sins.
  • When something is holy, it is set apart and devoted to that which it seeks and desires – as we are through our baptism.

Simply stated, that which is holy is that which seeks and is beheld by God.

Still, there is no denying that the empires of marketing and social media are highly effective – they have honed their techniques to a science – playing upon our insecurities and diluting that which is our best and holiest – they make us feel less than whole.

So we followers of Christ are called to a different empire this Advent. Not to deny all that is going on about us, but simply to acknowledge the onslaught, and to seek a word or reflection that reminds us that Advent is a season for renewal and wholeness for our selves and our best efforts so that our joyous and eager expectations are for the gift of eternal life, rather than the gift of the year, which has a limited warranty.

What better way to break the spell of the marketing and social media empires than to immerse our selves in wonderful and outrageous stories that proclaim things that are hard to imagine. What better place to begin than “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”[3]?

Notice, this story doesn’t begin in the marketplaces of Jerusalem or some other great city. It doesn’t even originate in the holiest inner sanctuary of the temple. No, this story of stories, with its excitement and anticipation comes out of the wilderness.

The wilderness as the place of origin for this message may sound peculiar to our ears, but as those who have spent time with the Old Testament may recognize, the wilderness is symbolic as a place of testing and the formation of God’s people. A place where we learn holiness, and a place of God’s saving acts.

Advent too is just such a place. It is a brief period that invites us to remember our holiness through reflection and preparation so that we can hear the voice that says, “Cry out!”

The central character in the beginning of this wonderful and outrageous story of Jesus Christ is a peculiar wild man named John; a man who doesn’t conform to social expectations, still he draws crowds because he appeals to their craving for spiritual authenticity.

In John, the evangelists find the personification of the faithful steward, one who is charged with preparing the way of the Lord. But this preparation does not end with Christ’s first coming. No, in fact the reason we hear such end-of-time readings each Advent is to remind us of Christ’s second coming and our baptismal charge to prepare the way for the Lord’s second coming. You and I are called to be the peculiar wild people of our generation – the holy people in the wilderness of the marketing and social media empires – preparing the way of the Lord so that “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”[4]

So, what shall we cry? We shall cry, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”[5]

[1] Isaiah 40:6a

[2] Ibid v. 3

[3] Mark 1:1

[4] Isaiah 40:5

[5] Mark 1:3b

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No One Left Behind

As we observe Veterans Day this weekend, I hope you will join me in being particularly grateful for those of us who serve or have served in the United States Armed Forces. Thank you for your service.

As I reflect on this day of remembrance and the nature of our service, I am aware of what has changed over the years and how much has remained relatively constant.

Veterans Day has its roots in Armistice Day, which was first observed 99 years ago on November 11, 1918 marking the end of the “Great War” [World War I]. In 1954, our observance of Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day to honor the service of all American men and women.

Despite the evolving changes to the day itself, and the changes in the technology of waging war, the nature of our service hasn’t changed dramatically. If you have the opportunity to listen in on veterans sharing their “war stories” across generations, you will be struck more by the commonality of their stories than by the differences among them: the strength of the bond among those who served together even amid the diversity of their origin; the ability to recognize the absurd in their circumstance even under fire; the absolute dependence upon one another despite rank, race or creed; and, related to this dependence, the accountability to which they hold each other when they are in harms way.

Yet when the bonds forged under fire and shared trauma are severed by death, demobilization, and discharge, and we lose the structure of the community in which we served we can founder as we try to re-integrate into a society that, despite its good intentions, has other preoccupations and doesn’t really get us.

But this story isn’t just about our veterans. It is also about another kind of armistice day. In the final chapter of our Old Testament reading, Joshua is in essence demobilizing the troops following our “conquest” and allotment of the land of Canaan. He is giving us a recap of our history as a people; reminding us that we have been blessed throughout our history and lives; and appealing to us to respond in kind with reverence and faithfulness.

The reason for this earnest appeal is because Joshua knows his people all too well. Through the shared travails of the wilderness and our battles with the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites he has seen how we have struggled in our faithfulness to the Lord, even as the Lord sustains us at every turn. Joshua can only imagine how his people may stray without a common challenge to focus us. Like a good drill instructor, he lays down a challenge that just may focus us on building a new community, “You cannot serve the Lord.”[1]

Any veteran will appreciate the challenge handed down by a drill instructor that you can’t do something. It inspires you to rise to the challenge, to work as a team, and to prove your drill instructor wrong. But whereas the drill instructor may be challenging you to overcome some obstacle or obstruction by any means whatever, either fair or foul; Joshua is presenting a different challenge. Joshua’s challenge is constrained; it is one that is not on our terms but on God’s terms. Reintegrating on God’s terms may be harder and more challenging than we imagined. Nonetheless, we commit, “No, we will serve the Lord!”[2] But we also know the rest of the story; how we stumble and fall short, how we succumb to infighting and even betrayal, how we become entrenched and stubborn on matters of consequence, giving in to self-interest rather than common good. This is our story as the people of God. Yet from time to time we are offered another glimpse of the challenge and promise before us; we get another glimpse into the kingdom of heaven.

When we rally to come to church, even though we may not feel like it; through Word and prayer, thanksgiving and praise, we get another glimpse of the kingdom of heaven and the possibility before us to grow in wisdom and to help the foolish grow in wisdom as well. When we participate in the common life of our community we are reminded of our neighbors who may need our assistance and support.

May our neighbors always remind us of the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst; the master drill instructor who daily challenges us to grow in wisdom and even tend to the foolish rather than leave them behind. Every veteran knows that we endeavor never to leave anyone behind.

[1] Joshua 24:19

[2] Ibid., v. 21

Sutherland Springs, TX

To my Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Yet another mass murder that elicits feelings of outrage and horror. It makes me want to simultaneously lash out at the causes and the perpetrator while consoling the victims.

Note that my first inclination is to lash out. Thank God that realization about myself gives me pause, but it does not offer me consolation. Still, the pause does open a door of insight that is profitable for us all to examine.

Yes, of course we pray for the souls of the murdered, for healing of the wounded, and the consolation and comfort of the survivors. But may I also suggest that we pray for ourselves as well; that we may be transformed by this and other senseless mass casualty events.

If we are not law enforcement officers engaged in the investigation, rather than speculation and judgment or rushing to exploit the tragedy for our particular interest, we need to pray contemplatively. We need to immerse ourselves quietly in self-examination of our reactions and motivations before our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. We need to offer candidly the reaction and feeling this and other acts of violence elicit from us before God, for God is the only one who can clarify our motivations or the confusion and anguish we feel.

As we remember the heartache and anguish humanity has visited upon God since the beginning of time and especially the unjustified and horrific murder of God’s own Son, we are reminded of God’s ability to redeem that horrible event and make it onto the life-giving and resurrecting event for all time.

Now, as we sit in contemplation of our reactions or motivations before the paschal mystery of that cross we can begin to find consolation, forgiveness, and healing; and we can begin to discern how Christ’s love is calling us to action.

Yours in Christ’s love,

Foster+

All Saints’ Day

There is something special about All Saints’ Day. It stands out among the seven principal feasts of the church, which is saying something given the complexity of our church calendar. For example, four of the principal feasts: Easter Day; Ascension Day; the Day of Pentecost; and Trinity Sunday all occur on Sundays as determined by the full moon on or after the spring equinox. [Be glad you don’t have to do the math on that computation.] While two of the three remaining principal feasts: Christmas Day and the Epiphany are observed on the fixed date appointed for them. Yes All Saints’ Day has its appointed date, but it is the only principal feast that is regularly permitted to move to the Sunday following its appointed date. It is also one of the four days specially set aside for Baptism.

So what’s the point of this tortured lead in? Well, it appears that All Saints’ Day gets special treatment. So what’s so special about All Saints’ Day?

In part, I think it is in the eye of the beholder because it is one of those days that invites us to consider the mystery of what is in store for us as disciples of Christ. And I use the term mystery advisedly because we don’t have absolute clarity. We have lots of visionary suggestions, such as the today’s reading from the Revelation to John. But we may feel we are left with more questions than answers. So how do we proceed? Well once every three years we are given the opportunity to peal back the familiar veneer of the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel according to Matthew.

I wonder what image the Sermon on the Mount conjures up for you. If, as for me, it conjures images of Jesus standing atop a grass-covered knoll surrounded by the masses as he preaches about these seemingly contradictory blessings, you are to be excused for your confusion.

But if we listen carefully, we will realize that my pastoral image is flawed on a couple of counts. First, Jesus is not surrounded by the masses; he has climbed the mountain to get away from the crowds. It is only his disciples who are gathered with him. So this is not some pastoral public proclamation about the kingdom of heaven. It is instead a rather private tutorial for his disciples.

Second, Jesus’ teaching is structured in a way that may be foreign to our modern ears. The structure is supposed to help the pupil commit the teaching to memory. [How’s that working for you?] The use of “blessed” at the beginning of each point, and the apparent contradictory pairing of some sort of suffering with some sort of reward in each point is supposed to aid our memory. Well, I’m afraid my poor memory and lack rhetorical skill is showing because all I experience is being lost in blessedness. If this is your experience, perhaps we can be forgiven if we feel lost in blessedness and if the point is not obvious.

So let’s tease this story apart a bit. Consider that this teaching moment comes at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry; it is his first sit down with the disciples, therefore, there must be something more to it than just a sweet pastoral presentation. I suspect the answer lies in the convoluted construction of this tutorial. Those who are called blessed appear to be those who are at odds with social norms in some way: the humble; the mourners; the meek; the hungry and thirsty for justice; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; and those persecuted for justice’s sake. These are people who for some reason find themselves outside the bounds of mainstream aspirations, at least by popular culture’s judgment. Yet clearly, Jesus sees these eight attributes or tribulations as blessings because he pairs them with things that we clearly perceive as rewards: the kingdom of heaven; comfort; inheritance; fullness; mercy; the presence of God; and adoption as children of God.

But beneath the blessings, there is the underlying theme to this tutorial. That underlying theme is the kingdom of heaven. It is revealed as central to the beatitudes through its placement and its use of different tenses. With respect to placement, the kingdom of heaven as the reward of the first and last beatitudes frames the whole tutorial. In addition, as if pointing us in this direction, the evangelist refers to the kingdom of heaven twice in the chapters leading up to this story. The first comes from the lips of John the Baptist while he is preparing the way for Jesus as he proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[1] The second time occurs after Jesus hears of John’s arrest and he takes up John’s proclamation, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[2] The kingdom of heaven is not some anticipated event or place; it is has already appeared, it is here and now!

 

In contrast, the other six beatitudes are expressed in the future tense, i.e. their reward is to be realized at some future time. Perhaps these beatitudes speak to the dispositions we as disciples are to cultivate on our journey with Jesus, or perhaps these are the type of people who are to be the focus of our ministry. I suspect it is both and.

 

As we observe All Saints’ Day today, I wonder what the implications of these possibilities are. Perhaps they cause us to reflect upon our stewardship of the faith we have received. Perhaps they also remind us this is what the kingdom of heaven, as it is present in this place, is to look like. Not a community of the comfortable, but one that is inhabited by and that also ministers to: the humble; the mourners; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for justice; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; and the persecuted.

 

Perhaps Jesus is simply giving us the benchmark by which to measure the progress of our stewardship of the kingdom of heaven here and now. And perhaps John’s vision, “… a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages …”[3] is the future kingdom that will greet us when we are done realizing the kingdom of heaven here and now.

[1] Matthew 3:2

[2] Ibid., 4:17

[3] Revelation 7:9

“… all else is commentary.”

“Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”

This familiar doxology of praise is a source of comfort and reassurance for me, especially when things are getting crazy; but perhaps not for the reason you may be thinking. Of course there is the unmistakable and timeless praise given to the undivided Trinity. But, if I’m honest, it is the second half of the doxology that reassures me, “as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.”

The conclusion of the doxology is reassuring because it reminds me that the craziness, the fear, and the uncertainty we may be encounter or experience is nothing new under the sun. While you and I may be encountering it for the first time, or the scale of it may have expanded with time, humanity that has gone before us has certainly experienced it on some scale and thus far survived and shared their experiences; and for almost two thousand years so have other followers of Jesus Christ.

It’s not so much that humanity has seen it all, but that we have experienced some variation of recurring patterns and have that history to inform our response. Today, Jesus is tapping into this shared history in the last days of his earthly existence as he is confronted by Herodians, Sadducees, and Pharisees who are trying to discredit him before his followers and onlookers. Jesus knows the commentary of the Hebrew Scriptures that has been formed through debate and scholarly study by those who have come before him, and he uses this knowledge to present his case to those who seek to silence him.

Thus far, in the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus has been able to use his knowledge of the midrashic commentary to silence the followers of Herod, who seek to entrap him on the topic of the Temple tax; and he silences the Sadducees, who try to ensnare him on the implication of levirate marriage and resurrection. Now the Pharisees make one last attempt to trip Jesus up; one of them asks, “which commandment in the Law is the greatest?”

As with the Herodians and Sadducees, Jesus is prepared. Citing Deuteronomy 6:5 he responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”[1] But he doesn’t stop here; as if to thwart an anticipated rebuttal, Jesus cites an unquestioned teaching of perhaps the foremost Jewish scholar and sage of Jesus’ time – Hillel the Elder.

According to legend, Hillel the Elder, like Moses, lived to be 120 years old. His death occurred in the year 10 CE when Jesus was boy. While not exactly contemporaries, Hillel’s teachings would have been as current to Jesus and his peers as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s preaching is to Kadance or Josiah.

Just as Michael Curry may be remembered for the Jesus Movement and his preaching, one of the most recalled teachings of Hillel the Elder is his teaching on Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” As you hear it here, this is the New Revised Standard Version of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. Another translation of this verse, as it is attributed to Hillel reads, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Law, and all else is commentary.”[2] It is thought that Jesus is citing Hillel the Elder’s teaching when he says, “And a second [commandment] is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”[3] The significance of this connection is not just its nearness in time, but that Hillel the Elder was a Pharisee and the Nasi – that is the President – of the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious authority in Roman occupied Jerusalem, and the same body to which the Sadducees and Pharisees belong.

Thus Jesus taps into a common experience and learning by citing not just one of the Pharisees’ own but one of their preeminent teachers and leaders. Hearing Hillel’s own words from the mouth of Jesus, the Pharisees are disarmed, the question is settled, and they are done. The Pharisees realize that they are no match for Jesus when it comes to the substance of the Law. They will have to find another way.

Having endorsed the Pharisees’ own commentary on the Law and then using it to disarm them, Jesus moves on to clarify his own authority as Messiah. Not in terms of common expectations but in scriptural and genealogical terms. Rather than cite the Prophets, Jesus quotes the Psalms, which are commonly attributed to David – the ancestor of Jesus’ step-father Joseph. I say step-father because Jesus is not descended by blood but related by his mother’s marriage. Thus Jesus poses the question, how can David call his descendant Master? Just days before his death, with this question Jesus bridges the gulf between his biological existence and his divine existence, and none of the religious authorities dare ask anymore questions lest Jesus prove his case against them before the people.

Jesus has his opponents on the ropes. So why doesn’t he press the argument home and carry the day? Because, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Because commentary – debate and scholarly study – in and of itself has never carried the day. In the end, it has always been our human need for hard lived experience to reveal life-altering lessons to us. In other words, we need to experience the Passion – Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection – to recognize the Messiah in our midst.

You and I experience the Passion together year after year, and we remember it week after week. Yet still, amid the noise and distraction of life, we lose sight of it from time to time and slip back into petty disagreements with our neighbors and even with our Creator. We need the regular reminder of our crucified and resurrected Savior to check and correct our inclinations and bring us back into communion with one another. “[A]s it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.”

Therefore, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Law, and all else is commentary.”[4]

[1] Matthew 22:35

[2] Shabbath 31a, as cited by Albright and Mann, Matthew: A New Translation and Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible, Yale University Press, 1971, p. 274

[3] Matthew 22:39-40

[4] Albright and Mann, p. 274

On the Occasion of Diocesan Convention

It’s a rare pleasure for me to stand before you on the occasion of this 158th Convention Eucharist. Yet, my presence in this pulpit is a palpable reminder that there is no bishop in the house. We are in a period of transition that began almost nine months ago, and we are still a year away from an electing convention. This has been, and will continue to be, a period that demands the best of us as this branch of the Jesus Movement. Nonetheless, I could not be more delighted to be a part of this branch of the Jesus Movement in this place and during this period of transition.

The notion of being a branch of the Jesus Movement may be an idea we’re still getting used to. But I like it, because being within the branch is like being a part of the body of Christ, it reminds us who we are, whose we are, and of our place in the scheme of things, especially when our heads gets a little swollen and our egos are in the driver’s seat. Remembering that you and I are pieces of something incomprehensibly greater than ourselves is humbling and a good check upon our ambitions.

I also like it part because being a branch reminds us that we are a part of a living and life-giving organism that requires our individual best efforts to provide the energy needed for the vine’s growth, and to harvest the fruits. In this branch, you and I are indispensable parts of something incomprehensively greater than ourselves, where we are bound together and mutually dependent.

But being a part of this branch of the Jesus Movement can also make us aware of our limits, and our individual limits can in turn cause us to think small – to shrink in our vision and imaginings.

Over the past nine months, it has been my privilege to hear a diverse variety of stories and voices from around the diocese. In these stories and voices I have seen us at our best and at our least; and it is the stories of our thinking small that I hear most often. The circumstances where we have thought too small range across personal matters, parochial matters, diocesan and even regional matters. Within these stories and voices of thinking too small the common elements are our uncertainty and our questioning of our ability.

But such stories and voices are not unique to us at this point in time; they have been present throughout the history of God’s people. These stories and voices are the recurring theme of the entire canon of Holy Scripture. Auspiciously, our lectionary today reveals God and Jesus’ responses to us as the people of God during such uncertain and transitional times.

In the reading from the Book of Isaiah, God is addressing the post-exilic people of Israel; a people whose identity has been profoundly affected by a period of dissolution, captivity, and uncertainty. Yet God does not coddle them, instead God extols them, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; ….”[1] God affirms God’s claim upon these people and then goes on to call these frazzled refugees to a monumental undertaking, “… I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”[2]

In this passage, “my servant” is not an individual; “my servant” is the people of Israel, a community bound together in covenant and mutual dependence. And God’s affirmation and challenge of a chosen people is not frozen in time or unique to the post-exilic people of Israel. It has been heard over and over throughout history.

Today, over two millennia later, we can see the text from Isaiah as God’s affirmation and challenge of us, as we stand amid our harried and frazzled uncertainty bound together and mutually dependent in this branch of the Jesus Movement in the Diocese of Kansas. This text appeals to us to understand ourselves to be affirmed by our Creator and challenged beyond our small sense of capacity to what appears to be a monumental undertaking, just as Isaiah and the people of Israel understand themselves to be called beyond their sense of capacity.

For millennia, as Christians we have also understood this passage of Isaiah to be a prophetic affirmation and call of Jesus as Messiah during a similarly harried, frazzled, and oppressive era some 600 years after the words were first spoken.

Today, through Matthew’s eyes, we see an example of the affirmation and call of Jesus lived out. As Jesus is moving from a fixed place of teaching on the mount there is no shrinking from the challenge, there is no small thinking or vision as he is beginning to travel among the cities and villages of his native land teaching, proclaiming the good news, and curing every disease and sickness. And note his compassion for the crowds amid their harried uncertainty.

Having demonstrated this compassion to us, his disciples, Jesus summons us and challenges us with authority as the leaders and representatives of the Diocese of Kansas. While I will not go so far as to assert “authority over unclean spirits to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness,”[3] I will assert that we have it within our capacity to cast out uncertainty and to be clear as possible about our expectation and the outcome of this election process. This call is echoed in Jesus’ mission and ministry; it is the same challenge he summons us to as his disciples.

During this convention and over the next 12 months, we the leadership and representatives of the diocese are called to lean into our roles as leaders, teachers, and healers, most especially when we leave here tomorrow and return to our cities and villages. We must teach, proclaim, and meet the uncertainty we encounter with the compassion of Jesus, telling all that will listen, “Yes, there is no bishop in the house, but we as followers of Jesus in this branch of the Jesus Movement have every gift we need to be a light to the people, to open eyes that are blind, and to meet the person God has called as the 10th Bishop of Episcopal Diocese of Kansas. We must tell all who will listen, during this season of transition, we will not be fearful. Rather, directed by the Spirit, together we joyfully walk with Jesus the road ahead.

[1] Isaiah 42:1a

[2] Ibid., vv. 6b-7

[3] Matthew 10:1

Conquering the shadow

The use of Maren Morris’s Dear Hate for our sequence hymn this morning was prompted by the massacre in Las Vegas last Sunday night. In the aftermath of that tragedy, this song resonates with so many because it gives voice to our heartache and disappointment even as it gives voice to our hope. It speaks to the complex emotions and reactions we have at a time like this, but mainly it gives voice to hope.

But don’t be misled, the topic of this sermon is not about hate per se, rather it is more about hate’s kissing cousin fear, the awkward relationship we have with fear, and the way we might respond when we stand in the shadow of fear.

Normal fear is a healthy reaction to stimuli that may be seen as threats; its intent is to stimulate a physiological response of self-preservation in the face of danger. However, fear can also reveal itself in unhelpful ways, such as mental illnesses like paranoia, acute anxiety and a variety of phobias.

Fear is almost always accompanied by suspicion and often a sense of helplessness; these can cause us to react or act out in unsociable ways. And there is such a thing as too much fear, which can manifest itself in hate, which some may excuse as justifiable.

All this said, we may never fully understand what led Stephen Paddock to carry out this horrific act, but that is not the point. The point is, how do we find ourselves reacting to the fearful violence of this act and the host of others across the world that we are exposed to through media on a regular basis? Are we becoming more fearful, withdrawn, suspicious, or judgmental? Or more disturbing, are we justifying such acts?

In the face of all this, this morning we and the Israelites, are presented with the Ten Commandments. As we stand this week in the shadow of the massacre outside of the Mandalay Bay; I am mindful of how the Israelites stand in fear and trembling in the shadow of Mt. Sinai.

They have witnessed the thunder and lightning and smoke coming down the mountain and are afraid. In their fear they crave a mediator who will allow them to remain present but at a safe distance. I wonder if the fear of this encounter colors their perception of the Ten Commandments. Do they perceive the commandments as a judgment upon their morality, or as council for how to live in relationship with God and their neighbor?

Hopefully, we know the commandments as council to shape our relationship with God and one another. But I suspect some of us know people who would use the commandments as a cudgel of judgment. How we see the commandments may reflect how we see the shadow we find ourselves in at the foot of the mountain or across the way from the Mandalay Bay.

As we encounter them in Exodus, eight of ten of the commandments are presented as proscriptive, that is they are forbidding, “you shall not.” There is something clear and definitive about forbidding something; but it can also lead to condemning behavior for those of us who find ourselves crosswise with a commandment or two.

In contrast, the fifth and sixth commandments affirm behaviors, specifically remembering and keeping the sabbath, and honoring your father and your mother. Nonetheless, the forbidding tone of the eight seems to overshadow all the commandments with a tone of forbidding and foreboding.

Does this forbidding and foreboding tone color the shadow of Mt. Sinai and Mandalay Bay? Is our experience one of an encroaching and enveloping shadow, or is it one of seeing the light behind a passing shadow? Remember, a shadow is created by something that comes between us and the source of the light.

If we feel ourselves being overwhelmed by an encroaching and enveloping shadow, we need to acknowledge it and try to name the fear or emotion that stands between us and the source of the light. Then remember Jesus’ interpretation of the commandments:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”[1]

It is worth remembering that Jesus offers this affirming, positive, and love-filled interpretation of the Ten Commandments as he stands in the encroaching and enveloping shadow of his own cross just days before his own horrific death. His interpretation is not Pollyannaish sweetness and light; it is a faithful and resolute confrontation of his own and our fear.

Jesus knows well our fear; in the midst of his innocent and horrible death, he will cry out, naming his fear of abandonment, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet, within days, Jesus’ love-filled and love-led interpretation of the commandments will yield this aftermath: abandonment, death, and fear are defeated and Jesus’ resurrection gives us our proof that love does conquer all.

So how does this proof affect our reaction to the fear in our lives? In a moment we will each have an opportunity to name our fear and then name an act of love that covers that fear.

While the Nicene Creed is recited and the prayers of the people are offered, remove the two post-it notes on page two of your bulletin. On the bottom post-it write the fear that most occupies your mind, then on the top post-it write an act of love that would help you conquer that fear.

Finally, during the offertory, come forward and nail your post-its to the cross with a pushpin. When we are finished, we will begin the Great Thanksgiving, in which we celebrate the love of God that conquers all fear and shadows if we will only accept that love and, most importantly, share it with everyone we encounter.

[1] Matthew 22:37-40