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 Are we becoming more fearful, withdrawn, suspicious, or judgmental?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.”
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.
 Matthew 22:37-40