Tag Archives: fear

12 August – How to love God

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Pentecost 12

1 John 4:10-12, 16b-21
Psalm 34
John 6:35, 41-51

In a sentence:
The love of God is always concrete and tangible – the love of our human neighbour

A few weeks back I preached on ‘God’s unnecessary love’, trying to indicate how there is nothing compelled about God’s love. Today, the shape of our love for God. Once again, John’s first letter informs this thought.

‘There is no fear in love’, John asserts, ‘perfect love casts out fear. The fear which might confound love is of two kinds. The most obvious is the fear of losing the thing we love. Trivially, this is fear for the new toy – fear of a scratch on the new car, shattering the screen on the new phone, or having our nice things burgled while on holiday. More significantly, of course, we fear losing the child, the parent, the spouse, the job, the house, the reputation.

For those of us who hold that there is a just God, it is the loss of the object of love which gives rise to the questions of theodicy – is God righteous, given that such loves, such valuable things can be lost? How can injustice and disorder like this – such contradictions of all we thought God promised – be ‘allowed’ to happen?

The fear to which John refers in his ‘no fear in love’ is not quite the fear of loss, but it is related. This is the second fear associated with love: the fear that we might be found to have loved the wrong thing. Here the emphasis is not as much on the loving as on the being found – being dis‑covered, exposed, judged for loving what is not the final object or goal of ‘true’ love. Those who love truly, John says, do not fear judgement.

(As an aside: This connection of fear and love is quite different from fear of losing what we love. We lose our beloved for ‘natural’ reasons, for reasons beyond our control: accidents, theft or simple mortality. John’s fear of judgement is a fear related to our choices – what we bring about, not what happens to us. This is the fear of having contravened some kind of implicit or explicit commandment, of having misunderstood or deliberately chosen against the order of things.)

Again, there are greater and lesser versions of this love-fear. At the softer end, this might be fear of judgement because I dress differently from the masses, or that I believe in God when most don’t (or the other way around), or that I refuse to eat meat (to the unhappy inconvenience of my omnivorous family and friends).

More substantially, it might be that I refuse to answer a conscription call up because of pacifist convictions, or the fear of retribution when I become the whistle blower. The particular concern of John is the question of judgement before God: love does not fear God’s righteous judgement for having done the wrong thing, for having loved the wrong thing.

With this second reference to righteousness, we can now see the relationship between the two love-fears. In the first love-fear we fear the absence of justice, the loss of what we love. In the second love-fear, we fear the presence of justice, the loss of ourselves if we have loved wrongly.

Love, then, is not the simple thing we often imagine or declare it to be. The pathos of human love is that it fears both the absence and the presence of the justice of God, as we seem usually to understand that justice. Love – the most natural thing to arise in us, and so the thing most naturally expected of us – turns out to be fraught. Our loves and our fears constantly pose the question, Is this right, Will it be right, Does love end?

If love as we usually know it is fraught in this way, what does John’s ‘perfection in love’ look like?

Surprisingly, perfected love doesn’t look like ‘loving’ God in any internal or spiritualised sense.  John never calls us to love God. In fact, he seems to back away from saying this:

4.10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

That is, John does not say here, ‘we ought to love God,’ which would be the more natural complement to the declaration that God has loved us. He does recognise that it makes sense to speak of loving God (e.g. 4.20f, 5.2) but there is no imperative to love God as if this were in any way separable from the love of others, or even prior to such ‘neighbourly’ love.

Perhaps more to the point, John does not allow that our love of God is a kind of invisible ‘spiritual’ counterpart to visible ‘embodied’ love in human relationships. God’s love is entirely concrete: the sending of the Son and the rehabilitation of the cross (on this ‘rehabilitation’ see the July 29 sermon). Our love for God is also entirely concrete: loving the brother, the sister, the neighbour. Love always looks like something – even the love of God. Love is always embodied. The perfected love which does not fear looks like the love of those in need of love.

If there is fear in our love, then, John implies that it is because we do not yet love in this concrete way, and not because we have not yet sufficiently trusted God. That is, our love for God is incomplete, and so our sense of safety in God, because we do not yet love the ones close to us: ‘If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us’, John says.

Yet, even this can be too abstract. Perhaps strangest of all here is that love might look like coming to church. This is not because at church you ‘learn how to love’; such basics are learned elsewhere. It is because ‘church’ is a concrete and specific community which ties us down. For love, in being embodied, is also tied, bound. It is often noted, in critique, that in the letters and in the gospel of John, the focus of human love is not on the ‘neighbour’ (as in the synoptics) but on the sister, the brother, of the Christian communion. This looks embarrassingly ‘in house’ and self-interested. Yet John’s focus makes love very specific and concrete – not the love of anyone who might or might not cross our paths, who might or might not be the person I’m supposed to love, but the person to whom God binds me – the one who also claims to be claimed by God.

For, if nothing else, coming to church binds us strangely to each other. We are not natural family here, not tribal connection. And so this is a place where love’s fears might be challenged in learning to love those we would not normally love, simply because they refuse to go away. It is only in this way that love grows and thickens, and the fears in love begin to diminish because we see that love finds a way.

There is no fear in love. Or, put positively, love is fearless – God’s love, and so the love to which we are called. The fearlessness of love is not in its courage but in its indiscriminateness. Love is not a choice, it is a call which takes the form of the person sitting next you to, or who lives behind you, or who shares your office.

John’s declaration that ‘We love because God first loved us’ is not an explication of how we have come to love God. It is a statement of mission, of how to love God: we become God’s love for us in the love of sister, brother, neighbour.

To say it then, for the umpteenth time in our reflections on John’s letter, Let us be fearless in our love another, for this is what it means to love God. Amen.

24 June – Do not. Be. Afraid

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Pentecost 5

Psalm 20
Mark 4:34-41

‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing’?

Until this week, the assumption of perhaps every thought I have ever had about this question – and probably every sermon I have heard on it – is, Yes, Jesus does care – of course, Jesus cares. The evidence for this is that he stills the storm. Is this not what care would look like: noticing and acting?

I want to continue to affirm that Jesus cares but closer attention to the story undermines confidence in too easy a ‘Yes’ in response to the desperate question, Do you not care? Or, perhaps more to the point for those in that boat and us in ours, we might enquire more deeply of this story just what the care of Jesus looks like.

Crucial to all this is that Jesus has to be woken up in order to be made aware of a storm which has scared the b’Jesus into all his friends. The disciples presume, not unreasonably, that one has to be conscious to care. And so, pun (w)holy intended, they effectively ask, How – for Christ’s sake – can you sleep at a time like this? If you are the Son of God, care: command the wind and waves to be still!

The gospel’s answer to this is that it is precisely for the Christ’s sake that he sleeps – not because the Christ is tired and needs to catch up on his rest but because there is nothing present of sufficient moment to warrant him waking; there is nothing to worry about.

This is too much, of course, if the story were about a few blokes in the wrong place at the wrong time. If that were what the story told, then there is plenty to worry about and plenty to do, and the disciples are right to be holding on very tight with one hand and bailing frantically with the other. But this is not the point of the story.

The storm is not stilled in order to demonstrate that Jesus cares and will meet our sense of what we need. The wind and the waves are stilled not to demonstrate care but in order that Jesus might be heard – a still, small voice cutting through the wild night. He needs to be heard, not to deny or do away with the wild and frightening things, but that those things be relegated in the hearts and minds of the disciples.

‘Have you no faith?’ This is not to say, Can’t you fix this yourself? Of course they can’t. ‘Have you no faith?’ means, These are only wind and waves.     Fear. Only. God.

The care Jesus demonstrates here is not he will still the storms about us. There is no promise in the story that the storm will always be stilled. Not a few of those in the boat will perish in other storms –religious and political – in the next 20 or 30 years. Many interpreters of this passage see it, in fact, as written specifically for those later situations, as an answer to their pressing question: does God care what is now happening to the church?

God does care what is happening to the church, but in the sense of, Why are you still afraid? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword (Romans 8.35) separate you from me? Have you no faith?

The stance Jesus takes before the wind and the waves is the same stance he takes in the face of the cross: there is, finally, nothing to fear here. It is scarcely pleasant – it will sometimes even be hell – but hell is not beyond God’s attention, and hell does not change that, finally, we belong not to the devil but to God. We belong to God – as the funeral service puts it – in strength and in weakness, in achievement and in failure, in the brightness of joy and in the darkness of despair. The ‘climate’ – what is going on in the world around us – is not a theological indicator.

Notice that, in this way of thinking about the story, it matters not one jot whether Jesus could actually command the wind and the waves. For all that we have said, the story is irrelevant if we seek evidence about whether Jesus was a miracle-worker or not. We notice most of all the calming of the waters and the wind, and much less the word which the calming makes it possible to hear: Do not be afraid; have you no faith? At the end of the story the disciples fall back in terror, now at Jesus and no longer at the storm. The shock is not merely that Jesus commands the storm, but that he has no fear of it. For the story, these two things are the same.

And so Jesus charges not, You could have done this yourself, had you the faith. He declares rather, If God is God, your life is not to be a fearful one. Faith is knowing what, or whom to fear, and what not to fear. Faith is knowing what does, and does not, own us.

We will likely be afraid in such a situation, for all the obvious reasons. The storm might be the suddenly diminished future brought by a threatening diagnosis; the unbearably quiet house brought by bereavement; the loss of a job; a bulldozer through our house; public embarrassment; the impending divorce (or even the impending marriage!).

We will likely be afraid in such situations, for the obvious reasons. Yet, in such storms – wild or still – Jesus asks, And what is it about this place you know but is not obvious?         You are mine. You are mine.

In all such things you are more than conquerors through the one who loves you.

‘For I am convinced that
neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor rulers,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor powers,
nor height, nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8.37-39)

There is nothing to fear but that we might live in fear of what is not worthy of it.

Do not be afraid.



As a possible response, a prayer of confession

We offer thanks and praise, O God,
because you have created and sustained us
and all things.

And yet…

Forgive us when
we imagine that the first sign of danger
is a sign of your absence.

Forgive us when we limit our own freedom
by fearing things which, in the end,
are inevitable,
or will finally not matter.

Forgive us when our fears
mean that others are denied
the love they need.

Almighty God,
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;

just so, loving God,
have mercy on us.


29 April – A Gospel for Misfits

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Easter 5

Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98
Mark 1:1-14

Where to start a story?

Each of the four gospels has a different opinion on this. John begins, ‘in the beginning’ – the beginning: in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Luke begins a little more recently, with a genealogy of Jesus commencing from Adam as the beginning of history. Matthew also has a genealogy, although his begins mid-history with Abraham. And Mark begins with a voice crying out on the desert, Make way, get ready, brace yourself.

These gospel beginnings don’t vary simply as a matter of arbitrary choice. John’s opening cosmic vision is reflected in the way Jesus moves through his narrative: the way he engages, the language he uses, the sense he bears of his place in the order of things. Luke’s beginning with the progenitor of all humankind reflects his account of Jesus as Lord of all – the Jew and the Gentile, the ‘in’ and the ‘out’. Matthew’s launch from Abraham places Jesus firmly in Israel’s salvation history – a gospel to which the Jews ought to be able to say, Yes.

And Mark’s Jesus is announced on the lips of a crazy man in the desert. You don’t see his Jesus coming – not out of the cosmos, not out of the sweep of human history. Mark’s Jesus comes, as it were, from nowhere.

And, as for the other gospel writers so also for Mark: this is not accidental. The left-field arrival of ‘the Lord’ (1.3) reflects how he appears throughout Mark’s account. This is a gospel filled with surprise, wonder, amazement and fear from the demons, the crowds, the disciples and Jesus’ enemies. ‘What are you doing here?’ the demons cry out (1.24). ‘What is this, a new teaching?’ the crowds ask in amazement (1.27). ‘We have never seen anything like this’ (2.12). ‘They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this?”’ (4.41). ‘They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid’ (10.32).

Jesus misfits all expectations. This continues right through to Easter Day when we hear of the women’s response to the empty tomb: ‘…they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid’ (16.8)

Mark’s Jesus is one of Shock and Awe, but it is shock and awe with a purpose, with a resonance. The dislocating nature of Mark’s Jesus reflects the dislocated character of the community to whom he writes. Reading between the lines of the gospel – imagining that those to whom Mark writes would see themselves in the stories he chose to tell – we discern a people in dire need. They are buffeted on the high seas of life (cf. 4.35-41), possessed and directed by a legion of powers beyond and within themselves (cf. 5.1-13), at a loss to understand how what matters so much could possibly be destroyed (cf. 8.31-33; 9.30-32), doubting that anyone can finally be saved (10.23-27), and unable to stick with the one for whom their hearts once burned (cf. 14.29-31, 50, 66-72).

Mark presents a strange Jesus to those estranged – estranged from God, from each other, from their very selves. In more ‘theological’ language, Mark presents an irreconcilable Jesus to an unreconciled people – a Jesus who does not fit for a people who don’t fit.

How does the irreconcilable reconcile? By being the word which, though not expected, is needed. The curious thing about the amazement and fear which surrounds Jesus in Mark’s account is that it is caused precisely by Jesus bringing what is needed: the liberating teaching, the healing, the exorcism, the steadfastness before the powers that be – the penetrating sense of a fearless life and the light it brings. It is the good news which shakes everyone up. So confused are we to begin with that receiving the things we need confuses even more.

And yet, it is the good which Jesus brings. In view of this Jesus asks, then and now, ‘Why are you afraid; have you no faith?’ (4.40) or, perhaps more to the point, ‘Do you not see?’

It is the reign of God which is drawn near here; think again, and believe the good news (1.14).

From Isaiah this morning we heard

52.7 How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’

Beautiful indeed those feet, because the word of peace is not one we expect. It does not flow from the cosmos, it does not mature out of human history, it is does not come even from ‘possessing’ the promises of God.

And yet, it comes. ‘Do not fear,’ Jesus says, ‘only believe’ (5.36). Believing means expecting what we see no reason to expect: that in the midst of the chaos God might meet us bringing, if not yet order, peace. And we will be amazed.

How beautiful the feet of Mark the Evangelist, who announces this peace. How blessed the ears which hear him.

4 February – God is not a god

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Epiphany 5

Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147
1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Let us consider the following proposition: if God is God, then God is not a god.

Chances are that makes no sense to almost anyone – yet – but it matters. It matters because we need constantly to work on how we speak about God, and it matters because we how speak about God affects how we speak about ourselves, and how we act towards each other. A sense for God is implied in how we relate to each other.

Last week we noted that polytheism – the belief that there is more than one god – is the natural environment of the Scriptures. In such an environment religious conviction is not about whether you believe “that” there is a god (our contemporary question), but about which of the many candidates for divinity in your life you’ve committed to. In such an environment, the Scriptural imperative is: believe in this god – the Lord, Yahweh – for this is the one which matters.

Of course, things which concern us deeply are never that simple. At the same time, parts of the Scriptures do insist that there is only one god and that the other candidates are not gods.

This, however, has very a strange effect. If the others are not gods, then God – the one god – is not a god either. In order for there to be “a” god, there has to be more than one.

To justify this assertion, let’s consider the less controversial matter of the plurality of “Davids.” Davids are useful for our purposes because they are everywhere. On account of this, we might say “Oh, we have a David in our congregation” (or, in our case, four or five Davids). A David is a kind of thing, of which there are many instances.

By contrast, we don’t say that we live in an Australia. There is only one Australia (at least, as a geographical entity); it is not a kind of thing which Australias are, and so the name and the thing coincide.

As it is with Davids and Australias, so it is also with gods. If there are many gods, each is god; if there is but one God, God is not “a” god, but a name of a unique “thing”.

This brings us to Isaiah’s vision of God this morning. The second half of the book of Isaiah is characterised by an extraordinary sense of the uniqueness of the God of Israel, summed up in verse 25 today: “To whom shall you compare me?”

But an enormous theological problem is now beginning to open up. If there is nothing with which to compare God – if God is not a god – then from where do we get our ideas about God’s godness? We might think we know what “a” god is, but if God is not a god, then… what? With Davids, it’s easy. There are many Davids because Davidness is comparable and transferrable; this is why they were named David in the first place. We bestow something when we name a child: perhaps we honour an ancestor and hope for something of the same in our son, or perhaps we simply resonate with a cultural vibe which mysteriously communicates that now is the time for more Davids (which is why Davids tend to come in generational clusters).

But Isaiah’s vision pulls this rug out from under us. If the one which Israel and the Church designates as “God” is not a god, then what we think a god is, or whether we think we need a god, tells us nothing useful about this One: “To whom shall you compare me?” To no one, and to nothing.

The biblical answer to the whence of a proper sense for God is God’s words and actions: God is what God says and does. But I don’t want to develop this much further today. Rather, I want to move to how the incomparability of God affects the way we relate to each other, for there is political or social effect of such a sense for God.

Last week we noted the relationship between the plurality of the gods and the plurality of our fears. The gods divide us along the lines of our fears. This has always been recognised. A single religious conviction is a useful political concept for stability within national borders (cf. the post-Reformation notion, Cuius regio, eius religio, which stabilised nations by allowing monarchs to specify which of the warring religious factions would be “the” religion of that country).

But unity of conviction for political or philosophical convenience simply shifts the problem of divided hearts and minds, or just ignores it. The political solution of a single religion with a single god moves the problem of division from communities within the national borders to the borders themselves. The philosophical solution of a single god or the naïve proposal that there is no god are both abstractions which simply don’t take seriously how we actually are.

For how we are is that we are divided. But it’s important that we are not divided simply because we have gods; we also have gods because we are divided. The gods are extensions of us. They are ourselves with our contrary fears and aspirations, writ large. It is because I can compare myself with you that I can invoke a contrary god against you; the gods are many things to many people. This comparability and contrariness runs very, very deep. The political and philosophical solutions don’t work because the divisions are not overcome; they are either pushed into the background or ignored.

By contrast, consider Paul’s declaration in our epistle this morning: I have become all things to all people. He speaks here of his particular vocation as evangelist but, adapted for each particular vocation, this is how each Christian disciple is called – and enabled to be – if the God of the church is truly “incomparable”.

Paul’s being “all things” is not in any sense about him being “flexible”. It is about seeing the barriers between himself and all others as broken down. He sees others not in terms of their difference from him – the comparability of their fears and gods – but in terms of their commonality with him, in Christ.

This would be socially and religiously arrogant were it not that Paul himself has been subject to precisely the same redefinition. What he once thought was a matter of comparative wisdom and strength in himself – his God over against the gods of others – has been stripped away. What he has met in the crucified and risen Jesus is the sovereign freedom of the One who does not fear the cross, who is not bound by death. The incomparability of the God Isaiah proclaims is the freedom of the God of encountered in Jesus, and this is the God in whom Paul now lives and moves. It is God’s divine freedom which frees Paul, on the one hand, and binds him to his neighbours, on the other.

God does not divide because he is free to be against all who would wrongly claim him as an ally, and free to be for all who can do nothing other than simply wait on him. This for-ness and against-ness – of the same people – is the incomparability of the God of Israel, the God of Jesus Christ. All other putative gods are for us and against our enemies, such that we can only be some things for some people.

This God enables and calls us to more.

With Paul, then, let us allow ourselves to be found within the incomparable God, that we and those we meet might know something of the blessing of the God who keeps his distance from any one of us, that he might be the God of love for all of us.


28 January – On the fear of God

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Epiphany 4

1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Psalm 111
Mark 1:21-28

To endeavour to learn a new language – particularly to speak it – is to wander into dangerous territory. Even when the words are not lacking, nuances of meaning are often hidden from the learner. Great confusion and embarrassment await those brave who risk a strange tongue.

The world of Scripture is a new language, even when translated into the vulgar tongue. It, also, is riddled with nuance and hidden meaning to trip up the presumptuous novice.

Let’s consider the closing thought of our psalmist this morning: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” If a beginning in wisdom is taken to be a good thing, is “the fear of the Lord” the best – or even a good – way to such beginning? Ought we not rather love God? We know fear as a basis of relationship, and we agree that love is a much more desirable way to relate. Or, perhaps, we might try to bridge the gap between fear and love by reading “fear” as “respect.” “Respect” allows that God could be feared but need not be.

Linguistic refinements like this make an apology for how the psalmist portrays God here. If love is good and fear is bad, then relating to God on the basis of fear is unpalatable. We refine the text to do God a favour. We ought, however, to keep in mind that God generally gets along quite well without our help, and that the text generally means what it says: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This doesn’t yet make the sentiment any more palatable but, like any strange mode of expression, it might give us pause: what could this mean?

The distance between our culture and context of Scripture is often obscured by things we imagine we have in common, like cognates between two languages. The Bible is interested in God, and we are interested in God, thus we presume that when the Bible refers to God it does so in the same way that we do. Yet “God” – as a concept – is for us something quite different from its conceptualisation in the Scriptures. In particular, we tend towards the idea that there is only one God, and “God” is in fact a viable name for God. Strictly speaking, God can only be God’s name if there is one God. In the Scriptures, however, the basic assumption is that there are many gods – as we heard from Paul this morning – and that “God” is not so much a name as a type of thing.

In fact it’s much messier than that, but this much helps us to get inside our psalmist’s thinking. For we can say that, in the Scriptures, a god stands for something the present or absence of which we fear. Do we fear the absence of life or money? Then Death and Mammon become gods. Do you fear the absence of power? Then that which gives power, mythologised as a god, becomes what we fear, lest it withdraw that power. Because there are many who fear such things, and often in contradiction of each other, there are many gods. The important thing is, then, not whether you fear “God” but whether you fear the right one among the many feared gods: the god properly feared if we are going to fear anything.

For us today, “God” means almost nothing like this. Whereas the atmosphere of the Scriptures is polytheism, philosophical pressure has driven us to monotheism. It is this monotheism which makes us squirm – especially in the churches – when it comes to “the fear of the Lord”. Because the gods are no longer a given, we imagine that “mission” is about making the gods – or just “God” – palatable again, and love is more palatable than fear.

But the Scriptures know us. Even if our modern world is emptied of gods, it remains filled with fears. And these fears work on us as they always have. The “‑isms” of our world indicate our new pantheon: racism, sexism, nationalism, fundamentalism, conservatism, progressivism, scientism, Islamism… each invoked out of fear. Knowing the human to be a creature which fears, the scriptural question is simply: What is best feared?

For this reason the psalmist proposes fear not of a generic “God” but of “the Lord.” It is a subtle nuance which the novice in religious language will miss but it is crucial, and is really only evident in the speaking: Not “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” as if we might relate to the Lord in some other way but “the fear of the Lord,” as if there were other things we might fear. This nuance moves the declaration from our concern about the appropriate emotional response to a God who might or might not be there, to the question of which realities in our life are actually worth worrying about.

“The Lord” – Yahweh, Jehovah – is the name of one God among many, one candidate for our allegiance among many. “There are many Lords and many gods”, Paul says, “but for us the one God, the Father… and one Lord, Jesus Christ.” Do you fear? Fear this one.

But why? Precisely because of the love which we might want prematurely to edit into the psalmist’s thought to make him declare that the love of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. There are as many lords and gods as there are contradictory fears and desires in us; these things we serve and invoke over against each other. In Paul this morning we saw the logic of fear and love set in their proper place in relation to God. Yes, there are real fears – real enough to cause division in the young Christian community about what could be eaten, and so who could eat with whom. A fear of the gods of old and a fear of a loss of freedom clashed to fracture the community; dividing the communal mind and rendering asunder the communal body is what fear does.

The unity of the body, or its division, is the sign of the Spirit active within it, the sign of what is feared. There are many lords and many gods, Paul acknowledges, but for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. All things are from and to the Father; this we might call the “generic” function of a god: the beginning and the purpose of the world. The specifically Christian nuance is in the “through” used with respect to Jesus: “one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”

To live in and through the crucified Jesus is to live in and through the victim of human fear. It is to see where fear takes us – the cross – and what it takes from us, even the God we might think demands the cross.

But, just so, to live through the crucified Jesus is also to see grace in action because our fear and loathing is not met with God’s own. In the world fear begets fear; in heaven, fear is just one more human characteristic God can use to reveal love and bring healing. The fruit of fear is a broken body and blood poured out. Grace is the broken body raised and given to teach that with this God there is nothing to fear.

To learn a new language is to wander into dangerous territory. Even when the words are not lacking, nuances of meaning are often hidden from the learner. But when God speaks our language – takes our words and actions seriously – there is no embarrassment, even when God uses those words and or interprets our actions in the wrong way. God’s creative work with us is to change our grammar, to speak our words and ways in such a manner as to re-make us and, in this, to make possible us a new beginning in wisdom and in love.

The fear of this Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever. (Ps 111.10).