Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Living in holy fear...
We tend to figure that fear is not a good thing even though we have many fears. Fears do not easily go away. Even the death of bin Laden cannot take away all our fears of violence and terrorism or change the security procedures that have so changed the way we live and travel. Christ does not eliminate all our fears but rather redirects them. We no longer live in fear of secret sins being found out or in fear of evil and the devil taking us against our will. This terror of fear is replaced in us with the holy fear that considers what a precious gift Christ has given us and how we live with this gift – sort of like the careful way we carry a precious heirloom.
In the Epistle lesson for today we are told to conduct ourselves with holy fear. Holy fear – not the fear of sins disclosed or how we might be punished for those sins but holy fear – how we should live out in life the holy gifts won for us by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Our sins have been crucified with Christ and died with Him and we have been raised with Christ to be new people and to live new lives. How do we live those new lives – that is the holy fear of faith.
St. Peter describes the time of this mortal life as a time of exile. In other words, we do not belong to this world or to this life only. Our citizenship is in heaven. But we are not yet in heaven. So we live in the sinful world as strangers to its life and values because we belong to the Lord by baptism and faith. The world which was once so comfortable to us is now alien to us just as it is a stranger to Christ and His rule until He comes again. We are not strangers to Christ and His rule; it has become our new home. We belong to Him and live under Him the new lives that He purchased and won by His death and resurrection.
We live as sinners but as forgiven and redeemed sinners. We have been washed clean in the blood of Christ; we live by faith in Him. Death will surely come to take this mortal body from us but we will gain new and glorious flesh. We are in but not of this world. What was once so common and familiar to us has become strange and uncomfortable to us. The ways of sin that once were so easy now conflict with the newly given desire to be the children of God and to live good, holy, and upright lives in Christ. We have been set apart in baptism to live today the new and eternal lives Christ has given us.
This holy fear comes not from the shame of sins and its guilt and our fear of being punished by God. It is not punishment that we fear but being too comfortable in our old sinful ways and living lives filled with inconsistencies between our words of faith and our sinful actions. Living such two faced lives was once easy for us but now in Christ we want to be His and His alone, His now and His always. This is holy fear that accompanies faith.
The obedience which once was demanded from us by the law has now become our desire. Where we once felt uncomfortable being holy, we now feel uncomfortable in our sins. This is the fruit of the Spirit and Christ’s life dwelling in us. Faith has made us new and we are not content to live out our lives in the old ways of sin. The demands of the law have given way to the desire to walk in its path, to live up to our calling as Christian people, and to reflect Christ's holiness in our thoughts, words, and actions – not because we have to but because we want to.
Where once we were comfortable taking from God, now we desire to return the very love He has shown to us. We do this by looking into the face of strangers and seeing the face of Christ, by looking into the faces of the poor and those in need, and seeing Christ. Seeing the face of Christ in our neighbors moves us to love them and serve them as Christ has loved and served us. We are not content to let them suffer alone. We no longer are comfortable standing by while they cry out in want or need. Our resources and possessions become vehicles of love and mercy to those in need.
Every child who has know the love of a mother, her sacrificial care, her unconditional love, and then has held their own child in their arms, burns inside with the realization of what love is and the desire to show that love to their children. This is not a fear that terrifies but a fear that begs to be shown to others. Once we have received what love has bought, we cannot but return it and pass it on. On this day to honor our mothers, we acknowledge love's gift has become love given.
We live not in fear of.... but in fear for. Once the believers on the road to Emmaus talked with Jesus but did not recognize Him. When finally Jesus revealed Himself in the breaking of the bread and was gone, they were left with only the burning hearts that wondered "why didn't we see Jesus or recognize Him or serve Him?" This is holy fear. This is the holy fear that is meant to burn with us each Sunday. Christ is here – do we see Him, do we recognize Him in Word and Sacrament, and do we seek to serve Him in faith?
Living in holy fear means our hearts burn within us at every missed opportunity to speak the faith to the unknowing, to forgive the sinner, to comfort the wounded, to love the poor and needy. This is not simple regret but hearts ever seeking to do His will always. Living in holy fear means we can't take an "aw shucks" attitude toward the worship of God's house, the witness of His death and resurrection, the work of mercy, and the call to holy life.
The saddest thing that has happened to us as Christians is that we have learned to have an "oh, well" attitude toward God, His gifts, His grace, and our baptismal calling to new life. Those disciples on the road to Emmaus did not shrug their shoulders at the prospect of being in the presence of Christ and missing the whole thing. Their hearts burned with the fire of holy fear.
The truth is we act like it is no big deal when it is. "Oh, well..." missed Church... "Oh, well..." I screwed up... "Oh, well..." it is just a little sinful pleasure... Where are our burning hearts? Where is our holy fear? We have been bought with a price, says St. Paul, we do not belong to sin or Satan or even to ourselves any longer. We belong to the Lord. Faith is this holy fear that burns within us in the form of holy desire to live faithfully the holy life of faith that God has given us in baptism. Every day it should be our urgent pray that we may burn with this holy fire and fear borne of faith.
As St. Peter says: Conduct yourselves with holy fear through the time of your exile knowing you were redeemed from your sinful ways not with perishable things like silver or gold but the holy and precious blood of Christ. Having been purified, live obediently to the truth and in brotherly love with a pure heart.
To which we can only pray, Make it so, Lord.... Make it so. Amen