July 8, Proper 9:
Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
David stands alone in a field…facing a giant.
And unlike the fearful Israelites surrounding him, he is secure in his faith…his faith in God…his faith in God’s love and care and possession of him…his faith in God to be in control…and thus he transforms the fear surrounding him and slays the giant.
A powerful man with a gravely ill daughter, and a powerless woman plagued for years with a disease for which there appears to be no cure, both push through a crowd of fearful, anxious people, and reach out in faith…faith that even in their immense need and brokenness that God loves and cares for them…and in reaching out they transform a crowd of need into a cloud of witnesses.
For the past two weeks, we’ve heard stories of faith and fear…and today, again, Jesus stands in the midst of skeptical crowds…with the anxiety rising, “how can he do this?” … Fear seeping in… ”Where did he get this?”…and today…for the first time…fear seems to have the upper hand…He is unable to do any deed of power, and is “amazed at their unbelief.”
Fear is a giant…we know this…and faith often seems small and insignificant in comparison.
Fear is ever-present…we know this too…Every day waves of fear constantly crash over us. Faith is there too…somewhere…we think…we hope…and yes, faith is important but…sometimes…maybe this time (we fear) …faith might be too little, too late…If even Jesus can’t do anything about it…
The fear that emerges in questions like: “How are you doing this Jesus?” “Why are you doing this?” Aren’t you the carpenters son?” today might transform into: “Why can’t you do anything about this?”… “Why aren’t you doing anything about this?” “That’s all you’ve got? An offhand comment about ‘Prophets not being without honor’ and then just walking away?”
But, there’s no single faithful response to fear…There are many ways Jesus could have handled this…he could have done what many of us might do—what many of our public figures do—when faced with a direct challenge to their position or their authority…he could double down. He could “stay on message,” “push-through,” try even harder to get them to come around…try to control the situation…but that’s not what he does.
And I’ve missed this every time I’ve read it. Having this faith and fear framework made me notice this time, what he does…what his response is…because he doesn’t just ignore it…what he does is way more interesting…
In the face of this fearful crowd trying to drain and tame him, he names what they’re doing—“there is no prophet in his own city…” “your own expectations are blinding you.” And then he gathers the twelve and gives them “authority over unclean spirits,” and sends them out. Instead of consolidating and reasserting his own power…he shares it…he redistributes it…gives it up…gives it to others, and sends them out to do the transforming work he’s been doing…
There are many ways of standing up to the ever-present giant of fear.
He sends them out with his authority, a buddy (that’s important), and some very simple instructions. Go to a place, tell the story, if they’re hospitable and receptive, hang out…do what I’m doing…if they’re not, move on…shake off that dust…don’t let the fear and the negativity congeal around you…don’t let it clog up your path and trip you up.
It’s a risky and remarkable move. And notice also what they don’t do. They don’t go out and try to convince people that Jesus is right…They’re not campaigning, or drumming up business, or even being evangelical in the sense of trying to convert people. But they are being evangelical in the sense of listening…and telling stories…sharing meals…and helping out…They’re operating like transformers…dialing down the fear, and pumping up the faith. Just by their presence.
What would change in the world if we did that? If we started to view our role in that way…as transformers…not clinging to power, but redistributing it…dialing down the fear, and upping the faith, the hope, in any situation… What would change?
What would the world look like if we each left here…grounded in an absolute unshakable knowledge that God loves us…what if we each left here grounded in the unshakable conviction that not only loves us, but that God loves everyone…without exception…
What would change if we went out with that knowledge, and really believing that God was active in the world…that God’s deepest desire is to draw the whole creation into reconciled, right relationship?
What would change if we left here with absolute clarity that our task—our faithful task—was to simply pay attention, and try to follow God’s leading in our lives…pay attention to and point out God’s movement in the lives of others…and then, if people were receptive we could stay and have a conversation…learn more about them…learn more about ourselves…and if they weren’t receptive?…we could just shake it off and move on. What would change if we did that?
What would change if all Christians did that? What would change if people from all faiths (and no faith) talked in small groups together about what we value, about how we discover love and find meaning in something that is utterly beyond us, yet as close as our own breath?
What would change? Maybe nothing…maybe everything.
We’re confronted by fear all the time. Some of fears are gigantic, and intractable…some are personal and insidious. And there is no one correct response to fear…Standing up to the giant. Reaching out in vulnerability…Listening to the truth from the powerless…Letting go of power, giving it to others…and shaking the dust off. All of those are faithful responses, what’s key is that as we respond with faith, faith begins to transform fear into courage, begins to transform brokenness into wholeness, begins to transform despair into hope. That’s what we’re called to do and to be…to be transformers for the power of God…so that God’s power do the work of transforming the world.