Fear and Love: April 28, 2024

May 6, 2024

Year B, Easter 5                                   1 John 4:7-21         

am afraid of a lot of things: cockroaches, mice, large crowds, Philadelphia
drivers, cancer, COVID, infections…just to name a few.  Some of these are rational fears.  Some, not so much.  Thus when I see this line from 1st
John that says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…”—
I want to know how I can get this kind of love. I am pretty sure I know God’s
love.  I know that I am loved by
God.  It’s something that I have felt
certain of my whole life and has held me up, even when I doubted every other
thing.  So why do I still have these fears?
Unfortunately the author of 1st John wasn’t talking about the more
mundane fears like rodents and aggressive drivers, or even the serious fears
like disease.  John was most likely
talking about the fear of God’s judgment, which was a much more prevalent fear
in this time period.

in our modern age, most Episcopal clergy tend to focus more on love than
judgment.  Our presiding bishop, Michael
Curry’s favorite thing to say is, “If it’s not about love, then it’s not about
God.”  There is no doubt that Jesus
talked a lot about love and that is an obvious theme in all of 1st
John. In the New Testament, you will find some version of the Greek word agape
(translated to love), 140 times.   However,
judgment also shows up a few times in the New Testament…not as much, but it’s
definitely there.  While 1st
John was written a little later than most of the gospels and Paul’s letters,
there were still a lot of people at that time who thought that Jesus was
returning sooner, rather than later, and when Jesus returned people would be
judged. That judgment would determine who was saved and who was not. That meant
it was more on the forefront of people’s minds, this fear of God’s

Frankly, I think that would be better to
focus on that fear rather than all the others fears that preoccupy our minds
because there is a clear solution to that fear. 
All these earthly worries don’t have clear solutions, but there is an
answer to the fear that we hear about in 1st John.  That answer is God’s love.  John wrote: “perfect love casts out fear.”  Perfect love is God’s love. God casts out

I wonder if we were really confident in
God’s love for us and we felt that love, then maybe we would not worry as much
about the concerns of this life.  So
often we find we worry about how others might be judging us or we might even be
pre-occupied by our own self judgment. 
While few people like to contemplate God’s judgement, that would be a
more productive thing to worry about—because God can help us in very tangible
ways to find freedom from that judgment. That is what God’s love can do. It can
free us.  Yet it is really hard to free
ourselves from these other worldly concerns, probably because they are our own
creation.  It’s hard to let go of what we

          While I
love the Episcopal Church, I worry that we have watered down God’s love a bit
too much. We have allowed it to evolve into a Hallmark emotion.  God’s love isn’t an emotion.  God’s love is action.  This text from John spells it out: “God’s
love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only son into the world so
that we might live through him.  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.”  I would
like to get into a long discussion on what the “atoning sacrifice” means, but I
am pretty sure that would only be interesting to about 5 of you.  (You can let me know on the way out who you

What I would rather focus on is the act of
God sending his son to this world…this world that had disappointed God over and
over again.  God sent God’s son to be
with us, to live with us, and then die on a cross so that we might understand
the depth of God’s love.  According to
John, that is how God’s love was revealed to us.  God wanted us to see his love in action, up
close and personal so that we could then show that love to others.

          I fear
many things, but I don’t fear God’s judgment. And that’s not because I am
perfect.  It’s not because I am an
extraordinary Christian.  It’s because I
know that God’s rooting for me.  God is
rooting for all us.  In sending God’s son,
God was saying, “I’m all in.”  And you
don’t do that for a people you intend to damn to hell.  No, you do that for people you are intent of
saving…in this world and the next. 

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is
in Romans and reads, “If God is for us, who is against us?” Honestly, when I
think of that text, or quote that text, that is the only part that I remember.  However it popped into my head while writing
this sermon and I looked it up to make sure I had the quote correct. Then I
looked at the lines right after. He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all
of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring
any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

realize that there are so many things that weigh on each of your hearts.  Even those of you who may not be prone to
worry, still has something that burdens you. 
I feel like the majority of my adult life, I have labored over the
juxtaposition of my anxiety, versus my confidence of God’s love. That’s right,
I worry about my proclivity to worry. So here is what I am going to try and I
commend it to you as well.  I am going to
try to dwell in God’s love, rest in the assurance of God’s love for me and
God’s love for all of us.  Because God’s
love is so much greater than the sum of all of our concerns.  I am going to remind myself that it’s ok if
there is still fear in my love because my love is not the axis on which this
world turns.  God’s love is the axis on
which this world turns. That is the love I choose to dwell in. One day, I hope
that my love and you love might look a bit more like God’s love…but for now, we
can dwell in God’s love.