Love Over Fear
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
September 29, 2019
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 146; I John 4:16b-21; Luke 16:19-31
The founder of Dartmouth’s Religion Department died recently. Fred Berthold was a wise and generous-hearted professor, mentor and promoter of social justice. Fred wrote a book on “the role of anxiety in contemporary thought” in 1959. That certainly was an anxious era with students being taught to duck and cover in case Russia dropped atomic bombs, and growing civil rights unrest, and the young discovering that they had the powerful voice that would bring about a revolution in our culture’s consciousness in the 1960s.
We are in another anxious time now with many similarities, including Russian threats, the rise of a youth movement and a new consciousness struggling with the old. And now we have another source of anxiety more powerful than any we have faced before.
New York Times reporter Somini Sengupta wrote this week about interviewing leading young climate activists in seven countries around the world. She said, “As a parent, I was most struck by hearing how terrified they were.”
Our children in Strafford are afraid, too. Greta Thunberg gave a heart-wrenching speech at the United Nations on behalf of all children and youth. She said, “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”
She finished her five-minute talk saying, “You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
Over seven million people worldwide took place in climate strikes in the past ten days. It is urgent that we help it grow. Only a massive democratic global movement demanding change will convince governments to control the powerful corporations that are destroying our children’s world. The statistics that Greta quotes indicate that we now have only eight years instead of the twelve we thought we had a year ago because carbon emissions are still increasing.
Strong emotions are completely justified, but anxiety, fear and rage are dangerous fuels for change. They can explode, they can burn the hands that wield them. Fear and rage in our hearts will not create a world of love and peace.
Spiritual traditions have practical wisdom to offer that can transform raging fear into an even more potent force: a force of love.
Today we heard a beautiful antidote to anxiety.
The book of I John says, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them…. There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear…. Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
I hope you can believe in this loving God, however you define him, her or it. Gandhi said that it really didn’t matter in any practical way whether we prayed to God as a person or as a force. Christians can do both. We have Jesus, the person, and we have the Holy Spirit, the Force. As Richard Rohr said, “God is the force [of love] that is binding, moving, sustaining, and transforming all of humanity and all of creation with every breath and every evolutionary shift on our planet.”
However you think of God I hope you can sink into the immense peace and comfort of this warm, ever-flowing, all-accepting love that we can immerse in anytime. It created the earth and all life, it sustains us every breath of our lives. Its loving presence is there to hold us in its arms when we wake with anxious thoughts at night. It is there to protect our hearts when we are attacked by meanness or hatred. It invites us to lay down our heavy burdens and have a cup of tea in front of the fire and gain the perspective that Love is what matters, not all those nagging worries that agitate our hearts and minds.
Gandhi prayed without ceasing in order to have peace in the midst of dangerous and discouraging political struggles. Gandhi, King and Mandela drew on decades of spiritual training and practice that made them the leaders they were. I hope that the millions of children taking to the streets will learn somehow about the love that needs to be at the core of nonviolent movements to keep them from exploding.
I John has this personal comfort to offer, but it offers us even greater comfort found in the wisdom that those who abide in God’s love “must love their brothers and sisters also.”
The wisdom is that if we abide in the comfort of God’s love, then we can—and indeed must—be instruments bringing that love into the world around us.
The word “must” is not only a commandment, as I John says. It is a scientific fact: if we turn our life and will over to the Spirit and abide in God, the result will be an outpouring of powerful oneness and love.
This is the greatest creative power in the universe flowing through us. It can work the miracles we need, but the children and adults who are rising up to demand that we respond to the climate emergency will have it on their side only if they choose love over fear. Fear may fight the fire, but love rushes into the house to save the child.
Abiding in the God who is love moves beyond personal comfort to become a new way of being in the world by which we transform the individuals and society around us. We become God’s ambassadors of an ethic founded on the principles of universal oneness and love.
We see this in the lives of Gandhi, King and Mandela and the thousands of other leaders in their movements who took the same spiritual path.
One of the most beautiful articulations of it comes from the Kentucky Trappist monk and writer, Thomas Merton. He wrote, “In Louisville, at the corner of 4th and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers….”
Out of that oneness came a love that inspired Merton to be an activist in the Civil Rights and peace movements of the 1960s and finally in a movement to bring people of all faiths together as what Richard Rohr calls “a universal and unifying spirituality.” Merton traveled to Southeast Asia to promote that oneness in October of 1968. He died mysteriously on that trip. Just minutes before his death, in his last public words, Merton told a large audience of Asian monks at a Calcutta conference: “My dear brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.”
The parable Jesus told today was urging humanity to listen to the wisdom of the prophets and mystics who have seen this oneness and called us to abide in love, compassion and justice for all. The result of staying stuck like the rich man in materialistic, anxious selfishness is torment and death. The result of the suffering love of poor Lazarus is comfort and peace and the life that never dies. But remember what was on Jesus’ mind—it was not individual salvation, it was engaging in a struggle against those who worshipped and wielded oppressive wealth. He was struggling to establish a new ethic that would create the realm of God on earth.
That ethic of oneness and love is exactly what humanity needs today, and we are seeing it emerge from an evolving new consciousness around the world. The Earth Charter says, “To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny…. We urgently need a shared vision of basic values to provide an ethical foundation for the emerging world community.” The Earth Charter then goes on to list values based on oneness, the love of neighbor and the Golden Rule.
The World Parliament of Religions’ Global Ethic promotes the same oneness and love. It says, “Earth cannot be changed for the better unless the consciousness of individuals is changed first…. Without risk and a readiness to sacrifice there can be no fundamental change in our situation.”
The Earth Charter and Global Ethic seek to unite all people who are concerned about separate aspects of social justice and care for the environment. This congregation saw earlier this year how the ethic of the Golden Rule and love of neighbor—oneness and love—would solve every major social and environmental problem we face.
Gus Speth stresses in the last chapter of his book, America the Possible, the urgent need for groups working on all these problems to see themselves as one cohesive movement seeking to create a new way of being a global civilization—what my brother, George, calls a Golden Civilization.
The power of this unified movement of oneness and love could finally fulfill Christ’s vision and change the world into the realm of God on earth, a planet living sustainably in harmony with nature, with peace, compassion and justice for all.
“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help,” Psalm 146 says. Our hope is not in people but in the eternal force of love and life and light that is flowing through the universe, “binding, moving, sustaining, and transforming all of humanity and all of creation with every breath and every evolutionary shift on our planet.” Our greatest hope and comfort in this anxious time is the presence of Love, that transforming Spirit of God that is in our hearts eagerly waiting for us to choose love over fear so we become instruments of its transforming power in the world.
Let us pray in silence, turning and opening to the Spirit, sinking into the comfort of that love, waiting for it to show us what it needs us to do in our lives right now…
This YouTube gives a sense of the power of love over fear: