“Perfect love casts out fear.” In The Message Bible, this statement from John’s letter goes like this: there is no room in love for fear.
In Methodist theology, given to us by John Wesley, we actually talk about how we can be made perfect in God’s love. Now, I know, here at The Village we say, that no one is perfect, but stay with me for just a moment here. Imagine that you are this glass. And that this water is God’s love. Imagine, now, that you could be so full of God’s love, that there is no room for anything else. There is no room for fear, or hate. Because there is just so much love that if hate or fear tries to get in here, the love just spills out into the world. That is what it means to be made perfect in love in this life.
This is our goal in life as followers of Jesus. To be vessels of God’s love. To be a container that holds God’s love so that we are so filled with God’s love that there is no room for any hate or anger or any fear. God’s love, God’s perfect love, casts out fear.
I want you to just hold on to that image today during our time together. Perfect love casts out fear. Because you see, it was a week of fear for many of us.
It was a week where it was normal to feel fear. There was some scary stuff going on. We got more than our share of bad juju this week, bad juju.
I don’t know how your week started. Monday was an okay day for me. Until about 4 p.m. For me the news of the Boston Marathon bombing came in a text from my husband. Next, came the text message from the local news station. Kurt is always my #1 source of news, good or bad. Soon came messages from my sister and her husband. They live in Vermont but my sister works in Boston several days a month. They knew my Mom would be worried. And in fact Linda was leaving to drive to Boston as the bomb went off. Being a woman with more peace about her than just about anyone I know, she got in her car and drove to Boston anyway, on Monday night as anyone else who did not live there was trying to flee the city.
You see, my sister works for the Christian Science Church, the Mother Church in Boston. She is BIG in the Mother Church there. That is another discussion for another day. But what you need to know is that there church and office complex is right in the neighborhood of where the marathon ended and the bomb went off. I don’t know Boston, but she said she was staying that night in an apartment owned by the church in a neighborhood called “Back Bay” and I came to learn that was the area where the bombs went off. She e mailed us and told us it took her awhile to get into the city, find some dinner and make her way to the apartment where she was staying. But one she got there she said it was very quiet and calm. That area around where the race had been was filled with police and emergency personnel.
Change scenes here. There was another flurry of text messages on my phone on Monday night. One of our own Lisa Stevens, who attends the Village, ran in the Boston Marathon. It was her first time to run the Marathon, a life-long dream fulfilled. She failed to qualify in 2011. She finished this year in good time. Now if you followed the news closely you may know that the first bomb went off at 2:50 p.m. That was about two minutes after Lisa crossed the finish line. She was about half a block away, getting her medal and picking up her belongings when the first bomb went off.
I had forgotten that Lisa was there. Around 5 p.m. I got a text message from Deb and Jenny saying that Lisa was there, and she was ok. A friend was there with her, and was ok too, but they were having a hard time getting to one another, and had only 2% phone battery left. As we could all see on TV it was chaos. I sent Lisa a text thinking that when she found her way to her hotel and a phone charger she would get it. I was right. I heard from her around 11 p.m. that she had made her way out of the city, with her friend, to her hotel (about 45 minutes outside of town) and they were safe. They would fly home the next day.
I checked in with my sister to ask if she could be available in case Lisa needed a local for any assistance and she said, “yes, of course.” Lisa got home safely the next day without seeing my sister, but I was glad to could offer this little personal connection just in case.
When there is a crisis we all want to do whatever we can to help those who are in the midst of it. When there is a crisis, we all want to help. We all wanted to help Boston. I knew that if Lisa needed anything, my sister would do it for her. And I know my sister. If you are in a crisis, and you need a calm presence, my sister Linda is the one you want to call.
Again, if I had been her, living in Vermont, driving to work in Boston on Monday afternoon, I think I would have called my office and said, “Um, you just had some bombs go off in your city. I’m staying home for a few days. Our office is a BLOCK from where some crazy person just killed three people.
I would have had some fear going on. Now, my sister is not a hero. She is definitely not a thrill seeker. She did not rush to Boston to try to give emergency aid to the victims. By the time she got there, the streets were clear.
She is a Christian who puts her trust in God. She had work to do. And so she did it. I don’t know what kind of work she had to do. Probably some meetings. I guess they were important. I’m pretty sure they were not life or death. But important to her and her people.
But here is the thing. She was not afraid. I didn’t even have to call and ask if she was afraid because I know my sister. She knows the love of God. She is filled with the love of God. She trusts God. And perfect love casts our fear.
You and I all saw the stories of people who were heroes this week too. People who ran to help those who were hurting: the first responders, runners who had just run 26 miles and then ran to the hospital to give blood. We saw it again on Wednesday night in the Town of West, Texas (Cheri’s home state) in that horrible explosion at the fertilizer plant. Brave first responders knew that the fire was going to lead to an explosion. They went and tried to evacuate as many people as quickly as they could. We don’t know the final death toll yet, but we know most of those who died are going to be volunteer fire fighters and emergency responders. They might have been fearful but they did not let their fear guide their actions. They let their love and concern for their fellow citizens guide their actions, that’s what they do. Perfect love casts out fear.
I don’t mean to judge those of us who felt fearful this week. I know that the reaction of most people who were there when the bombs went off was fear. There were plenty of reasons to be afraid. If I had been living in Watertown on Friday, being told to stay in my home as thousands of police officers went house to house looking for the suspect in the bombing incident; it would have been hard for me not to be fearful, especially as a mother with children in my home.
It seemed as if our world was coming apart at the seams this week. On Saturday we woke up to learn there was an earthquake in China. That barely even got our attention after everything else that was going on.
Sadly, it was easy for such fear to turn into anger and accusation. No sooner were the suspects in the bombing identified than people started saying: “You see, that is why we need to limit immigration.” When we get fearful, then we want to start drawing lines and start excluding people. We think we can decide who the good people are and who the bad people are. Let’s just keep the bad people out, like we could do that. We forget that God made us all and that God created us all as good, and that deep down inside we are all beloved children of God. Even those suspected terrorists are beloved children of God and they are within the grace and mercy of God just as we are.
Something went terribly wrong in their lives but God still loves them.
Things go wrong in our lives and we are grateful that God loves us. God weeps for and with the people who do such incredible right and do such horrible wrong.
So what is a follower of Jesus to do in the midst of a week like this? One option: crawl into bed and pull the covers over our heads. (not a good option) Another option: get angry at God. We can do that for awhile. And God will understand. The Bible is full of stories of people getting angry with God and God still being there.
The Third option: Ask God to fill us with love, so there is no room for fear or anger and no room for hate. I read an article this week about a Holocaust survivor who did this, she loves everyone, hates no one, despite the horrors she and those she loves saw and experienced. We can trust God to see us through the difficult times, knowing that God weeps with us, and grieves for those who suffer, and God gives us the strength to do better as a people. Listen to what we heard in worship again (Psalm 46:1-3, 7 for those who are following along on the net):
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
God’s love in us is bigger than any evil act or acts in the world. God’s love is stronger than any bomb, or accident and stronger than any one or two misguided young men who try to wreak havoc in a community. When we refuse to live in fear and anger, refuse to hate, then love wins. So let us put our trust in God’s love. Perfect love casts out fear. Amen.
We add the citziens and first repsponders of West, Texas, just outside of Waco, to our prayers this week. Once again, first responders and ordinary citizens and uniformed first responders alike ran to danger, rather than away from it. God bless those who risk all and be with the families of those who gave all.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Boston and all involved in the tragedy there today at the Boston Marathon. We had a Villager present, Lisa Stevens, but she is fine and so are the runners who went with her. Pray for the victims, the families and the first responders who will continue to deal with this for a long time to come.