Nearly 6 months ago, at Christmas, we heard the words of the angel to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid”, the original greeting that heralded the birth of that Child who was to redefine for all time what it means to live the love of God. “Fear no one”, Jesus tells us and these words challenge us to lift up our hearts courageously and to commit to doing the right thing, as best we are able. We are sisters and brothers of Jesus, children of the One God, made new in God’s image, and because all these things are true, it can also be asserted that everything said about Jesus can also be said about us. We are part of his story. We are part of history. Like the magi, we followed his star to Bethlehem. Like Peter and Andrew, we left our comfortable middle class lives just to sit at His feet and listen to his words of comfort. Like Mary, we have pondered all he taught us in the silence of our hearts. Like Jesus himself, we will change everything if we simply let go of our fear.
God’s boundless love for us is clearly evident in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures: the core message preached and lived by Jesus was one of affirmation, love, acceptance and reconciliation. If we are only half-attentive to the world around us, we notice that the message of some churches and people have abandoned these teachings of Jesus in favor of some political agenda, aggression, discrimination, hatred or exclusion. These are NOT part of Jesus’ program for making the Reign of God evident in our lifetime. We also know that his preferred companions weren’t the popular crowd. His friends were not to be found among believers who prided themselves on following institutional rules and rubrics at the expense of humanity. His friends were to be found in the bars and on the street corners: the poor, the imprisoned, the needy, the addicted–all the ones searching for unconditional love.
It is certainly an irony of history that this Jesus, who loved and accepted everyone and who flagrantly violated the religious conventions and laws of his day –it is ironic that this same Jesus is today held up as the poster child for an Institutional Christianity that often seems prideful and disdainful of the very people Jesus loved most. Today as we gather for Eucharist, which we open to all people, we have to acknowledge the painful reality that in other places priests and pastors have set themselves up as brokers of God’s love, setting themselves up as “middle men” between the Love of God and people. They decide who is and who is not worthy of Eucharist, who is and who is not worthy of acceptance by their ecclesial communities, who is and who is not a child of God. It is no wonder then that an increasing number of people are disillusioned and resentful of those who claim the name Christian, when so much hurt comes directly from the pulpit.
This is not, thankfully, the full story, nor is it our story here tonight. Jesus tells us to take what he teaches us in the silence of our hearts and proclaim it from the rooftops! Nothing can happen to us! We are invincible when we are busy working Jesus’ program. We remember that not even his death managed to silence his message and for 2,000 years the word has been passed, generation to generation, hand to hand, heart to heart, down to each one of us. Despite our institutional histories and our struggles with official teachings and doctrines, somewhere along the line, someone communicated to each of us here tonight, that the overriding principle of Christianity, namely, unconditional love, is far and away the most important thing.
The Reformed Catholic Church is home to many who have been hurt or turned away from other communities of faith. We are determined to be affirming and welcoming and we uphold our belief that the Church of Jesus must be a place of healing and nurture for everyone—for those whose faith is unwavering, for those who doubt, and even for those who can no longer believe in anything. Healing comes from knowing and loving the man who, despite a short ministry, a big mouth, a penchant for hanging out with the wrong people, and a premature death, continues to hold each of us in the awesome love of God, no questions asked. In such an embrace, is it any wonder that we feel our fears dissolve and our painful histories melt into nothingness?
When we take Jesus at his word and follow the example of his life, we can allow our feelings of unworthiness to be transformed by the love of God. We also find that we can finally come to accept a common teaching in the New Testament: “Do Not Be Afraid” “Fear No One”. And suddenly we know we are loved. We know that we matter. We know that we are a child of God called into being from before the foundation of the world to bring the love of our God to this time, to this place.
Let’s build the Reign of God together. Let’s lay all the unnecessary stresses aside and love as we are able. Let’s abandon our illusions of control and power, our need to be recognized, our need to put our needs first. Let us welcome the outcast as we ourselves have been welcomed. There is nothing to fear.