Trinity Church, Newport RI
Sunday April 29th 2018
The Reverend Alan Neale
It once was the custom when telegrams were read at wedding receptions; these were sent by those unable to attend. Sometimes, for the more Biblically literate, a Bible text was included. Well, one such telegram was sent by a well-wisher; unfortunately the telegram official was less than au faith with Biblical niceties and so, instead of writing the text, I John 4:18; he wrote only John 4:18. Imagine the couple’s dismay and shock when the text (John 4:18) was found in a Bible and read aloud for instead of “Perfect love casts out fear” the following was read “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” Lesson… always check the text properly!
Our text then is I John 4:18 “Perfect love casts out fear.” Message Translation: “There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.”
There are, without a doubt, certain emotions that are universally shared and fear rates high among them. Bill Wilson (pg. 67 AA) writes, “”This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it.”
But here, in our text, we are thinking not of healthy fears… don’t walk too close to the edge; make sure you don’t cut the electric wire with those hedge clippers, look twice before crossing the road. Here, in this text, we are thinking of fears that are irrational, morbid; fears that seem to defy explanation. St. John uses a word for fear (phobos) from which we mine that rich ore of phobias… from spiders (arachnophobia) to work (ergophobia), from open spaces (agoraphobia) to dogs (cynophobia).
What strange alchemy is it that is at work in the early disciples so that when confronted with the good news of resurrection, their default setting is to fear? What strange alchemy is it that is at work in the weary shepherds who confronted with such glorious and cosmic news, turn to their default setting of fear?
It seems to be such a part of our human existence that even when confronted with the greatest of news, we suffer fear and experience anxiety.
It is of this primal fear that St. John writes and this radical, pervasive, debilitating fear responds not to gentle requests to depart but only to forceful and energetic commands to be “cast out.” The very word that is used in the Gospels to describe the “casting out of demons” is here used by John to describe the “casting out/exorcism” of that most pernicious of demons… fear itself.
So, to whom should we turn… by what process… can dread and fear be cast out.?
St. John shares with us the simple yet profound solution… it is love, it is love on the way to being made perfect, it is love that is becoming functional and wholesome that will banish the fear that is rooted within our souls, potent (ready to explode) in our deepest being.
This love (agape love) of which St. John speaks has no conditions, no qualifiers, no qualifications and no modifiers. This love (agape love) is found uniquely in the love of God our Creator for us whom He/She has made. And we are bold to declare that every experience, every expression of this love finds its source and its energy in God… “who loved the world so much that He gave His only Son” (John 3:16).
Friends, there are days… there are times… when I feel a disquiet within my soul that has no rhyme or reason, is triggered by days of sun or days of rain, it occurs in solitude or in company… at such times as these I yearn and ache for a vigorous divine word that will banish the fear and establish love, love on the way to being perfected.
Who knows the primal fear felt by our Ethiopian Chancellor in today’s reading from Acts – alienated by race and sexual disposition, compounded by confusion as he struggled with ancient prophecies… and yet to this man Phillip came and became the incarnation of God’s love.
Who knows the primal fear felt by the nascent evangelist Phillip; confronted by an alien and a powerful one at that. And yet God’s love banished, cast our fear from Phillip and enabled him to serve freely, to share liberally and to act bravely.
To quote Bill Wilson again, “The achievement of freedom from fear is a lifetime undertaking, one that can never be wholly completed… only the self-deceived will claim perfect freedom from fear.”
I ask, I encourage you to bring to God’s table whatever fears beset, hinder, cripple, disable you… and accept in divine exchange His perfect love for you. What an exchange available to me, to you, today and in the days to come.
Jesus said and Jesus says, “Fear not” – Lord, help us to hear, receive and live in this command.