A Mini-Sermon on Fear, Love, and Kent Brockman
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me,[c]‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.….Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13)
There’s a minor character on the Simpsons named Kent Brockman who is kind of a news anchor spokesperson guy with a chiseled face and a low voice. He is the picture of self-confidence, and one my favorite moments on the Simpsons was an infomercial for a self-help CD series Kent Brockman made called, Get Confident, Stupid!
I think of Kent Brockman telling us to “get confident, stupid!” pretty much every time I think about how often Jesus said “be not afraid” since I tend to file both of those statements in the easier said than done category. As if the only reason we lack confidence is no one ever said Get Confident, Stupid!, to us - and the only reason we’re afraid is because we just needed some well meaning messiah to come along and finally say “be not afraid”.
But never once have I stopped being afraid just because someone said that.
I AM afraid.
I’m afraid that I might get sick or the people I love might get sick
I’m afraid of America turning into Grapes of Wrath again
I’m afraid of what this election might mean for our country
I’m afraid of my children making bad choices that will have lasting implications.
And strangely, I’m also afraid of stepping on spiders in case they have some secret way of communicating with all the other spiders around and they will all know that I am a spider killer and they will all come and get me when I least suspect it.
And yet, the words Fear not show up in the Bible over 100 times, (parenthetically, the phrase Get Confident, Stupid….doesn’t show up even once. Shocking, I know.)
So anyhow, folks came to Jesus and said he should leave town since Herod wanted to kill him. And just to be clear, Herod had previously imprisoned and then beheaded Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist. So, unlike my spider conspiracy theories, Herod represented very real, actual danger.
Which is why I love Jesus’ reaction. Because Jesus was the embodiment of be not afraid….he was like, “Oh Herod wants to kill me? Well, tell that fox that I’m like, SUPER busy!” He basically said to the same guy who beheaded his cousin “Oh sorry if this comes as a shock to your fragile, bully ego but I’m just not afraid of you”
Jesus, the guy who again and again says “be not afraid” shows us here exactly what being unafraid looks like.
Which is pretty badass.
… but does it take away my fear? Not really.
I mean, let’s be honest, I’m never going to be Jesus. And neither are you.
So I cannot bear to preach a “What Would Jesus Do” sermon. We already have plenty of messages out there telling us that everything will be ok and we will feel safe if we can just manage to hoard the amount of hand sanitizer that guy in SC did, and then maybe muster up the compassion of Mother Teresa, the physique of our Crossfit Coach, the entrepreneurial genius of Mark Zuckerberg, and now, the fearlessness of Jesus. I mean, knock yourself out, but I’m pretty sure none of that a) is realistically possible or b) will actually keep me safe.
So maybe our hope for becoming unafraid is found in the rest of this story – the part where Jesus calls Herod a fox and then refers to himself as a mother hen.
A mother hen.
Maybe that beautiful image of God could mean something important for us: and by us I mean we fragile, vulnerable human beings who face very real danger. I can’t bear to say that this scripture is a description of what behaviors and attitudes you could imitate if you want to be a good, not-afraid person. But neither can I tell you that the Mother Hen thing means that God will protect you from Herod or that God is going to keep bad things from happening to you.
Because honestly, nothing actually keeps danger from being dangerous.
A mother hen cannot actually keep a determined fox from killing her chicks. So where does that leave us? I mean, if danger is real, and a hen can’t actually keep their chicks out of danger, then what good is this image of God as Mother Hen if faith in her can’t make us safe?
Well, today I started to think that maybe it’s not safety that keeps us from being afraid.
Maybe it’s love.
Which means that a Mother Hen of a God doesn’t keep foxes from being dangerous…a Mother Hen of a God keeps foxes from being what determines how we experience the unbelievably beautiful gift of being alive.
God the Mother Hen gathers all of her downy feathered, vulnerable little ones under God’s protective wings so that we know where we belong, because it is there that we find warmth and shelter.
But Faith in God does not bring you safety.
The fox still exists.
Danger still exists.
And by that I mean, danger is not optional, but fear is.
Because maybe the opposite of fear isn’t bravery. Maybe the opposite of fear is love. Paul tells us that perfect love casts out fear. So in the response to our own Herods, in response to the very real dangers of this world we have an invitation as people of faith: which is to respond by loving.
It’s like The famous story about Martin Luther: when asked what he would do if he knew the world was about to end, he famously said if he knew the world were ending tomorrow, then he would plant an apple tree today.
I love that because it is defiantly hopeful. As though he actually listened to Jesus when Jesus said “do not be afraid”. If the world were ending he would respond by loving the world.
Because the Herods of this world, the dangers of this world the foxes that may surround us, do not get to determine the contours of our hearts. Nor the content of our minds.
So, we can plant trees and cast out demons and heal, and we can squeeze every single drop of living out of this life.
So to hell with fear. Because it does nothing to actually keep the bad things from happening ….it just steals the joy of appreciating the good things around us.
So, love the world, good people.
But, you know, for now, do it from home.
I am opening the comment to everyone for this post because I’d love you to answer the question: how are you loving the world, and how is the world loving you right now?
A note about subscriptions to the Corners
In the last couple weeks we’ve had an amazing thread where: folks wrote prayers, said how the pandemic was affecting them, and said where it was they were still finding joy. It’s a lovely space in an otherwise rough digital landscape (my friend David Zahl said “the internet is just like real life, but with all the forgiveness vacuumed out of it”). Since so many of us are moire isolated than normal right now I want to reiterate that free subscriptions are available for those who aren’t in position of paying for them. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will hook you up (we’ve given away hundreds so far!) The generosity of those who are able to support my work make this possible. Thank you to everyone!
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(Appearances in March and April have been cancelled or postponed)