Jesus Calls us to Fear Not!
This week, we received what was disappointing news for many around the country. The highest court of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ruled to uphold a lower court’s decision to censure Rev. Janie Spahr for marrying same-sex couples in California during the brief period in 2008 when those marriages were legally recognized by the state.
As I’ve reflected on what this means for Janie, and for the many watching who Janie has ministered to over the years, a verse in John (which I have often heard Janie refer to), continues to come to mind.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” – 1 John 4:18
This is a truly profound statement. We cannot have love, (the basis of the Greatest Commandment and the Golden Rule) without having courage at its foundation.
C.S. Lewis has said something similar, in different words, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”
The truth is that it has always taken courage to follow Jesus. The example He set for us is one of constant, undying courage in the face of dire judgment by the Roman and Jewish authorities, ill will from the folks in His hometown, or huge expectations on the part of the crowds who gathered to get His help. With the repeated encouragement to “Fear not!” Jesus seeks to inspire courage in the disciples and in us so that we can join with Him in establishing God’s realm of love in this world.
So what does it mean to have courage, in this moment, for the Church?
Sometimes our daily lives, routines of church on Sunday for us all and the weekly rounds of meetings, visits, church suppers and worship preparation for clergy can seem more a matter of habit than of courage.
However, at times, for me and others I know, simply staying in the Church has felt like an act of courage and love. To stay and engage when our opinions do not prevail can be difficult.
In this moment, that means that while many will not agree with the recent court decision around Janie, we must have the courage to continue to work, love, and join in as a community with the Church. Similarly, for those who may not agree with the ordination of gay and lesbian faithful Presbyterians, it means the same courage is necessary. To proclaim the Gospel and live with power as the Body of Christ requires us to have the courage to stay, and to love without fear.
However, there is a point beyond staying together that I feel, as a Church, we are still trying to find our way toward.
There are pockets in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) – in individual sessions and communities – that give us hope. They inspire us all by doing justice, loving-kindness and walking humbly with God courageously, right now.
I’ve seen these pockets of courage and hope in the mission work that brings together people of diverse views. I’ve seen them in the faces of our youth who are eager to try a new thing. And I’ve seen them in discussion and discernment when we open up honestly to each other about what troubles us.
Courage is definitely called for these days if the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is truly to be the people of God in Christ with joy and power. Courage is a gift that the Holy Spirit places before us every morning, hoping so lovingly that we will accept it. When we do, we will find in both the routines and the surprises of each day the opportunity to risk everything to proclaim Christ in word and deed.
Who is doing something courageous in the Church that you know of?
I have a vision for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and I hope it sounds familiar. I yearn for us to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ with joy and to live together as the body of Christ with power in the world. We can take heart because Jesus also assures us right in this moment: Fear not!
Reverend Janet Edwards