Today’s collect is a beautiful prayer that says, “make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy name”. We come with it naturally and but we don’t act on it without grace. We need continual grace of God to be actually and perpetually loving and reverent to one another. There is wisdom in this prayer that admits that we are a group of people struck with fear of some kind or another. This is the message of all the readings today.
Fear is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Fear is something that comes to us when we grow up. It is fear that causes prudence and forbearance. Having a healthy sense of fear makes us behave with kindness sometimes, patience at other times. It is this healthy fear that saved Prophet Elijah from the wrath of Jezebel. It is not this healthy fear or law Paul is talking about or Luke is saying in the story of the demoniac.
The focus of the scriptures is the crippling effect of fear that caused Elijah to hide himself under the tree in the wilderness away from the people he was called to. Similarly When Jesus came into the land of Gerasenes they asked him to leave the place, because they were seized with great fear. Wow… when God walked into the midst of people, they got afraid. I don’t blame them. I know for a fact that when mighty things happen around us we could get terrified.
They wanted Jesus to leave the place. Because they were familiar with the man they had chained in the tombs, they knew who he was and they knew what he was capable of doing. It is better to cater to the devil you know than the angel you don’t. Here it is. They did not know Jesus, he seemed powerful. That is why they asked him to leave their territory for fear of what he might do. Even a great miracle could not change the hearts of people when it came to fear.
Why were the people afraid? Because there is the unknown, unfamiliar and new in Jesus. They were not used to a man who works miracles out of nothing. They were not comfortable with someone who challenged their lifestyle. Jesus challenged them in their own seats to open their eyes to see God at work.
According to The Reverend Alison Harrity, “Unity is the big message Paul is attempting to get across to the Galatians; unity and inclusiveness that comes from faith in Jesus’ command to love each other and not necessarily from the interpretation of the law. Unity can be terrifying especially when you are being asked to be one with folks who look nothing like you. But Paul is clear that God used the law to keep the people in line, to keep the people focused on God, on right action. Interpretation of the law had gotten tricky and Jesus provides us with the love and the grace we needed to understand that the community need not be built on dietary laws or the fact of circumcision, but can instead be based on baptism and a commitment to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. No one need take steps back and live according to the law in order to be disciples of Christ. We must instead take steps forward to putting on the clothing of Christ and live in faith without fear”.
All the scriptures today are not about the difference we have in our skin color, our languages, our liturgical differences, our appearance or our conversational styles. It is about Freedom of the Children of God. By bringing to forefront the contrast in how we appear to the external world, Paul is emphasizing the similarity in all of us, namely “we are all sons of God”. We belong to one family of God.
Why are we afraid?, because we forget that we are Baptized into Christ and clothed ourselves in Christ as is seen the second reading. Courage comes from the knowledge that we are the sons of God, which Paul goes on to say, “Sons of God are no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”. This is not about man. It is about humanity. We are created in the image and likeness of God as we read in the book of Genesis that says, “God made them man and woman, male and female”.
What does that say? God made us male and female. We could actually and faithfully, without going anything against the Bible, call God “Our Father who art in heaven” or “Our Mother who art in heaven”. But on earth we are afraid. We are afraid to give the credit due to the other for fear and limitation within us. Not in the other. We are afraid of ourselves more than anyone else.
When we are internally free nothing in the world can scare us. When we are afraid of the other, we might even scare God out of our land, our church and our personal lives as it happened to the people of Gerazenes.
Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, let us pledge to God that we will not drive God away from among us. Let us make a pledge to God that we will welcome Him or Her into our midst so that the demons in that scared the Prophet Elijah, The people of Galatia and the Garesenes will not scare us.
Let freedom ring and ring it so loud that we will be truly children of God in every aspect.