Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fear or reverence?

Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; Matthew 5:1-12
I love the movie The King and I. At one time I knew all the words to all the songs and could visualize each scene. Some of them connect to the topic for today. There’s the scene when Anna meets all the children; they parade into the room and form rows, each bowing to the ground, looking like so many little frogs lined up. And there’s the scene where the King insists that Anna’s head should always be lower than his, and he gradually gets on the floor himself, so she will bow down to him the way his subjects do.
While the King’s family and subjects respect him, there’s also a great sense of fear. The King’s anger is fierce, and he expects total obedience from his subjects. One touching story line is about Tuptim, the new young wife of the King, and Lun Tha, the man from her village, whom she loves. Lun Tha and Tuptim run off together; they are found and Tuptim is returned to the palace. She learns that Lun Tha’s body has been found floating in the river, and assumes she will be executed soon, too. It is right to fear this king.
... The book of Revelation was written about 90 CE, at a time when persecutions were prevalent. The emperors were demanding to be worshiped and everyone was on edge. Jews and Christians were especially concerned because they refused to worship the emperor, because there is only one God, named YHWH, and they refuse to worship any god other than their God. Much of the imagery in Revelation is disguised criticism of the Roman emperor. It was right to fear the emperor.
In strong contrast, Jesus is a God to be revered. In this scene from Revelation, Jesus is the Lamb who was sacrificed, as well as the Shepherd who cares deeply for all the sheep. There is no reason to fear this King, this God, who provides an abundance, who tenderly wipes away tears, who deserves to be revered.
In Hebrew, the word most often translated into English as fear is yirah. Yirah means fear, awe, reverence and devotion. The sense in the Hebrew Scriptures is almost always that of reverence and awe, rather than fear.
It’s pretty easy when we speak to say revere instead of revere God. In our psalm today, we could change the word fear to revere and get the same sense of devotion. Verse 9 would read, “[Revere] the LORD, you saints of the LORD, for those who [revere] the LORD lack nothing.” In other words, because God provides all we need, we respond by revering God.
The Beatitudes in the Gospel reading say the same thing. Because God loves us and wants the best for us, we are not to fear God, but revere and love God. When our life circumstances seem the worst, God is there with us, working through others to make life better for us.
... Since today is All Saints Sunday, we can focus mostly on the petition: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” We remember with thanksgiving those who have been saints in our lives. Many of our saints are still alive, and we remember them because they helped us know Jesus and how to love and serve him.
For many of us, our grief for loved ones – also our saints – is a familiar friend, still there, but not so painful anymore as we have become used to their absence. For some of us, however, our grief is no friend, but a painful reminder of those who are gone and very much missed. This Beatitude: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” is just what we need to hear.
This Beatitude tells us that God knows about our pain and is reaching out to comfort us, to help us find peace in our hearts, to fill the hole left in our lives by the death of our loved ones.
This Beatitude reassures us that there is no need to fear death because the God who loves us so much in this life will take excellent care of our loved ones after they are gone from us.
This Beatitude promises us that God has not taken our loved ones but received them with open, loving arms.
This Beatitude reminds us that we receive comfort, mercy, and justice through the ministry of others in our lives.
We know through the all the Beatitudes that we have a place in God’s heart forever, because God loves us and cares for us and provides for us.
In response to this love and care and provide-ance, we have no cause to fear God; rather, we have plenty of reasons to revere God. As we remember those loved ones who now rest safely in God’s arms, let us give thanks for the love they gave us, for the time we were given with them, and for the witness they shared with us about God’s love for us all.
And let us revere, not fear, the God who gave them to us.
Please pray with me. God of love and mercy, we turn to you in reverence and awe. Heal our aching hearts, and send us to be your comforting arms wherever they are needed. Amen