Fear: frequently a path to evil

A short version of this talk was released on Facebook fb.com/acnbchurch in addition to the full length video available from this page. 

It feels flippant, today, to start a sermon with a quote from Star Wars, but in all honesty, it really sums up what I want to say. In Star Wars: the Phantom Menace, Yoda says ‘Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

We’ve seen a lot of that, this week, haven’t we – either in our own political situation where our country is divided and fragmented or in the tragic events in Christ Church, New Zealand where 50 Muslims were murdered by right wing extremists while at prayer.

Our gospel reading feels like it contains a whirlpool of those emotions of fear, hatred, and suffering. The Pharisees approach Jesus with a warning that Herod wants to kill him, and then Jesus laments over Jerusalem, recognising that city’s hardness of heart, and hinting at the end that will befall him. The Herod under discussion is Herod Antipas, son of the Herod who tried to kill the infant Jesus, he was a Jew, appointed by the Romans to govern Judea. The tension in the gospel is palpable, as we begin to approach the events of Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem.

There are different suggestions as to why the Pharisees approach Jesus in this way. Some are generous and suggest that they genuinely want to warn him – there is the suggestion that Luke’s gospel is rather more ‘Pharisee friendly’ than some of the others. Other commentators suggest that they want to move Jesus towards Jerusalem. This then would be a deliberate attempt to stir up trouble, with Caiaphas, the leader of the Jewish council.

Jesus is a real threat to Caiaphas – at least, so he believes. Jesus’s challenge of the authorities, his growing authority with the people would mean that at Passover, of all times, when the greatest number of Jews would be in Jerusalem, it would be likely that Caiaphas would lose face in front of both the Jewish people, and the Roman authorities. He could not afford for this to happen. But that’s a later part of the story. Today, we are delving into the boiling pot of emotions that are hinted at by our gospel reading.

The Pharisees are scared as much as Caiaphas by the growing authority of Jesus, the threat that this might pose to their own power and authority. So we have power, authority, and the need to cling onto those. We also, critically, have ignorance. The Jewish authorities believed Jesus had come to stir up a revolution, one that would be bloody and could depose them of their power. This ignorance leads ultimately to the death of Christ.

Fear, hate, anger … all roots of the same tree, but when used unwisely, the only fruit they bear is poisonous. I’m going to put a qualifying statement in here, which is that all emotions have their place, and all have the potential to be used for good. Fear keeps us safe – makes us unlikely to scale the fence of the tigers enclosure at the zoo. Anger and hate? Well, they are drivers for change, they help us to face difficult situations that require courage and resilence.

So what is it that corrupts these emotions into something negative? Maybe ignorance, maybe fear, maybe the need to hold onto power. Maybe a combination of all of those. What brings somoene to kill innocent people at prayer, just because they are different? Recently at work I did ‘Prevent’ training, which looks at how people are ‘radicalised’ – that is, how they become drawn into fundamentalist groups. These fundamentalist groups may be any kind of group – whether white supremasict groups, or terrorists of any other description. Essentially, they look for people who are isolated, who may have an axe to grind against society. When people are isolated and lonely its then that they are easy prey for those who wish to corrupt them.

The American comedian Joan Rivers said ‘anger is a symptom, a way of cloaking and expressing feelings too awful to experience directly – hurt, bitterness, grief and most of all fear.’ Fear of being alone is one of the most destructive of human fears. The spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen wrote; ‘the roots of loneliness find their food in the suspicion that there is no one who cares and offers love without conditions, and no place we can be vulnerable without being used.’

Conditional love, being used by others for their own gains, the pursuit of power …. All these things are corruptions of love and community, the very antithesis of the kind of society that Jesus calls us to. While it may initially seem that evil has won, that Jesus died on the cross, that those who today want to sow lies and fear have won .. in fact, that’s not the end of the story.

The community of the Kingdom of God loves unconditionally, it draws people into a society in which all are accepted and loved, regardless of their race, their sexuality, their religion. It’s a community in which none need to feel alone or used. It’s a community in which power is turned on its head; the last are first, and the first last. It’s a community in which politicians make decisions based on what we need to have a just and humane society, not based on how long they can stay in power. It’s a community in which our Islamic sisters and brothers are free to pray in safety and in peace.