What Are You Afraid Of?

Proverbs 1:1-7, 3:1-8

September 6, 2015

We’ve become numb, haven’t we. Or pressed flat from the weight of it all. The white noise of continued gun violence, of shootings happening on live tv that just a few days later, I had to be reminded where it was and oh yah, that it happened.

The image of the little boy in the red shirt. That’s what got me to stop and contemplate in the stream of relentless online messages and news. And what a wake up call it was, because if that’s what it took to get my attention of the refugee crisis and the on-going war and the dire situation in Syria – well, there’s something wrong, isn’t there? Something is really, deeply wrong.

And maybe part of what is wrong is the knowledge we have of the goings on around the world. Headlines on Facebook feeds, and blog posts along with 24 hour news cycles that never end. We know all the things. But, do we? We know headlines and are inundated with them so often that we are overwhelmed by the sheer number of terrible, terrible things happening in our world. Right now. All at once.

But what do we really know? The complexity of war and famine, racism, poverty and immigration are often reduced to 2 sides when in reality, the ingredients of these things are multiple and ever-changing. Our need to make sense of it all, to find categories, to take stances and, quite frankly, to be able to sleep at night can often lead us to over simplify and justify so we can just get on with it already.

It seems oddly fitting to be in the book of Proverbs today – a book based on common sense wisdom to teach us in our spiritual lives through observation and experience in every day life. So how fitting it is to read these words: “the beginning of knowledge is fear of the Lord.” And that one fragment of a sentence changes everything.

In my imagination, the tv screen goes blank, the sound and the gleaming promise of answers and distraction is gone. The computer screen, the smart phone screen go black. We turn off the radio, put down the newspaper. We take a deep breath and marvel at how loud the silence is. And what are we left with?

Each other.

With the haunting memory of the image of the little boy who drowned.

The little boy who had been forced out of his home by war.

To be afraid of God, to have fear of the Lord is to fall to your knees when you hear the words “God is God and we are not.” It is to stand in awed silence in the presence of God who made you and loves you and can say that about all of creation. It is to be silenced. It is ear-ringing, tongue tying, stupefying power that only God can wield.

Listen to this conversation between Lucy and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe as they describe fear of the Lord to Lucy and her siblings:

“Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just plain silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver … “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

The fear of the LORD, the fear of the God who created the universe but who deigns to be in relationship with us, is the prerequisite for wisdom. Such proper fear teaches us our place in the world and how to live well in it.[1]

Because once we can really recognize that God is God and we are not, find that particular place God made for us, well then, it leaves us utterly dependent upon God. It gives all the power to God who has written the commandments on our hearts, knowing our brains just can’t handle it.

Wisdom that comes from Christ then reveals the substance of our hearts. Which is terrifying, isn’t it? Because when we acknowledge that God is God and we are not, then all our god-like notions are revealed as the frail and mean attempts to control and conform.

Kim Davis, the clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky is in the news for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same sex partners seeking to marry. And through both her words and actions, she is revealing the substance of her heart. What she has interpreted as God’s law she is using United States law to practice against others, as an elected official called to serve and uphold the laws of her county and her country.

It was just a few weeks ago when the Ashley Madison website got hacked, revealing names and addresses of people seeking to cheat on their spouses. Well-known celebrities and pastors and priests were revealed in this hack and I, like many others, cast a weary and wary eye on it accompanied by a “tsk, tsk.” It seems the substance of their hearts were revealed for all to see.

But what if there was a website called, “Hold a grudge.com” that got hacked that would reveal anyone who has ever held a grudge – would the contents of your heart be revealed there?

Or how about a website called “they got what they deserved” Would the contents of your heart be revealed there?

I think the question of the beginning of knowledge coming through the fear of the Lord is this: Are we more afraid of being found out on the internet or in the local paper and around town than we are of being fully known and found out by God? My hunch is we might be more fearful of the opinions of others than of God. Because we know that, at the very end of it all, God forgives and love us. The internet doesn’t know grace.

Our knowledge gets us into trouble. We google and we scroll and we try to make sense of it all. We try to depend on and lean on what we know, what we can see. We depend on our own knowledge. But all we can see is a little boy washed up on the beach. All we can see are lists of names on the naughty list. All we can see is a hard-hearted woman we love to hate. It is much easier to hate on Kim Davis than to wonder, in her life, what she’s been told and taught about the Christian faith and what is involved in marriage. It is much easier to shame all those found out on the Ashley Madison website than to wonder about the kinds of marriages they’ve been living in – that a lot of people are hurting – that marriage is hurting in our country.

Which is why the writer of Proverbs continually goes back to the heart:

but let your heart keep my commandments; write them on the tablet of your heart Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.

Because the heart can change and it always leads us to each other. It always connects us to each other. It’s terrifying to be changed by way of the heart, but it’s the only way. It’s the only way we remember we are connected to each other. It’s the only way we remember we follow a God of love.

It’s no wonder we’re numb and paralyzed by fear – because we’ve given our fear to all the wrong things.

Which is why God wants to work on us through our hearts – it’s the spot where change happens. Where transformation happens. Because someone’s mind is not going to change, but an experience of the heart? Well then. That changes everything. And it is beyond our comprehension, beyond our understanding, beyond our own biases and judgment.

You see, according to God’s law, written on our hearts and not within the realm of our own understanding, there is no such thing as other people’s children. That little boy washed up on the beach? He’s ours. He belongs to you and to me.

Jesus, the Savior we follow to the cross? He was a refugee. He too fled for his life. And he says we belong to him and through him we belong to each other.

We can’t do this alone. There is a reason we are to fear the Lord and it’s because only then can God seriously mess with our hearts. If we truly fear the Lord, then we don’t put up a hand and say, “no, I’m fine, I’ve got this.” What is wrapped up in that fear is a trembling surrender, an awe and wonder. Wrapped up in that fear of the Lord is our crying “uncle” to our thoughts of control and knowing more than God. And it opens our hearts to be broken for the world. It opens our hearts to love as God would have us love.

It is beyond our understanding.

It is within each of our hearts.

Thanks be to God.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/?lect_date=07/12/2015&lectionary=nl