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Fear Itself

I’m not a fan of gender essentialism.  (Shock!) Whether it’s the toy aisle at Target or pronouncing salad to be ‘lady food’ (which, by the way, is still evidently an oft-told folktale in the Diocese of Southern Virginia.)   People are complex and different, and quite frankly, I have never found gender to be a very good predictor of much.

However, this doesn’t imply that denying women a voice in discussions doesn’t lead to certain myopias.  It’s not that letting one woman speak will give you a perspective on all women, everywhere.  (No, Mel Gibson–that’s not a thing.)  But it enlarges the discussion in important ways, due to the systemic ways women are treated in society.

All this is to say–the theological argument that pride is the original sin seems skewed to me.  That’s the argument of someone who has always been encouraged, either explicitly or implicitly, by the world to think well of themselves–and for groups who are told by the world that they are worthless, to argue against pride in any form becomes dangerous.

Here is where I politely remind you that theology always has real-world consequences, and we need to be conscious of them–lest the Good News of freedom we preach turn to oppression.

To that end….

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday, Year C

Luke 23: 1-49

 

Theologians like to argue over weird stuff.  I have friends on Facebook who are full-time theologians, and they get into knock-down, drag out fights over atonement theories, about which old-time theologian was the best, about whether predestination is a thing.  
And they argue over what original sin is.  

Because they’re professional theologians, they are not content with just arguing whether original sin exists, or how it continues on–no, they must try to figure out which sin it is!  Now, most of Western Christianity has maintained that original sin is pride.  Augustine on forward thought that it was the pride of humans that caused the first Fall, back in the garden of Eden.  When Eve wanted to be like God, knowing Good and Evil, and she ate the apple–that was the problem.  Pride, and overzealous ambition.  And so pride trips us up ever since.

 

I am unconvinced.  While I think pride is a bad thing, and surely responsible for a lot of the problems in the world, I don’t think overzealous pride is a universal failing.  (And, honestly, this is one of those issues that crop up when only men are allowed to be theologians for so long.)

 

If you look around the world today, the cancer that seems to be infecting the world isn’t pride, as much as it is fear.  

 

It’s everywhere–Fear of immigrants, fear of refugees, fear of Muslims, fear of crime, fear of those people stealing our jobs, fear of not having enough, fear of those kids not pulling their weight, fear of…you name it–we’ve found a way to be afraid of it.  It’s fear.

 

This creeping insecurity surrounds us–and deludes us into turning our back on our relationship with God, and with each other.  This sort of paranoia convinces us that nothing can be trusted, that everything could be a danger, and that safety has to be our highest goal–instead of God.  

 

The story of the Passion is a series of fearful people, one after another.  

 

The Temple priests and leaders are scared–Jesus has been teaching and riling up the people for a while now.  The Temple hierarchy gets a certain (small) amount of power under Rome, so long as they keep their people in line.  Now, it looks like another charismatic preacher from Galilee is on the horizon, and about to trigger another revolution–one which will have a high body count among their people, and lead to their loss of power. So they move to stop Jesus, before any of that happens.  (FWIW–it doesn’t work.  A revolt, started by yet another charismatic Galilean figure starts 30 years later, and Jerusalem still burns.)

 

The Temple leaders hand him over to Pilate, arguing that Jesus is a threat to Rome, Jerusalem, and all of them!  They’re so afraid, they want Pilate to join them in their fear.    

 

And Pilate, he was afraid.  The Roman regime was threatened.  Every Passover pilgrims rushed the city to recall the LAST time God saved them from foreign oppressors.  The city was already on edge.  

 

And Pilate’s claim to fame was being ruthless with opposition.  His job was to keep the peace in Dodge however brutal he had to be.  And he so badly doesn’t want to make a decision, he passes the baton off to Herod.

 

And Herod–keeps power through pacifying Rome.  So he, too, doesn’t want to do anything–either to annoy Rome or his Jewish subjects.

 

Back to Pilate.  Who tries to get out of a decision, but to no avail.   Finally lets fear of crowd, of failure, of larger empire trump what he knows, and gives in.  (He’s not a hero here.)

 

And that’s not all–the disciples run away too.  

 

So a series of fearful people lead us to Golgatha under the blazing noonday sun on a hill outside the city, with crosses lining the horizon.

 

Fear is what separates us from the love of God.  Fear tells us we don’t have enough, we cannot share.  Fear tells us the Other is a threat.  That they are to be hated.  Fear tells us that to keep what we have we have to hoard and fight and scrimp and hide. That we aren’t enough, that all we have is ourselves.

Fear lies.  

 

Scripture tells us perfect love casts out fear.  And in this week, we see Love itself enter into the worst of our fears, and assure us that we aren’t alone.  We aren’t abandoned.  That there is nothing we fear that Christ cannot bear with us.  That in the love of Christ, none of our fears can truly separate us from the love of God.  

 

That in the end, God–Love itself, is stronger than Fear, stronger than Death, and on Easter morning, destroys the last of what there is to fear.  All we have to do is hold on til then.

 

Amen.

 

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About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

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