Pastor’s Message March 2024

Perfect love casts out fear. ~1 John 4:18

I wonder who John, the author of the verse above, our Lenten theme verse, had in mind when he wrote these words. The full verse reads, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” It sounds like the reader John has in mind was afraid of punishment, or perhaps, couldn’t get past seeing God in terms of punishment. That’s a very common view of God, even after someone has experienced God’s love. Almost like, they don’t really believe the good news, but instead have to live into the good news over the course of their lives. This is the same chapter where we read, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). The reader must not have been able to look at himself with God’s love in mind or look at the world through the lens of love. Again, it must have been a major shift for the reader to think and live this way of love.

I will be the first to admit that looking at oneself or the world through love is hard to do. Fear is easier to live by. Fear is easier to fuel within oneself or stoke in those around you. Fear is easier to promote in the world. It’s certainly easier to base a campaign on it. Compounding all of this is the reality that we aren’t always conscious of how much fear drives our choices and the way we live our lives. Too often, fear is present, but unexamined. No wonder it is easy, then, to assemble a mob, when fears are stoked and go unexamined.

Unfortunately, the consequences of living by fear cannot be overstated. We look at one another with suspicion. We judge people different from us as un-American or unpatriotic. We nurse grudges and condone violence. We devalue the lives of those in need at borders or in food pantry lines or homeless shelters. We harm our relationships with one another when we are afraid to be honest or vulnerable, to love or be loved, to forgive and admit our need for forgiveness.

The practice our theme verse invites us to do is “to cast out” fear. The word “cast out” in Greek means “to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls.” You just throw it. It reminds me of those times as a kid when I stood on the beach in Galveston and threw shells or stones as far as I could out into the Gulf of Mexico. I didn’t care where the shell landed. I was just throwing it. This is what our theme verse encourages us to do with fear – to just throw it as far away as we can. Don’t overthink it. Easier said than done, right? But, don’t let that convince you to keep living by fear. We cast out fear, so that you and I can choose a different path, the way of love as our practice and way of life.

Such a practice makes our year of Intentional Fellowship all the more rich with possibilities. What if, instead of worrying about who we know or don’t know at coffee hour, we cast out the fear and meet someone new? What if, instead of sitting with the same people at the worship service or at a church meal, we share food and fellowship with someone new? What if, instead of only delivering food to JanPeek, we get to know the people who eat the food? I ask these questions, not simply to get you to consider what you can do at church, but also to imagine who you and I would become if we let love guide our way, instead of fear. Not only might we learn how to love in real time, but we would be sharing that love instead of fear with others as well.

I’m grateful for the opportunity we had to practice this kind of Intentional Fellowship at our Annual Meeting on March 3. Standing up front, I could feel the energy in the room as people gathered around tables over a meal and got to know one another. I’m grateful for the many people who created the space for us together, as well as those who helped Tami and I design the meeting around Intentional Fellowship, our focus for 2024. The experience continues to impact how I look at our ministry through the lens of love, rather than fear, even as we grapple with some important issues in our life and ministry together.

Our Lenten theme, Perfect love casts out fear, is shaping the way we prepare for and receive the good news of Easter. The Love of God made known to us at Christmas in the Incarnation will reveal the depths of God’s love, even in death and the unexpected news of life of Easter morning. But, if we are truly to receive that good news, Easter morning will become more than a moment of celebration. It will become the confirmation of life that is at work in us as we cast out our fears and embody God’s love as God’s good news for the world. And, our embodiment of that love will make our year of Intentional Fellowship a gift of good news and new life for all who experience it.

Grateful for our life and ministry together, Chip