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From Fear to Power

Romans 8.12-17

Draco.  Crabbe.  Goyle.

Even if you have no idea what those names mean, the sound of them makes your skin crawl, doesn’t it?

But if you do, then your skin is probably crawling even more!  If you are fans of the Harry Potter book or movie series, you will recognize these three baddies:

  • Draco is the son of a rich and powerful wizard and he lets everyone know about it. He is the quintessential spoiled rich brat, and treats everyone else like dirt because of it.  He makes fun of those whose parents don’t have the right lineage.  He buys toys for his friends and then brags about it.  If something doesn’t go his way, he whines about it to his daddy.  No one likes him.  But some buddy up with him because of the safety and security that he offers.
  • Enter Crabbe and Goyle. These two serve as Draco’s sidekicks and they glom onto him and his power mostly because they are afraid not to.  They do whatever Draco says to do, and believe whatever he believes.  In the books and the movies, they look rather similar and are hard to tell apart.  Of course, this is because they have no real personality, no backbone, no identity…other than sidekicks for the more powerful Draco.  Like everyone else, they don’t really like him, but they like the safety and security that he offers.

A trio of fear.

 

It’s a good thing that none of us are like that, right?  Think again.  Barry Glassner has written a book titled The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things.  In the book, he explains that so much of what we do is motivated by fear.  We are afraid of the world and what it might do to us.  Ironically, says Glassner, Americans live in one of the safest times in human history.  The violent crime rate is down.  The murder rate is down.  We have less reason to be afraid than we ever have.  But at the same time, we are terrified.  Terrified to let our children out of our sight.  Terrified to be around people who look or act different than us.  Terrified to go to the big city or to anyplace that is not known and safe and familiar.  And politicians know that, capitalize on it, and get elected with it.

Glassner spoke during the last presidential election about the ways that both candidates engaged in fear-mongering, trying to suggest that there is so much out in the world to fear that the only thing that can be done is to “vote for me.”    The overwhelming reality for many Americans is: “I am afraid, and if I vote for this particular candidate, I won’t need to be afraid anymore.”

So both Clinton and Trump used fear as a motivator to vote.  But they aren’t the first – Glassner describes how for the last several decades, candidates have used atomic bombs, racial minorities, religious minorities, or a perceived threat to freedoms as a fear-motivated, anxiety-provoking campaign slogan.  Their message is this: you have to be afraid of the world, unless I am in charge.  I will protect you.  And voters routinely voted out of what is sometimes called authoritarian attitudes.  Like Crabbe and Goyle, they looked for some authority who would protect them from all the bad things out there in the world. They may not have even liked the candidate that they voted for, but they feared what would happen if they didn’t vote for them.

And that fear continues.

How often do you hear someone revealing their fears about the scary world out there?  They usually don’t say it this bluntly, but if you read between the lines, they are saying, “the world is a threatening place, and I need it to be safe.  I would like faith.  I would like courage.  But I will settle for rules and security instead.”

 

Paul ran into the same reality 2,000 years ago.  Again and again, members of the churches that he started were terrified of the newness of the faith, the radical nature of Christ, and the vulnerability of welcoming those who were different into the community of believers.

It drove Paul crazy that new Christians insisted on rules and security:

In Galatia: “Make sure they are circumcised!”

In Jerusalem: “I don’t know what I think about those Gentiles.”

In Antioch: “We can’t let everyone in…we don’t know if they are safe!”

But he had never been in Rome before…how would he know what to tell them?  It is telling that he didn’t need to meet them to know what to tell them:

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.”

It’s human nature to fall back into fear, to collapse into the need for more rules and more safety and more security and more authoritarianism.  Paul knew what the Romans were dealing with, even though he had never met them!  Throughout the book and this passage, Paul talks about living according to the flesh, according to that fearful and selfish nature.  The Crabbe and Goyle phenomenon was relevant in Rome, and Paul knew it.

 

And he knew what to do about it, too.

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption!”

Look at what Paul does here.  He easily could have been another fear-monger, another Draco Malfoy.  He could have told the Romans, and effectively, “there is a lot to be afraid of out there.  You need to do things my way.  You are in danger.  Follow me.”  But he does the complete opposite.  He changes the terms of the debate.  Instead of using fear, he de-values fear.  He says, “there is a better way.”  And he launches into a passage about family.  Look at how many words are used in this passage that have to do with family: “brothers and sisters,” “children of God,” “adoption,” “Abba Daddy,” “Father,” “heirs.”  This passage is a part of the lectionary today on Trinity Sunday because all the main players are there: Abba Father.  Joint heirs with Christ.  The Spirit of God.  And, just like we try and do every Trinity Sunday there is a yearning for us to make sense of the substance of Trinity, to try to make God into a science project: God is water and ice and steam, or the leaves and the trunk and the roots of the tree.  And there is something helpful about that for some folks, but I have come to the point where I don’t really try to define the Trinity in terms of substance.  The point of the Trinity for me is relationship.  If the Trinity means anything to us today, it means that the essence of Creation, the foundation of reality, is relationship.  God is first, foremost, and eternally in relationship.  There is a power in the Trinity because there is trust, from Abba to Jesus to Spirit.  And that trust overflows to you and to me.  And so, says Paul, when we find ourselves adopted into that family, included into that relationship, we are given the very power of the Spirit of God, inside of us.

What do you tell someone who is terrified and seeking an authoritarian fear-monger?  Show them they have the power inside of them.  The antidote to authoritarianism is, ironically, authority.  Paul’s letter meant to show them that they have authority of their own.  They are adopted by the Creator for amazing things.  They are children of God.  They are heirs of the power of the Most Powerful.  They are co-heirs with Christ!  They have the authority inside of them, given to them by the Holy Spirit, and that authority means that they don’t have to be afraid!  Of people who are different than them.  Of a church without overbearing rules and regulations.  Of the suffering that was due to come their way.  They have the authority.  They have the power.  They have the Holy Spirit inside of them!

Notice what he says to do when that fear starts to creep up in their throats?  Pray!  Cry out “Abba, father!”  Sing aloud the song of hope and power that only co-heirs know how to sing.  Don’t let the fear-mongers win.  Don’t become enslaved by those who tell you “follow me and I will protect you from all your fears.” Because they are lying.  Instead, take those fears and put them in your hand and cover them up with a cry of “Abba…daddy!”  Because the God who made you is not in the business of making the world perfect for you.  The God who made you says, “when the world is not perfect, I am with you.”

So why would we fear?  Draco has nothing on us!  Those who would rule by fear and hatred of the other simply don’t get to make the rules.  The rules are already made and the power is already in our hands.

There are things to be afraid of in this world.  But none of it is bigger than the Abba who adopted and empowered us.  None of it is bigger than the Christ who overcame death itself to triumph over brokenness.  None of it is bigger than the Spirit who lives inside of us.

So when that fear rises in our chest, when we feel the catch of it in our throats, what are we going to do?  We are going to shout “Abba!  Give me what I need.  Give me what I require for this moment.  And do not let me fall into a slavery to fear.”

It is time to overthrow our fears and our fear-mongers, and proclaim with joy that we are children of God.  We are heirs.  Joint heirs with Christ.  Gird up your loins, fearful ones.  Don’t run back to fear.  Don’t fall back into slavery.  Don’t look for the next Draco who will tell you what to do.  Be who you were created to be, and claim your place as joint heirs.

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