Sunday, April 9, 2017

Homily–5th Sunday of Lent–“Fear of the Lord”

Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-7
Philippians 2:62
Matthew 26:14-27:66
What emotion do we fear the most?  
What one human emotion terrifies most people?
According to the research of Dr. Brenè Brown of Ted-X fame the most feared emotion in today’s culture is grief.  We fear grief more than anything else.

          Fear of grief isn’t just the grief we experience over the death of a loved one or friend, it’s also the grief we experience over the death of a part of ourselves that may be holding us back spiritually.

Dr. Brown says the fear of grief is the reason why forgiveness of others is so hard. 
When we live into the truth of Jesus, we come to understand that in order for forgiveness to happen something has to die.
Our pride has to die. Our self-righteousness has to die. Our anger with others has to die. Our expectations of a loved one or a friend have to die.  Our pain has to die. 

What’s that old saying, “Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” 

Human transformation comes from looking our grief directly in the eye and becoming transformed by it.  But as we know from personal experience, dealing with grief is no easy task. 
In today’s long Gospel reading of the death of Christ, we see two ways of dealing with grief.  One way is to run away. The other way is to face the grief head on.
Notice how Mary Magdalene and the other Marys (and we know from other Gospels this includes the Virgin Mary), notice how these Marys follow Jesus to the foot of the cross, experiencing every grief-stricken moment?  The Apostle John was also there.
The only fear these disciples have is fear of the Lord, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.  
Fear of the Lord is what the Prophet Isaiah called the “Lord’s delight.”
“Fear of the Lord” refers to a sense of awe, respect, and submission to God. Our actions in this life become holy because of it. 
These Marys and John don’t fear grief (or run away from it), they bravely accept the grief of this life-shattering moment. Perhaps they were heeding Jesus’ lesson of patient suffering. Perhaps they believed in Jesus’ promise of something better to come. Perhaps they hoped death would not end the story.
Pope St. Gregory the Great reminds us of what Proverbs says about fear of the Lord -- that it is the beginning of knowledge. 
“Through the fear of the Lord, we rise to piety, from piety then to knowledge, from knowledge we derive (fortitude), from (fortitude) counsel, with counsel we move toward understanding, and with (understanding) toward wisdom and thus, by the sevenfold grace of the (Holy) Spirit, there opens to us at the end of the ascent the entrance to the life of Heaven” 
But all these gifts would not come to us without the mercy of God at play in our lives. 
Author and Seattle homeless street chaplain Reverend Craig Rennebohm wrote these powerful words about the healing gift of God’s mercy:
“Mercy is a primary gift of the spirit. Mercy nurtures reconciliation and renewal in our lives. Mercy touches the hurt in our lives. Mercy reaches out and embraces our feelings of shame and embarrassment. Mercy acknowledges our grief and our guilt. Mercy tempers judgment with wisdom and understanding. Mercy expresses the love of God, gentle beyond all measure and yet of such strength that nothing can separate us or negate our lives and worth. Mercy flows from the compassion of God. God’s heart is touched by our struggles, more deeply than we can imagine. God feels our every pain, suffers with us, and holds our lives as treasured. In God’s care our souls have eternal value.”   
So as we enter Holy Week, may we face the death of Jesus by looking at it square in the eye. May we feel the grief of that moment.
May we embrace the reality of “Fear of the Lord” in our own lives and grow in our expectation of what beautiful, wondrous things are to come.  May we grow in piety, knowledge, fortitude, counsel, understanding, wisdom and fear of the Lord. May these gifts of the Holy Spirit transform our lives as we approach the suffering and anguish of Holy Thursday, the pain and shame of the crucifixion on Good Friday and the joy and glory of Christ’s resurrection this Easter.
And may the mercy of God transform us and bring us new life. 

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