Let’s think about cats and cucumbers for a minute. A recent viral video is a compilation of clips, each showing a cat discovering a cucumber right behind it, obviously placed there by the person wielding the camera, and reacting in extreme fear: leaping up in the air, climbing the wall, or streaking away. It’s presented as comedy, and it does make the viewer laugh, because the cats’ reactions are startling and seemingly ridiculous.
However, an experienced veterinarian had this to say about the cat/cucumber encounters: “While I recognize the humor of the dramatic fear response cats show in these videos, I find the intentional infliction of fear on any innocent being inappropriate and unkind – and cruel if done repeatedly.”
The intentional infliction of fear on innocent beings … In an all -human context we might call this kind of behavior bullying or abuse. When practiced on a large scale it becomes a definition of terrorism. We have been experiencing this intentional infliction of fear on a massive scale for years now, and especially acutely in the wake of the recent attacks in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Nigeria, and Mali. Who will be next? We live in fear, and that is exactly what terrorists want.
But the intentional infliction of fear isn’t limited to those who plan and carry out violent assaults. It also seems to have become a tool in the toolbelt of those in positions of political influence.
When we are falsely told that there are weapons of mass destruction threatening us; when we are encouraged to shun and exclude people of a particular faith or national origin; when we are manipulated to re-experience the trauma we all suffered on September 11 2001, our informants are seeking to inflict fear on us for their own purposes.
It is no different from the days when the national enemy was Communism or the time when Jewish refugees from Europe were denied entry, because “those people” supposedly represented a threat to our way of life. It should be a source of lasting shame that one of the children in those refugee ships that were turned back to Nazi Europe was Anne Frank. In each case fear is inflicted by the promotion of a false premise, a lie, and we are all wounded and diminished by it.
Jesus stands before Pilate, who rules by fear, and he speaks of truth. Pilate himself is trapped in a system of terror which he must perpetuate in order to survive. He has lost sight of truth; he no longer recognizes it when it looks him in the eye. He is living a lie. The kingdom which Jesus rules is very different. He models the behavior of one who belongs to the Kingdom. He speaks truth to power. He refuses to play the games of the religious and secular authorities. He faces death in confidence that death is not the worst thing that can happen; the worst thing is to lose sight of our humanity, to lose sight of truth, to buy into the lies. In his freedom from fear, Jesus is free to love, to give, to live fully, even to live beyond death. And he is our King.
We do not have to live in a world governed by fear, in fact we must not, because we belong to the Kingdom of God, where fear has been overcome by love.
We do not have to participate in the games the politicians play, in fact we must not, because we belong to the Kingdom of God, whose citizens speak truth rather than lies and seek to serve rather than to dictate.
We do not have to lock the doors and turn away from the stranger, in fact we must not, because we belong to the Kingdom of God, where the commandment is to go out into the community in vulnerability and openness, to care for the widow, the orphan, the refugee, and all who lack status in the world.
We do not have to protect ourselves from risk and loss, because we belong to the kingdom of God, where abundance reigns and death is swallowed up in victory.
So how shall we live? How shall we proclaim our allegiance to the kingdom that is not of this world?
- We will refuse to participate in hateful speech or actions.
- We will speak up against injustice and the exploitation of the powerless.
- We will take the risks necessary to demonstrate the boundless love of God.
- We will share of our abundance so that others may know abundant life.
In our own cathedral community we are preparing to take some risks. We have committed to an expanded staff in order to better support the vision and mission we believe God is calling us to. As of now we don’t anticipate that we will have sufficient operating income in 2016 to fulfill our commitments. We are taking a risk and planning to invest in the future by using some reserves for a few years, if we have to, to grow our ministry back to a place of balance.
This is God’s work: work of evangelism, work of formation, work of service, work of reconciliation, work of changing the world by honoring individual dignity and the holiness of all creation. It takes resources to do this work, resources both of money and of volunteer time. I know that this congregation is made up of generous and courageous people, and I believe that we can together provide the resources to bring our shared ministries to the next level.
Today we celebrate our citizenship in the Kingdom. We give honor to the King who rules above all earthly authority, who loves us with the perfect love that casts out fear. Today we have the opportunity to show where we belong. Just as Jesus freely gave of himself for us, we now step forward to give ourselves to him and to his service, confident in the love that created us, that redeemed us, and that will lead us and all humanity to life abundant. Amen.
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges
November 22, 2015. Christ the King; ingathering of pledges