Remember when Ebola was the scary thing on the news? Last year’s outbreak killed thousands of people in Africa and other parts of the world, and though the worst seems to be over, it keeps coming back. In the height of the outbreak, two US nurses came back from Liberia and told National Public Radio,
“One day, an Ebola-infected mother brought her baby into a hospital. The mother died, and the baby was left in a box.
They tested the baby, and the baby was negative, but the symptoms in babies and the disease progression in babies is different than adults. So the nurses would pick up and cuddle the baby. And they were taking care of the baby in the box.
Twelve of those nurses contracted Ebola. Only one survived.
They couldn't just watch a baby sitting alone in a box.”
We celebrate love. We long for love. We idealize love. We love love! We don’t usually fear it. Love can be dangerous when it’s codependent, when it’s abusive, and when it ends with betrayal. But usually love isn’t scary....
I was living in Minneapolis last year during the Ebola outbreak. Minneapolis has one of the largest population of West African immigrants in the United States. In my city, schoolchildren from Liberian families are ostracized at school and come home crying.
Every day there’s another mass shooting in our country. Actually, more than one a day, we’ve had 353 so far in 2015. 62 of them have been in schools. Are you afraid when you walk into a school these days? Or go to a movie? Or just go shopping? Or sit in traffic wondering about other drivers’ road rage? Some of you have experienced violence in your homes too – it’s not just strangers we might be afraid of.
Yann Martel writes in Life of Pi: Only fear can defeat life. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It slips into your mind like a spy….you become anxious….you make rash decisions. You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust. There, you’ve defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you.
Going to church is one of the best ways to deal with fear. Here we step away from the swirl of rhetoric and the 24-hour news cycle. Here we read old stories alongside the stories of our lives, to gain perspective. Here we open to one another’s wisdom and pain, here we proclaim in prayer and song, here we witness what we are bringing into this world.
We have to name our fear to deal with it, and church is a perfect place to air our fears. In community we walk alongside one another, and cultivate courage.
We tell the stories of Jesus, who touched and ate with lepers. We tell stories of being the ones shunned, of the times when we’ve done the shunning, and we grow through these stories.
The people asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest. He didn’t hesitate. “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” And then the people asked, “Who is our neighbor” and he invoked an enemy and someone bloody, bruised, collapsed along the road.
Love one another. It’s as simple as that. And that’s outrageously complicated because love is risky – not just with contagious disease in our bodies, not just with guns all over our community. Love is risky, love is complicated because we don’t all want the same things, we don’t believe the same things, we don’t have the same priorities, we don’t have the same perspectives on the annual budget or the best way to attract new members or the most important justice outreach or leadership for the church.
We can get dizzy with all that to stress about.
Honestly, we have been dizzy lately. The past week I’ve heard about more conflicts in this body than any other week I’ve spent with you! I’m not surprised, and I’m definitely not judging. We’re living in an outrageously stressful season, not just as a congregation in the midst of a search process, not just as families in the midst of holidays, not just as bodied people in the midst of changing weather and lots of germs and aging, not just as a community saying goodbye to people we love, not just as a country in the midst of terrifying violence, not just as a planet in the midst of terrifying violence.
We’re dizzy with all this fear! What do you do when you’re dizzy, physically? You don’t keep moving, you don’t lash out, you don’t start to run.
When we’re dizzy we stop, we breathe, we wait until we catch our breath before we move again with balance.
When we’re dizzy with fear we need to do the same thing. Stop, rest, breathe, breathe until you’ve regained your balance, your spiritual balance, and remember that the most important thing is love. It’s a commandment, the greatest one, to love God and one another. It’s a commandment, an order, a rule, but it’s totally freeing, too. When in doubt, love. When you’re scared, love. When you’re angry, love. When you’re disappointed, love. Love is already within us, love is groaning to be shared, love compels us to be in this room this morning, to cuddle babies, to soothe the sick, to speak up for our neighbors....