The Fourth sunday AFter Epiphany: January 31, 2021
Year B:Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
In today’s Psalm we hear: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Over the years, I’ve have many discussion about exactly what the phrase, “the fear of the Lord” means. And it something important, surely, because it appears in the bible more than 300 times.
From a theological perspective “fear of the Lord” encompasses more than being frightened of the Lord. This phrase contains a convergence of awe, reverence, honor, worship, thankfulness, and love. According to Pope Francis, “The fear of the Lord, the gift of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t mean being afraid of God, since we know that God always loves and forgives us,…[It] is no servile fear, but rather a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur and a grateful realization that only in [God] do our hearts find true peace.
So, fear. The fear of the Lord. When St. Francis of Assisi would lay down at night, he would say over and over again, “Dear God – who are you and who am I?” because he wanted to make sure he didn’t get those two mixed up. The fear of the Lord means remembering that all that we are and all we have and all that we accomplish comes from God. It’s all grace.
The last year has sometimes often been about fear in terms of being scared. I wonder how we react if we allow ourselves to think about the fact that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. How different can it be for us if we can allow ourselves to remember that fear and wisdom are about re-orienting ourselves. They are about remembering how short and fragile this life is and about remembering how eternal and grand and good God is.
A better word for fear would be reverence – or awe – and often we encounter that awe in times of great pain or great joy. The doorway to wisdom – which is a glimpse of God’s majesty – often comes when our world comes together and when it falls apart, because however religious we are, we all tend to create God in our own image. The author Anne Lamott says, “Isn’t it convenient that God loves the same people we do?”
The fear of the Lord comes when our lives come together or fall apart. And when we realize all of life is gift and our job is to say help me and thank you, I wonder if the one gift of COVID-19 is for us to recognize how fragile life is and how much we need God and one another whether it’s through Zoom, phone calls, handwritten notes.
I wonder if not being in control can move us to rely on God more and to embrace the fear of the Lord? I wonder if we will pray a prayer God always hears, which is, “please.”
Please God, help me.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Because the fear of the Lord is when we turn to God with our whole heart, either we run out of what we can do and then in awe turn to God and pray PLEASE. And when God has heard our prayer to say, thank you.”
I have wondered if the one gift of COVID-19 is that it has pushed us to admit that we do not control our lives, but rather it’s all grace. To discover again that this moment is the only moment we have to be alive and therefore, we need to embrace the fear of the Lord, but also to give thanks to the Lord with our whole heart. The fear of the Lord reminds us that it is often by our wounds that we are healed.
When we give our whole hearts to the Lord, then we discover that the land on the other side of the cross is the land of grace. Like Mary Magdalene – we hear our name for the first time and the beginning of wisdom also is the beginning of being called to do God’s work, as she was called to go and tell.
We all have stories of how wisdom began in our lives. What I can tell you is that many of the gifts in my life have come only by my letting go. I have to run out of what I can do to surrender and ask for what God wants to do. But that has seldom been easy.
The wisdom we seek is not in books, and it’s not in mastering how to make our lives work. It’s in our trust in the goodness of the Lord.
My stories of letting go and letting God brought me to the place I am in life. My story of God in my life had me join a church where I found the love of God and I struggled with why and how people in the world use power and authority to hurt others and not help. But I join a Church where I have hope that God wants us to gather together in love.
Yes, we are in a world of COVID-19 and more than 400,000 people have died. Yes, our country is still bitterly divided politically. Yes, we are at best stumbling to address our country’s endemic racism, and poverty, and even more.
But here’s the thing – we are called to embrace a wisdom that guides our actions and our hearts, and the wisdom is to be open to what God is doing by remembering that regardless of what happens, God is God.
So, sometimes it’s what we asked for, and sometimes it’s not. But our faith is centered on a living God who responds to the cries of God’s children. And that cry is not only the beginning of wisdom – it’s also the beginning of peace and a willingness to follow the Lord, and a way that God’s reign of justice, peace and mercy might come on earth as in heaven. Amen.
 Psalm 111:10, Book of Common Prayer, p. 755
 Pope Francis, General Audience, St. Peter’s Square, Wednesday, June 11, 2014
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