Twenty Sixth Sunday
A What Question arises among us. What is fear of the Lord? Does it mean we must in constant fright and flight? Does it mean we must live in fear of God in the way one might who is terrorized by a gang leader in our neighborhoods? Is it living with the idea that our Creator God has a big hammer and is hardly waiting to smash us at the slightest sin we commit? People who have grown up with a physically or emotionally abusive parent might confuse fear of the Lord with the unhealthy fear of an abusive father or mother. Sadly, perhaps, too few of us really know what it means to be walking in fear of the Lord, as did those in Scripture who came before us.
That is why today's epistle lesson admonishes us, "Awaken sleeper and arise from among the dead and Christ will enlighten you." St. Paul asks not to be "foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is."
In the Old Covenant, the most common Hebrew word translated into our English word fear means "to stand in awe with reverence and respect." Thus is the person described who recognizes the power, the purity and position of another and offers him respect. This concept is hard to find in an ecclesiastical culture that prides itself on portraying God as "one of the boys," who is often addressed in prayer like one would address another, an equal, while enjoying a hamburger. Some seem to be losing a sense of reverential awe in our relationship with the Father of heaven.
The most common word used in New Covenant to translate this word fear can best be described as a reverential fear of God as a controlling motive of life in matters both spiritual and moral as well as temporal and daily in our lives. This is not so much a fear of his awesome power and righteous retribution as it is wholesome fear of displeasing him. Observing those who fear the Lord in Scripture does not at all make us feel we must cower down in his presence for fear of being hit or slapped or embarrassed. It is the thought of bowing down before him in awe and reverence for who He really is, an awesome Creator God in total control of his creation and worthy of all respect, love, praise and worship. Walking daily in fear of the Lord moves us to a submissive recognition of his lordship and results in a passionate longing to live in trust and obedience. The result is strengthening of our faith response to God's first shown love.
Fear of the Lord is a healthy and positive concept to be espoused by the believer. It is reverential awe, a sense of being afraid of offending our holy God in any possible way. It is not simply intellectual assent to an idea. It is a consciousness that the believer lives with continuously and comes from a daily surrender of life to Christ.
What happens to a church culture when walking in fear of the Lord is a forgotten concept? There emerges a sort of antinomian attitude that exhibits little restraint of evil. Paul speaks of a people who had "no fear of God before their eyes" Romans 3: 18. Moral failures by pulpit ministers and priests is epidemic in our generation and in our culture. How many families are devastated because there are so many, even in places where they should not be, of church people who have no fear of God before their eyes.
There are other by-products of one who does not walk in fear of the Lord. There is little respect for submission to authority. St. Paul reminds us to "submit to one another in fear of the Lord" Ephesians 5: 21. Do we wonder why there is such a problem in our world today? We have forgotten the purpose of the Church and what it ought be doing to reach souls. We have submerged our parishes into ethnic vibrancies instead of the mandate of the Lord to share and spread our precious faith. When salt has lost its savor, when the Church ceases to engage its culture, when we have no concept of walking in fear of the Lord, a lack of submission is the natural result. We wish to do our own thing instead of being focused on the one thing necessary which is the purpose of the Lord and his will being manifested.
When we read about the story and history of the early Church in the Book of Acts of the Apostles, we see corruption and attack coming from the outside under the persecution at the hands of the pagan Roman Empire. As we live in the third millennium, our danger no longer is from without as it is from within. We seem to be living in Jude's day. St. Jude spoke of a Church that would become corrupt from within. He metaphorically presents a shocking picture of what is taking place in much of the modem Church today. He speaks of a day churches would be led and attended by those who are "without fear" (Jude 12). He describes the individual who has no fear of God before his eyes as a hidden reef, a cloud without rain, a tree without fruit, a wild wave of the sea and a wandering star out of orbit.
St. Jude cites several characteristics of those in the Church who manage and minister "without fear." He says they lack peace. He uses the metaphor of "spots, hidden reefs in your love feasts." The picture is one of hidden rocks or reefs below the surface of the water and unnoticed by the naked eye. These unexpected dangers can cause a boat to be grounded and begin to leak. Many churches sailing across the waters of love and fellowship have been "grounded" by individuals who lived without fear and who destroyed the unity of the fellowship of faith.
St. Jude indicates that these types of people within the Church also lack productivity. They are, in his words, like "clouds without water, carried about by the winds." They appear to be full of wonderful prospects for the future. However, they are filled with empty promises. They never produce spiritual results. They look good and say all the right words, but they possess nothing of substance, and they are blown around by the next thing that comes out of a success magazine.
St. Jude says these people who live without fear are exposed not only by the lack of peace and lack of productivity but also by a lack of proof. They are like "autumn trees without fruit" The Lord Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruit" Matthew 7: 16. Jude continues by showing another characteristic by which these disrespectful people may be known. They also lack purity. In Jude's words, they are like "raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame" Jude 13. That is, they eventually will be exposed by God for what they are.
Finally, Jude also illustrates another characteristic, a lack of purpose. He says these people, like "wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever." Those who are not "walking in fear of the Lord" have no real direction, no actual purpose in life. Who of us has not seen a shooting star, a piece of the cosmos gone wrong, out of orbit, racing across the night sky? Its brilliance is dazzling. And then, suddenly, just as quickly as it appeared, it disappears into the darkness of the night. God placed the stars on their courses in the heavens. Stars have orbits in which they operate. They have direction and purpose. Those without fear are like those wandering stars out of orbit. They do not want any structure. They do not like things like statements of faith. They do not like to play within any boundaries.
In a no fear culture that has invaded the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ we need more than ever to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" Jude 3. When the Church is walking in fear of the Lord, the inevitable result is vibrant and productive.
We were all tempted in our day as young people as often as people are today. But the difference between then and now is that we had a healthy and wholesome concept of fear of the Lord. It was not the fear of being beaten down by our heavenly Father for any little slip along the way. It was a reverence, an awe of his presence in our lives and a holiness that was acquired by hearing him lifted up and exalted in our family life, in our parish churches by priests we respected who were paragons of faithfulness. Our fear was not that God might lay a heavy hand on us, but that He might take his hand off us! We feared disappointing our God whom we recognized to have done so much for us!
When we are walking in fear of the Lord, there is imparted to us a power to overcome our sinful desires, our temptations and habits. Solomon reminds us that "...by fear of the Lord one departs from evil" Proverbs 16: 6. After receiving the Law on Mount Sinai, Moses told his people that "God has come to test you, that his fear may be before you, so that you may not sin" Exodus 20: 20.