There is a lot of fear in the air today. We should close our borders to keep refugees and immigrants out. We should be afraid of what they might do. A refugee may be a terrorist in disguise carrying a fake passport. Our presidential contenders try to make us very afraid of what can happen if we vote for the wrong person, the one who will not be able to keep us safe and secure. They are running campaigns based on fear. We should be afraid of people who are different from us in race, sexual orientation or religion. We should be armed and ready to defend our properties and lives with deadly force. Strangers are strange and we should suspect the worst in others.
In the neighborhood where our church is located is a small park. It is not used much. It is not seen as a safe place. It is a diverse community with different ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations and religions including "nones". The park has some playground equipment and a basketball court and a couple covered places with grills to eat. Except no one does. Our church has met there a few times putting out some food, playing some games but not many people outside our small church showed up. This past weekend we planned a "harvest party at the park". We collaborated with some other people from the neighborhood who were interested in the idea. As the hour to start got closer it looked like it would be another small affair. But by the end over a hundred people had come. There were games and food and even a pick up basketball game with some of the local Jacksonville police who stopped by in uniform. Some people were heard to say that it felt good to come together in a safe place. The many children who were there (who would not have been there on a normal Saturday afternoon) were having a good time. Adults were meeting and talking. Families were having their pictures taken and faces painted.
For a few hours it was a respite from fear. When the police cars pulled up I thought the worst. What's the trouble now? Do we have to seek shelter? Fear is such a common reaction. It is so easy to let it control our lives. Much easier to avoid something rather than take a risk. But avoidance makes for a smaller and smaller way of life. We get trapped within our own borders. Fear becomes our default setting.
The way of following Christ involves risk. The Incarnation was risky. Jesus' parents took a risky trip when his mother was about to give birth to him. Jesus broke some of his religion's laws by touching people who were deemed unsafe. In his last days he walked into a fire storm in Jerusalem. It ended badly for him. At the cross. A cross, he said, that anyone who wants to follow him has to pick up.