Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love

Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love

by William H. Willimon

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501824753
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 04/05/2016
Pages: 112
Sales rank: 230,024
Product dimensions: 4.80(w) x 6.80(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Feeling most at home behind a pulpit, Will Willimon’s deepest calling is to be a preacher and truth-teller of Jesus Christ. He is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke University Divinity School and retired Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church, after serving for 20 years as faculty member and Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Will Willimon has published many books, including his preaching subscription service on MinistryMatters.com, Pulpit Resource, and Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love, both published by Abingdon Press.

Read an Excerpt

Fear of the Other

No Fear in Love


By William H. Willimon

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2016 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5018-2476-0



CHAPTER 1

SAVED BY THE OTHER


I was invited to a large Saturday evening youth conference where the featured speaker was Duffy Robbins, a national leader in youth ministry. Duffy opened the gathering by reading from Romans 5:6-11:

While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people. It isn't often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person. But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. ... If we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son while we were still enemies, now that we have been reconciled, how much more certain is it that we will be saved by his life ... through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one through whom we now have a restored relationship with God. (CEB)


"I need your help with a little skit," Duffy told the packed auditorium. "As I call your name, come up and place yourself on stage. On my right is GOOD. All the way over to the left is BAD. Place yourself where you belong. First, Mother Teresa."

Duffy pointed to a young woman on the second row. "Come on up, Mother Teresa, and place yourself on this continuum of good and evil." The teenager stepped up and positioned herself well to the right behind Duffy.

"Next, Attila the Hun!" Duffy pointed to a kid midway back. Accompanied by a few laughs, Attila took his place far to the left of Mother Teresa.

"OK. Martin Luther King Jr." A teenager voluntarily strode forward and stood to the right beside Teresa. So did the next two: "Mahatma Gandhi," and "Clara Barton."

When "Joseph Stalin" and "Adolf Hitler" were called, they were welcomed on the far left by "Attila." "Barack Obama," "Hillary Clinton," "Britney Spears," and "Justin Timberlake" found their places somewhat to the left of the really, really good "Teresa" and "King."

Finally, with about a dozen teenagers positioned along the spectrum of GOOD and BAD, Duffy said, "And now I'll call up Jesus Christ." Someone giggled. Duffy pointed to a young woman who sheepishly walked up on stage. She was graciously received by "King," "Teresa," and the others to the right.

"Does that look about right to you?" Duffy asked. The crowd gave their assent. Then Duffy said, "Did you guys not listen to anything I read? I'll read it again. This time, pay attention!"

At the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people. It isn't often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person. But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Rom 5:6-8 CEB)


"Jesus Christ" gradually moved toward the left until, by the time Duffy finished reading, Jesus was hanging out with "Stalin," "Attila," and the worst of the BAD.

"Now," said Duffy, "who here tonight wants to walk into your school on Monday morning behind Jesus?" As the band played an edgy, rock hymn, the youth streamed forward, eager to be part of Jesus's outrageous advance toward the ungodly.

Any Christian move toward the Other is based upon Jesus Christ's move toward us: "We were reconciled to God through the death of his Son while we were still enemies" (Rom 5:10 CEB).


Enemies, but for the Grace of God

When a fellow bishop was removed because of adultery, I said, "There but for the grace of God go I." Jesus taught me to say this. Fleming Rutledge tells me this phrase, "There but for the grace of God go I," was first used in the sixteenth century by John Bradford upon seeing a group of men led to the gallows. If God practiced justice rather than graciousness, if God loved high moral standards more than God loves us, we all should be headed for the gallows. Or, as Paul put it, "All have sinned and fall short of God's glory" (Rom 3:23 CEB). Not "most" — all.

"But all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus" (Rom 3:24 CEB). Jesus Christ saves sinners, only sinners. Paul's sweeping declaration of our sin and Christ's redemption is a basis for Christlike response to the Other: "While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people" (Rom 5:6 CEB). Or, as 1 Peter puts it, "Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous" (3:18 CEB).

"Joe would do anything for his family. He was a great husband and father," a speaker intoned at a funeral. Goodness toward one's family is morally noteworthy? As Eddie Murphy complained of folk who brag about how much they love their families, "That's your job!"

Of course I love my wife, my children; they look like me. When I have loved the Other, as Christ has loved me in my otherness and enmity, then that's a specifically Christian, counter-cultural, virtually miraculous love.

When a presidential candidate talks of closing our borders to members of one faith, speaking about them as insidious, dangerous, and threatening evildoers, I remember a TV program some years ago (during one of our many wars to end all wars in the Middle East). A group of Afghan boys had their homes and town destroyed by American bombs. Now without parents, they had fled to a safer but more wretched life in Karachi, Pakistan. They lived in a garbage dump, surviving off rotting food and living in filth.

The boys' only hope was to be received by one of Pakistan's many madrasas, Muslim religious schools that were infamous breeding grounds for jihadists. The boys told the reporter that they hoped to be selected as students because there they would be protected, fed, and clothed.

When asked what they thought of Americans, the boys responded that Americans were cruel killers who bomb a whole country into oblivion and ought to be paid back for their cruelty.

We have met the enemies of Christ — us.

I remember when Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a victim of Soviet repression and punishment, was invited to the United States. We celebrated our welcome of this hero of the Cold War (a deliciously in- your-face gesture to the Soviets). Then Solzhenitsyn gave a stunning speech in which he failed to condemn the Soviets but instead criticized American capitalism, superficiality, and godlessness! Solzhenitsyn really believed what he wrote in The Gulag Archipelago: "The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties ... but right through every human heart" (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: 1918–56 [Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1973]).

More than one presidential candidate has recently bragged, "I will never apologize for America." Christians, on the basis of the great grace we have received from Christ, are always apologizing, confessing, and repenting. "While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people [us]" (Rom 5:6 CEB).

In the light of Paul's testimony in Romans, an important function of Christian preaching and church life is to render me into the Other. I am the enemy of God. I am the one who by my lifestyle and choices make myself a stranger to my sisters and brothers. I'm free to admit that because, in spite of my hostility to God, Jesus Christ has received me as friend.

I am also the one who has received grace and revelation from the Other. Even as Christ came to me before I came to Christ, I have been the beneficiary of ministry from the Other before I was able to receive the Other as Christ had received me.

I grew up in the segregated South; I'm a product of an unashamedly racist culture. Every day I boarded a Greenville bus with a sign: SOUTH CAROLINA LAW. WHITE PATRONS SIT FROM THE FRONT. COLORED PATRONS SIT FROM THE REAR.

Nobody I knew questioned that sign, especially no one who sat next to me in church each Sunday.

My Damascus Road conversion came when my church sent me to a youth conference at Lake Junaluska and I was assigned a room with another sixteen-year-old from Greenville. When I walked in, there he sat on the bed opposite me, better prepared for me than I was for him. We had never met, even though he went to a school four blocks from mine and played on ballfields where we never ventured. He was black.

I recall nothing from the conference worship or lectures, but I'll never forget our conversation that lasted until dawn. He told me what it was like to go to his church and not mine, his school rather than mine, his world in which I was a stranger. In a paraphrase of Langston Hughes, his Greenville was never Greenville to me. By sunrise, I had my world skillfully cracked open, exposed, and also infinitely expanded and ministered to by the Other who was kind enough to help me go where I avoided.

Later, when I read Richard Niebuhr define conversion as "a new way of seeing," I knew he was talking about me. I once was blind, but now I see.


Commanded to Welcome

Xenophobic, exclusionary fear of the Other is more than a matter of preference for people whom we enjoy hanging out with, or those with whom we feel most comfortable. In deep fear of the Other, we separate ourselves from others in order to better oppress, exploit, expulse, confine, hurt, or deny justice and access to others whom we have judged to be so Other as to be beyond the bounds of having any bond between us or any claim upon us.

A subtext of recent debates over whether or not to admit Syrian refugees has been, "If we let them in, what's the cost? Will our nation be less secure? Will property values in my neighborhood be diminished? Will these newcomers help or hinder the economy?"

While these are not unreasonable questions, Christians ought to admit that in debates about others Christianity's default position is hospitality, even as we received hospitality on the cross of Christ. Sure, we can argue about how we ought to be hospitable and what steps to take to integrate these newcomers and enable them to thrive in North American cultures. We can be honest about the challenges involved in their coming to and being received as strangers in a strange land. However, as Christians, we are "prejudiced" toward hospitality, particularly for those in need, because that's the way God in Christ has treated us and commanded us to treat others.

Christians believe that the one universal God is known in a particular way in the one who lived briefly, died violently, and rose unexpectedly — Jesus Christ. God has refused to be obscure. In this one who was fully human (like us) and fully God (unlike us), we believe that we have seen as much of God as we ever hope to see in this world.

God's move toward us enemies went against just about every-thing we thought we knew about God. It still does. God? God is righteous, holy, high and lifted up, glorious and good. We are not. God is up there; we are down here. Can't say anything for sure about God because God is aloof, obscure, obtuse.

And then came Jesus, challenging and refuting by his words and his deeds just about everything we thought we knew for sure about God. He was Emmanuel, God With Us, but not the God we wanted to meet. Where we expected judgment and exclusion, he enacted mercy and embrace. Where we craved unconditional affirmation of our righteousness and insider status, he slammed us with judgment upon our presumption and a call to even higher righteousness. He practiced unconstrained hospitality, inviting to his table people whom nobody thought could be saved, people whom nobody wanted saved. Resisting the clutches of the powerful and the proud, he condescended, touching the untouchable and lifting up the lowly. In his suffering, loving outreach to us, in his truthful preaching, and in his resourceful, relentless drawing us unto himself, Jesus was other than the God we expected.

This is the christological basis for Paul's command to the church in Rome: "So welcome each other, in the same way that Christ also welcomed you, for God's glory" (Rom 15:7 CEB).

The cross of Christ mysteriously, wondrously unites Jews and Gentiles, without regard to ethnicity, gender, race, or class (1 Cor 12:13). God refused to stay singular, a monad. God is inherently self-giving, connective, and communicative. Not merely our otherness toward God but our downright enmity has been "put to death" and peace made "through the cross" (Eph 2:16 NRSV). The power of the cross was so great over the imagination of Christians that Paul could say, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in my body, I live by faith, indeed, by the faithfulness of God's Son, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20 CEB).

We Wesleyans believe this is not some heroic stance reserved for a super saint like Paul; it is a presently available life based upon not only what Jesus did for us on the cross but also what Jesus daily does in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. God is not simply love but love in action, love making a way for us to overcome evil with good and to miraculously unite with others despite our various separations.

The great liberator Frederick Douglass made a speech in the tense days before the Civil War. The equally courageous Sojourner Truth was in the audience. Douglass spoke honestly and eloquently of the plight of African Americans in this country where they were held as slaves. Douglass thundered that there was no hope that white America would ever grant freedom. Whites only understood violence.

"Frederick," Sojourner Truth called out, "is God dead?"

The self without Christ is tossed to and fro, constantly under threat, the self that must use everything and everyone in ceaseless acts of self-aggrandizement and self-defense. The self with Christ is recentered, given a new identity, and rests secure in God. "It is Christ who lives in me," says Paul. That doesn't mean obliteration of our old selves but rather creates our new selves as God has created us to be, our selves with a new basis other than our old selves.

That God has enabled us to know God not as threatening, vague, distant Other but as a vulnerable, intimate friend is at the heart of the good news about God. The cross is not only revelation but also vocation. God continues to take great risk (Phil 2) in reaching out to us, refusing to save the world without us. Jesus Christ is not only God helping us but also God's incredible vulnerability in summoning us to help God's work of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18).

First John speaks about "love" in much the same way that love is presented in Paul: love arises not from some benign human disposition but rather as a miraculous act of God in us, in spite of us. Love begins not with us but with Christ, the one who embodies, in word and deed, that "love is from God." Human love for each other is dependent upon the God who "first loved us."

Dear friends, let's love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn't love does not know God, because God is love. This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us....

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn't love a brother or sister who can be seen can't love God, who can't be seen. This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also. (1 John 4:7-12, 18-21 CEB)


Human love is symbiotic, derivative of the sort of God we've got. Christian love is responsive: "We love because God first loved us" (1 John 4:19 CEB). The indicative "God is love" leads to an imperative: (You ought to) "love each other."

This sermon from 1 John was probably voiced in a church that was facing threats from within and without, which makes all the more impressive that believers are urged not, "Be on guard!" or "Defend yourselves!" but rather, Love!


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Fear of the Other by William H. Willimon. Copyright © 2016 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Chapter 1 Saved by the Other 01

Chapter 2 The Other, My Enemy 21

Chapter 3 Learning to Fear Like Christians 35

Chapter 4 Loving the Other in Church 61

Chapter 5 Jesus, the Other 85

Bibliography 93

Scripture Index (by Chapter) 95

Scripture Index (by Reference) 97

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