The following sermon was preached by Benjamin Adams, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Monday, April 28, 2014.
John 20:19-31Theme: Acceptance defeats fear.
Doctrine: No one is excluded from God’s love
Need: Freedom in the face of fear
Image: Locked, fear
Mission: Replace fear with boldness
There’s this new word that has found its way into social media these days, the word is FOMO. Have you heard it? Well if you haven’t heard it, it’s a word kind of like YOLO, but in my opinion not as annoying. FOMO stands for “fear of missing out” an anxiety that one might be missing out on an opportunity, missing out on a social interaction, missing out on an experience, missing out on a profitable investment, missing out on anything that might be considered satisfying. What is obvious is that there is good evidence that FOMO is a growing form of social anxiety that people are displaying. A basic search on twitter for the hashtag FOMO demonstrates this clearly:
@muttlover35 said: #mothernature never ceases to amaze me. Missed today's "blood moon" #fomo
@TK_Nguyen said: I need to stop checking my social media feed because all these #Coachella posts are giving me next level #FOMO.
Or on an even lighter note, @linaroque said: The office today smells like waffles, maple syrup, and bacon. But what it really smells like is that I wasn't invited to something. #FOMO
This fear of missing out, FOMO, might sound funny, but I suspect that most, if not all of us, know this fear. For many, it seems, it is a real anxiety that we deal with on a regular basis. It is, if you will a common fear. The question for consideration this morning is what does it mean that a common fear seems to have become a dominating fear, a fear that controls not only my individual behavior but also societies behavior. My follow up question is who benefits from this societal norm of FOMO?
When we begin to look deeper into this societal FOMO, we begin to see that a system is benefiting from it. A system that is continually telling us that in order to be in and in order to be cool, we need to be up to date. We need the right clothes, the right friends, the right job, the right education, the right technology, and just when we think that we have obtained all that is right we are told that our version of right is already out of date and obsolete.
There is a corporate marketing system in place that keeps us on the mouse’s wheel, running and running, but never going anywhere while the system dangles the latest and greatest in front of our eyes like a carrot that we will eternally be going after, never content, always wanting more.
And the result is that we find ourselves in a society that is in a constant state of FOMO, a constant state of fear; fear that what we have and who we are is not good enough and we are missing out on something better. We are being bullied!
When we let our fear of missing out consume our lives and control our behavior we are being bullied because our fear is being exploited by an outside force.
In our Gospel today from John, we see the power of collective fear of those who do not fit into the social norm, those who choose to defy the social norm. While we find the disciples hidden behind locked doors fearful of the Jews, we also see the fear that the Jews and Romans had of the disciples. What was the source of fear that caused the Jews and the Roman Empire to consider Jesus and his disciples such a threat that they would persecute and crucify them? Here is the reality, the powers and principalities of this earth want you to conform, to fit in, and when you do not or when you choose not to, you are a threat.
My friends, just as there is a system in place today that convinces us to fear not fitting in, there was a system of fear 2000 years ago that taught people to fear what was different. The system of empire manipulated the Jews and Romans to fear Jesus so much that they demanded his innocent death. Jesus threatened the status quo by defying it. Jesus didn’t have the right clothes, the right friends, the right job, or the right education and he definitely did not follow the right rules. And because Jesus so threatened the status quo and the empire that controlled the Jews and Romans, they were filled with fear and it led them to persecute Jesus and those who followed him.
Jesus threatened the religious and political leaders of his time because he revealed the freedom and value that each one of us have. Here is the good news my friends, “We all fit in”, not because a system or empire tells us we fit in or have value, but because we as children of God are inalienably good and worthy and loved. Jesus reveals the powerlessness of the empire when we discover that our value is not dependent upon what we have but our value is eternal and inherent as children of God.
So now that we have reflected on both the system of fear employed by the religious leaders and Roman Empire of Jesus’ day as well as the system of fear employed by the corporate empire we live under today, I want to consider a final important question: when, as a society we let ourselves become consumed and possessed by FOMO, what exactly are we really missing out on?
My friends, when we fear missing out on what the system tells we should desire, we lose sight of the liberating love and grace of God in Jesus Christ. This is a liberation that frees us to live authentically as the diverse children of God we have been created to be. We do not have to fit into societies status quo. We can stand up together against the system in our world that tries to define us by what we have and not who we are.
And when Jesus died on the cross and rose three days later from the grave, the system and empire was completely and utterly exposed, because not even the power of public crucifixion was strong enough to overcome the power of God.
This is the power that we are joined to in baptism. The death we experience beneath our baptismal waters is overcome with the resurrection that we experience as we are brought out from underneath those waters into new life.
As well my friends, when we find ourselves overcome by fear like the disciples locked behind closed doors, Christ comes to us in the simple meal of bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood. And just as Christ became present to Thomas and disciples in our gospel, and greets them with the words, “Peace be with you. Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” We too receive that same blessing from Jesus Christ.
And as we are sent forth with the peace and courage to overcome the fears that have been placed on us by the empire, we go boldly with the good news of Christ’s resurrection. The same power that Christ displayed in his resurrection that exposed the powerlessness of the Roman Empire is the same power that the Holy Spirit fills us with to stand up to our 21st century corporate empire.
Siblings in Christ do not be afraid for we have been offered refuge in God’s grace. It is time to come out from our hiding places of fear, let go of our FOMO, and return to the world filled with God’s love, filled with Christ’s presence, and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ has risen and abundant life without fear is ours through Christ. Amen