Recently, Fr. Mike Schmidt [yes, the Bible in a Year guy] delivered another fabulous sermon to his hometown crowd and we happened to be present. Father Mike’s rich sermons are delivered as fast and furiously as his online / TV or radio presentations. He delivers more food for thought in one sermon than most priests deliver in a month of Sunday homilies. That statement is not meant to disparage the great job our parish priests do to bring the Word of God to their parishioners each week. But, Father Mike, is a very special homilist and I think most of us can agree on that point. His homilies continue to fill up more than one page for notes within A Book For All Seasons Journal [available from www.fortifyingfamiliesoffaith.com]; in fact, his homilies are the reason I added extra pages to the back of this journal. And so listeners can listen and take notes — in his case we have to write fast and furiously.
Father Mike began the homily by admitting to us that he had just been pulled over that morning for speeding through several small towns on the way to the 10:30 am Sunday Mass in northern MN. Pre-occupied with thoughts about the opening remarks; he suddenly saw flashing lights in his rear view mirror and realized he was being pulled over by a local policeman. Instantly, herealized the Lord was providing him with opening remarks for the homily — provided the policeman exercised mercy. The policeman asked Fr. Mike if he knew that he was going 15 MPH over the speed limit. Father Mike had two immediate thoughts. He could simply admit to speeding or he could make excuses about why he was speeding in hopes that the cop would be merciful. He also noted how this situation directly applies our personal relationship with God. The cop was merciful after giving Fr. Mike a stern warning to stop driving over the speed limit. Instantly, he realized how that mercy comes to us from God. And now he also had the opening story for his homily. God is perfectly merciful; in turn, we are all called to simply admit our sins when they occur — no matter how many times they occur and without making excuses or lying about what we did or failed to do. This is the posture of the sinner who righteously Fears the Lord. We acknowledge our sins realizing they were against man and God; we do it without watering down the offense; without fanfare; and without making excuses for why we sinned. This allows us to receive [and feel] the full measure of God’s Mercy without exception. This posture acknowledges that God is God and we are mere women [or men].
Father reminded us of the story of the infamous televangelist Jimmy [and wife Tammy Faye] Baker. Baker was indicted and convicted of mail and wire fraud and conspiring to defraud the public; consequently, he had to spend a significant amount of time in a federal prison. He was also guilty of cheating on his wife — Tammy Faye. Did you know that Baker was the most popular and successful televangelist compared to all others — then and now? One day, a reporter interviewing Baker asked: “When did you fall out of love with Jesus Christ”? To which Baker responded: “I have never fallen out of love for Jesus Christ; I lost my fear of the Lord!” Baker’s heartfelt confession caught the reporter off guard.
What about us? Do we have a righteous fear of the Lord? Or have we too lost our fear of the Lord? Father Mike asked us to see God as a grizzly bear rather than a teddy bear suggesting that we have nerf-ivied God. And this attitude matters because either we learn to put on a righteous fear of the Lord or we miss the mark of developing a real relationship with God. According to Father Mike, “Fear of the Lord is the first stage needed to really know or understand who God is.”
Wow —- really? I had never thought about that particular virtue this way! His point is worth pondering in our hearts — over and over again. Per usual, Father Mike had many other points to add to the statement and so he quoted Matthew 10:26 - 33 “ Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell. ... Are not two sparrows sold for a …” After quoting these scripture verses, he asked us to consider who “Jesus is referring to in this passage. Who is capable of killing our bodies and our souls?” He then said that most people assume that the perpetrator capable of killing our body and soul is the devil. OK, I did too so I’m right in there with everyone else. He told us to raise our hand if we thought the who as the devil. Nobody raised their hands because we were beginning to guess that was the wrong answer. Father Mike told us that Jesus was referring to God. “He is Who is capable of killing both our soul and body in hell.” The answer surprised me along with many others. To clarify, Father Mike stated that Jesus was trying to teach his disciples that they [and us] are to develop a holy fear of God, our Heavenly Father! Fear of the Lord becomes possible as we strive for Wisdom and that virtue [wisdom] enables us to understand why we need to have a righteous Fear of the Lord. According to Father Mike there is a mighty big difference between Fear of the Lord and being afraid of God. The first is righteous; the latter is unrighteous.
So, how does a person learn to Fear the Lord? While prescriptions to increase our faith are often presented to us; we all need to pray for Wisdom. And that is shored up by reading the Bible; pondering the actions and reactions of people in the Bible who encountered God and lived — or didn’t. Father quoted from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; and this made me realize that I should re-read it as an adult Catholic rather than a parent who read this children’s story to her children decades ago. I need to think about Lucy’s questions about the Lion. I need to meditate on Jesus’ Baptism; his Transfiguration; and Resurrection. I need to consider Moses’ reaction to the burning bush and consider what happened to the Israelites vs. the Egyptians when the Red Sea parted. I have to ask myself is I regard God a Teddy Bear or a Grizzly Bear.
May this essay help pay Father Mike’s sermon forward as you and your family discuss and think about Fear of the Lord vs. being afraid of the Lord. The topic will definitely generate a great discussion if/when we dare to talk about it with our families or friends. May God bless you all with a holy and righteous Fear of the Lord. Pay it forward.