"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they
neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his
glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so
clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow
is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you - you of
little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we
eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' For it is
the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your
heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But
strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all
these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:28-33)
 "Consider the lilies...." The invitation seems a
luxury at a time when there are so many other images competing for
our attention, images that are cruel and confounding, images that
show us the darker side of human nature.
 Some are global images that bombard us from newspapers and
the media. Consider the digital photographs documenting
American treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Consider
the images of the World Trade Towers, woven into the woolen fabrics
of Afghan rugs and now on sale in San Francisco's Mission
District. Consider Wall Street worries about the FUD factor,
the toll that Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt take on the stock
market. Consider a "war" that is was declared over a year
ago, but is still going on, demanding more American troops and more
 These are complex images. They don't pack nicely into
moving cartons labeled "church" and "family" and "politics"; they
all jumble together, resisting neat categories. And we can't
turn these images off with a click of the remote; they haunt us in
the night hours. The fields to which we are called have more
than lilies. There are a lot more sinister images to
 And yet the lilies Jesus invites us to consider may be more
real than our fears. In his book The Culture of Fear
(NY: Basic Books, 1999) sociologist Barry Glassner muses on the
manufacturing of fear. He identifies the peddlers who create,
manipulate, and profit from people's anxieties, deflecting our
attention from other concerns. We know from the news that "if
it bleeds, it leads," and reporters hype an incident of workplace
violence with stories that begin: "How can you be sure the person
sitting next to you at work won't go over the edge and bring an Uzi
to the office tomorrow?" The obvious answer is: "You
 Since church offices are also workplaces, we all ought to be
shuddering in our chasubles and albs every Sunday. In fact,
however, fewer than one in twenty homicides occurs at a
workplace. A relatively rare crime rents an inordinate amount of
space in our anxiety closets. Glassner concludes that
Americans are deeply afraid - but afraid about the wrong
things. Too much money has followed the trail of our fears,
diverted from real projects that desperately need attention, like
anti-poverty measures and child welfare. In our gullibility,
we have only ourselves to blame. Like the sorcerer's
apprentice, we have become captive to the fears of our own
creation. The anxieties we ourselves have conjured now
 I want to consider one of the images that haunts us, because
it illustrates two by-products of the culture of fear: a mentality
of scarcity and the presentation of the other as Enemy. I
don't need to reproduce this image in print or beam it onto a
screen. This image is embedded in our minds and our
hearts. It is the image of the hooded Iraqi prisoner standing
on a box with wires taped to his fingers. The captive was
told that if he stepped off the box, he would be electrocuted. The
photo was snapped in an instant, but we can imagine it was
time-lapse photography, because the man was made to stand there for
hours in the same posture. And so he did, fear fighting
against exhaustion, terrified that any false step would jolt him to
death. It is an image that is cruel and telling.
The cruelty was intentional, even if commanded, abrogating
international accords that are meant to safeguard human treatment
 But the image is also telling, because superimposed onto the
captive's terror is the fear of his captors. I have tried - we have
all tried -- to understand the psyche of the people who perpetrated
such cruelty. The pictures tell us not simply how well they
could terrorize someone else; they tell us how terrified the
torturers were themselves. The soldiers at Abu Ghraib knew
their own vulnerability. Notice how commentators speak of the
atmosphere in the prison: the soldiers were underslept and
unprepared, they were under- supported and unrested, they were
unsupervised and untrained for the task shoved in their faces. A
litany of scarcity engenders their terror. And this, all of
it, is most certainly true. But the pictures speak a
thousand words: the soldiers were terrified. And terrified in
a culture that would not allow them to admit their fears.
Fear fueled their cruelty; cruelty spiked the fear of retaliation.
Between soldiers and prisoners there was a mutual exchange of fear
that turned the persecuted into the persecutor, the terrorist into
the terrorized - and back again in a vicious circle of evil.
Fear locks both parties - the captor and the captive - into a
cell for which no one has the key.
 Herein lies the rationale - and really it is an ir-rationale
- of the culture of fear. But the fear that such scarcity
promulgates takes on a life of its own: those who manufacture fear
ultimately wind up in its thrall.
 How are we to consider the Gospel in this culture of fear?
Particularly a Gospel that urges upon us the seeming luxury of
"considering the lilies...." What stands in opposition to
this culture of fear? Surprisingly, the opposite of
fear is not gung-ho, guts-out courage. No, courage does
not counter fear; it only repackages it. The poet T.S. Eliot
put it well in "Gerontion": "Neither fear nor courage saves
us." I will put it more crassly: courage is only
fear with a bad make-up job, industrial strength mascara that runs
like a faucet when you cry - or when you bleed.
 In order for courage to function it needs enemies; it feeds
on enemies - in fact, it will create enemies - even when they are
not there! - in order to display itself front and center.
I've observed leaders who were merely courageous, and like
Don Quixote they thrust their lances at a merry-go-round of
revolving windmills. One week it's the church council; the
next week it's the organist; then the evangelical community church
down the street poaching potential members. Finally, even the
bishop masquerades as the prince of demons. This may be a
strategy for effective combat, but it is not a strategy for
missional leadership. And at the bottom of it all is fear:
fear of losing members, fear of losing face, fear of losing
standing, fear of losing friends. This is how a culture of
fear regards the world: all the world's an enemy - or at best a
competitor. Don't be a leader who is merely courageous.
 Be a leader who considers the Gospel and the world it
displays. In this world the opposite of fear is not courage but
trust - which translated into theological terms as faith.
Faith regards the other - not as enemy - but as faithful
disciples and present neighbors. Indeed, to women and men of
faith, all the world's a neighbor. Faith turns the litany of
scarcity into a celebration of abundance.
 Jesus was born into a culture of fear himself. If
you've seen "The Passion according to Mel Gibson," you know that
the Roman occupation of Palestine was far more brutal than the
American occupation in Iraq. Rulers, Roman and Jewish
alike, ruled in fear of the violence of the mob. The
ordinary peasant worried about where the next meal would come from,
whether their children would survive childhood, for this was the
only social security system available in the ancient world.
Poverty was grinding, and it had religious ramifications. If
one couldn't afford to sacrifice at the Temple and pay taxes to
both Roman and Jewish leaders, the inference was that God had
rejected that person as well.
 Jesus began his ministry in a culture of fear.
Therefore, the words Jesus spoke most frequently to his anxious
crew are worth hearing again today, because they so directly
address the fears of our own time. Indeed, Jesus repeated
these words so often he sounds like a broken record, but they
function as bookends to the journey of discipleship. They are
the first words Jesus says to his disciples - and the last.
The words are simply: "Follow me." And the corollary command,
spoken almost as often, is Christians' secret weapon against a
culture of fear: "Be not anxious," or "Be not
afraid." I like to think of these two commands as
the positive and negative statements of discipleship, the "thou-
shalt" and "thou- shalt-not" of following Jesus. One reminds
us of the way into discipleship; the other points the way out of
the labyrinth of fear.
 Following Jesus the disciples met the God to whom he
prayed. The name of this God had been unpronounceable in
Jewish liturgy, but Jesus not only spoke it aloud, but named God as
"Father." The ancient world remanded to fathers
responsibility for providing for the needs of their children, and
disciples should expect nothing less from God. The Father of
the whole creation provides for it, sustains it, and delights in
it. In this passage from Matthew's Gospel, Jesus details a
divine abundance. "Is not life more than food and the body
more than clothing?" "Are you not of more value than
they?" "Will God not much more clothe you?"
 The words relate no litany of scarcity, but a celebration
of abundance. Each of these declarations of divine
surplus cancels out a fear, heaves a huge worry out of the anxiety
closet. And I'm sure seminary graduates could rattle off the
divine attributes of God is rapid-fire succession - you know, that
catalogue of "Omni-"s; that God is all-knowing or omniscient;
that God is all-powerful or omnipotent; that God is everywhere and
omni-present. But Jesus here adds an attribute that can't be
catalogued as an "Omni-". It doesn't even exist as a
noun. Indeed, this attribute frames a whole divine habit of
being. It is the attribute of divine abundance, summed up in
the words "how much more!" "How much more" will God provide
for you - trust in that! Take that to the bank! In his
miracles, his multiplication of loaves and fishes, the lavish
outpouring of oil on his feet, the reckless turning of water into
wine, in many and various ways, Jesus demonstrates a God whose
abundance exceeds our wildest expectations. All you got to do
is say: "Yes! Thank you! I'll have one of those!"
 I remember the remarks Dr. Robert Goeser made at his
retirement dinner almost a decade ago. Dr. Goeser remained so
convinced of this divine attribute of abundance that it had become
the lens which he viewed his own life. Nothing had followed
the script he'd written for himself at his own graduation from Yale
University forty years before. Nothing! But "how much
more" it all added up to. This was the refrain of a disciple
whose vision had been tutored by long and faithful consideration of
 "Consider the lilies....." It's not a luxury
then, is it? Considering the lilies is the lifeblood of
discipleship, and it's effect is two-fold. First, it uncoils
a heart turned in on itself, which Martin Luther famously called
the cor incurvatus in se. What does he mean?
Think of the inner workings of a Swiss watch, the tightly coiled
springs of densely packed energy that pulse the watch
forward. My heart has felt like that at times.
Obsession and fear and anxiety wrap the heartstrings around
themselves in a huge, confused knot: "What will we eat?"
"What will we drink?" "What will we wear?" "When will
the troops come home?" "When will this war be over?"
"How will we pay off all these debts?" "Where will we find a
first call?" It's the hard-wiring of narcissism: in my
fear, everything is all about ME ME ME!
 Of course, if God provides for our every need, then
disciples are relieved of that desperate scramble for
survival. All we need to do is long for God, and that habit
of longing unbends the strings of the heart and creates a space
where Christ might enter and dwell. Twelve Step programs have
awkwardly but accurately spoken of this as "that God-shaped hole"
inside of us, and they warn of the temptation to stuff that hole
with all manner of false gods and false promises to confer
security. St. Augustine spoke more eloquently of "a holy
longing for God" and the space that longing creates. The more
we yearn for the God in whom we place our trust, the larger that
space becomes. A heart turned in on itself slowly unbends to
reach for the subject of its longing: God.
 Here is a second effect of considering the lilies.
The consequence of this "holy longing" is the freedom to attend to
the neighbor. After all, if God will provide, then our needs
are taken care of. The other no longer bears the face of the
Enemy, threatening our security and our very earthly
existence. Nor is the other the Competitor for scarce
resources. Faith removes the hood of anonymity from both
captor and captive alike, revealing there the face of the neighbor,
child of God, creature of the same creator. The familiar
prayer in the liturgy runs - "in faith toward you and fervent love
for one another," but it is really the case that faith in God
enables, even compels love of the neighbor. For it is when we
trust in God - and relieve ourselves of the awesome responsibility
of providing for ourselves -- that we are freed to see the other as
neighbor - and nothing less.
 Generosity is that spacious habit of human nature that
welcomes the other as neighbor, that opens oneself to the neighbor,
and that discovers in the face of the neighbor the face of
Christ. I would tell you to be generous leaders, but the most
accurate way to put that is not a command: "Be generous." Nor
is it as statement of fact: "You can be generous leaders, because
God has been generous with you." Rather it's a
Declaration of Independence, releasing you from fear and freeing
you for life with abundance.
 Finally, considering the Gospel in a culture of fear means
that we discover the wild Gospel culture of generosity. I
hope that in the time you have spent with us you have been infected
with that spirit of abundance. I think Pacific Lutheran
Theological Seminary embodies it: This institution has done more
with less than any I've ever seen. I hope you catch our "can-do"
attitude and our joyous spirit of "what-the hellness" - that invite
our constituency to come to us with their ideas, because we have a
Gospel recklessness that says "Hey, let's try it!" At its
best, we regard the other not as Enemy but Co-Conspirator in the
ranks of God's boisterous disciples. It's attitude with a
capital "J", for Jesus was the one who thumbed his nose at powers
and principalities, refused to give in, managed to celebrate the
night before he died, and cook breakfast for his disciples after he
rose from the dead. Make the Last Supper and the First
Breakfast icons of your ministry, and be not afraid of suffering,
nor of celebration either. Practice that wild joy that marks
those who trust in a God that does provide -and provides with
characteristic wild abandon.