Sermon: Fear No Evil


Psalm 23

John 10: 11-18

The Reverend Odette Lockwood-Stewart

The American Church in Paris


We are all afraid… of something.

Every beloved child of God that has been hurt, oppressed, tossed aside or turned against, has been afraid.

Every one listening to the bad news sold by media and forecast by fearmongering politicians has been afraid.

What frightens you? What keeps you awake at night?

What fears tug at your heart when you say goodbye to loved ones?  What worries do you carry into an unknown or uncertain future?   Which news headlines and daily realities make you anxious?

We are all afraid… of something.

Is there anyone here today who has never had one moment of fear in your life…? Aha! Not a one. Now we can have some very interesting conversations at coffee fellowship.


As for myself, I am well acquainted with fear. For example, I know that I could never be a character in a horror film because I would neveropen that creaking door, or climb down into a dark basement, or follow a trail of bloody footprints into the woods as the scary music gets louder … Never.  Indeed, I have such an active imagination and I am so well acquainted with fear that I would love to have back just some of the time in my life that I’ve spent afraid of things that didn’thappen.


As a child, I lived in a real life scary world.  I grew up in a family where there was a lot of love, but far from perfect love, in which violence could erupt at any moment. As children often do, I somehow thought that I was responsible for my father’s drinking and anger.  One night, when I was very young and very afraid, I heard the voice of God.  I was hiding in the bathroom, seeking refuge, rocking, crying, and repeating over and over again a scripture-based prayer I had learned, “Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.  Speak but the word and my soul will be healed. Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.  Speak but the word and my soul will be healed.”  Then, I heard, I felt, a gentle, clear voice say, “I said it already! Don’t be afraid.”


You may already know that the command most often repeated in the Bible after “Praise Ye the Lord” is “Fear not!” “Do not be afraid!” In many forms andhundreds of times.  God knows we need to hear that message every day.  Rabbi Abraham Heschel in his great work, The Prophets, wrote, “The things that horrifythe prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world.”

Wars … rumors of wars … famine … fires … floods … the poor trampled by the rich…

We also carry fear-full times “inside” … You may be walking through the valley of the shadow of death now….

Fear is a natural response and canhelp keep us alive. We even instill fear in children to keep them safe from dangers. Hot stoves … electrical outlets … street traffic … strangers … Fear can promote legitimate caution.   But fear can also paralyze us, cause us to do harm to ourselves and others, and keep us from abundant life.


One physiological fear response is “fight or flight.”  The heart speeds up, we hold our breath – or hyperventilate, we shake, mouth gets dry, adrenalin pumps through our bodies, digestion stops. This response also includes – tunnel vision and hearing loss! When we are afraid, our vision narrows and our hearing is weakened. Nevertheless, if we are centered, grounded… in a higher power…, if we are loved into vision of a bigger frame…, we can trust a wider vision than we can see, a deeper song than we remember. As Christians, we know this in the power of God’s love in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.


Today is the fourth Sunday of Easter, known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.”  Our readings remind us that the comfort and courage we find with the Good Shepherd can free us to open our hands and hearts in loving service even when we are most afraid.  The Lord is my shepherd…  and Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd….

These texts and truths touch our hearts – center our souls – in the absolute trustworthiness of God.


The 23rdpsalm is often memorized, sung at memorials, held close in times of crisis. It is also a psalm for everyday, a song of confidence in the clash of hopes and fears.  Every daywe can choose to displace and replace fear by remembering and resting in God’s love. I John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”


To say “the Lord is my shepherd”is to say that Godis the one to whom I look in every circumstance for nourishment, guidance and care. God is shepherd and host.  Psalm 23 reminds the people of Israel that God’s love was enough to deliver them from slavery, enough to sustain them in the wilderness.


Nelson Mandela, the late anti-apartheid leader and president of South Africa, who was imprisoned for twenty-seven years, wrote these words of encouragement to others, “May your choicesreflect your hopes and not your fears.”


Scripture encourages us, to make choices that reflect God’s love and not our fears. In hopeless situations, the hope is not in the situation, it is in us, by the grace of God.


As most of us are not as familiar today with sheep and shepherds as King David was 3000 years ago, or Jesus’ followers were 2000 years ago, I read reports from several shepherds about… sheep.


Spoiler alert: Sheep, while beautiful useful beings, are also creatures with destructive habits, who will not rest, who do not follow, and who wander, a lot.

Second spoiler alert: We are the sheep.

Sheep are creatures of habit.They follow and feed on the same paths until the ground becomes barren and polluted… (climate change!) the Shepherdleads sheep onto new and life-giving paths. On this Earth Day, I am inspired by many new and life-giving paths engaged by tens of thousands in the Canopy Project, working to plant 7.8 billion trees for reforestation – one for each person on earth.  Habits can change.


Sheep will not rest if they are anxious, hungry, or in conflict…(I cannot rest if I am anxious, hungry or in conflict) Shepherds protect their sheep from floods, storms, heat, hunger, robbers, and wild animals.  The shepherd makesthe sheep lie down in pastures of tender grass and rest safelybeside still waters. On this Lord’s day, I am inspired by movements in the church to recreate sabbath space in our lives – honoring one day each week to rest in right relationship with God and one another.  Sheep can rest.


Sheep do not easily follow. Yet every day the shepherd’s voice, known and trusted, encourages those who are struggling or straggling, as he tends those who are injured or sick, and guides those who cannot find food. Sheep know as they are known and trust the one who cares for them.


Sheep wander.  The prophet Isaiah said,“All welike sheep have gone astray” (53:6).  The shepherd continually guidesthe sheep back to the right path. If the shepherd loses one sheep, he will go out and search until he finds and brings it home.  The shepherd uses the rod to fight off predators, but the staff hooks and guides the sheep themselves.  Atnight when the sheep are gathered in a pen, the shepherd lays his own body down on the ground across the opening in the fence, to keep the sheep in and danger out.


We listen for the voice of the “good shepherd.”

While Jesus’ love does not take away all threats, he lays down his life for the sheep. (This phrase occurs five times in just nine verses). and picks up his life again for his flock. One Shepherd. One flock.  And Jesus’ flock includes those beyond this fold and beyond our imagining.


The dangers of powers, principalities, and profiteers threaten.  Sad to say even parents, pastors, police can be hirelings or predators. Hirelings are those who are supposedto shepherd but who run when the wolves appear, predators are wolves in sheep’s clothing.


Jesus said, “My sheep hear myvoice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”  Listening to Jesus’ voice, we know as we are known, we love as we are loved.


“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me….”

Psalm 23 does not say that evil and death do not exist.  We face our fears and cross valleys because we know we are not alone, and because we rest inand live fromGod’s love.

Psalm 23 does not say “I will not fear”, but rather “I will fear no evil.”

Fearing no evil means we do not let fear dictate who we are or how we live.  The greatest power we have is the power to choose to whom and to what we will give the power to define who we are.  We fear no evil because we give that power to God alone.

We testify in the face of evil, “The Lordis my shepherd.  Youare not.”


On the 19thanniversary of the school shooting in Columbine, Colorado, I am inspired as young people (and adults) across the United States continue to grow movements to end all Gun violence in everycommunity. Gun violence claims 33,500 lives every year. 2/3 of these are suicides. They are all our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers. Will fear of violence cause us to place our trust in guns? Or, will we listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and trust the power of God’s love?


Think about your life. Your fears.  They can entomb or they can awaken you to trust ever more deeply.  There is no pit so deep God’s love is not deeper still.


The amazing Good News of Easter is that even and especially in fear-full situations we can be led to new life.  As we practice placing our trustin Christ,living love in the face of evil, andlistening to the voice of Godwe are Easter people.


EverLiving Lord, speak your Word through our words, love your world through our lives, take our hearts and set them on fire with praise all our days. Amen



Three Movements From A Weekend

Saturday Morning



half hour through cool morning


real marketplace

of ideas

and choux rave

of local linked economies

and framboises

of communities

and saucisses toulouses

fruits of labor offered sold bought

without middle


knowing as known




and the serious business

of daily bread

Saturday Afternoon

Jim celebrated

a wedding blessing

for two musicians



Happy pastor




Sunday Morning

I weep Sundays

praise and prayers


in tears

stained glass


misty glory

of God with us


a family


father, mother, four children

household baptism

New Testamental

from Nigeria

this family

grace of God


in each


image of God

made flesh

in each


following Jesus

nothing will separate

them from the love of God

tears of continuity and mystery

and then a smile

born of names

the two-year-old twins








daily weather reports


…the world.

daily news

includes stories of…

…the world.

daily prayers

are for…

…the world.

In Paris the World is Closer.


On Easter Sunday,

Resurrection Day,

the gathered worshipping community swells to 2000…

the 40 nations of the congregation expand to include…

…the world.


God so loves the world.

For u s,

God-so-loving the world

is complicated.


Movements of people

End genderracialgenderidentity violence

People on the move

Displaced, determined, desperate

Looking for

shelter, for


of Jesus




sing Soul.

Voice truth.

widen vision.


In Paris, the world is not issues, not over there,

neighbors, yes,

but more,



In the United States

A spiritual practice













the World





…the world.

lost in wonder, love, and praise… in transition

Sometimes thresholds are awakenings to unexpected seasons…

In the 70s, from Lyons to Paris, sick from the movement of the train and of my life…

In the 80s, from San Francisco to San Diego, grieving losses and clearing…

from San Diego to Los Angeles, saying “yes” to Jim, to Josh, Andrew, Betsy and Mary…  and to UCLA…

In the 90s, from LA to Berkeley, dislocating family, planting new ministries…

In the 2000s, a soul well met with mission as pastor, Epworth UMC…

In the 2010s, call to return to teaching and vocational formation work…

In 2017, leaving seminary and appointed ministry,

then saying “yes” to a year with the American Church in Paris…

No sleep dims the impact of transmogrification to this year of life and ministry.

Now I dwell in the land of discombobulation.


Wholly weak

Holy Week

every day


Song of souls

broken open

to mystery

Body of Christ

crucified again and again.



Daily bread

broken in memory

of the future.

Dive deep

and surface.

Believe Resurrection

Leaving Home

I leave the United States for one year in Paris at a time when fear, anger and narrow vision reign at home.

I leave home at a time when the United Methodist Church discerns a way forward through powers of retrenchment and fragmentation.



makes a way where there is no way.

liberates through love and self-giving.

heals a hurting and waiting world,

without borders…

My Paris journal and photos will be occasional posts.

Sermons, reviews, writings, presentations less occasional posts.

If you are interested, please click subscribe.

Grace and peace.


My Four-Sentence Reviews began and ended in 2012. Now up with 2017 posts. Subscribe by clicking to receive film reviews as they are written.


Screening at Berkeley Art Museum/ Pacific Film Archives December 3.

Filmmaker Peter Bratt once again creates art that inspires and changes us.

See this film about social justice leader Dolores Huerta.  I might see you there.



No spoiler alert in this because advertisements reveal the requisite plane crash, cougar attack, injury, and canine companion that accompany handsome physician and beautiful photojournalist protagonists.  Conveniently, there are more than enough matches to light fires, there is snow but no blizzard, and an abandoned house appears at the precise moment required in the cinematic romantic algorithm.  The craft and charisma of Idris Elba and Kate Winslet save weak writing and direction.


This meditation on mortality with 90-year-old atheist, Lucky, is the perfect last picture of Harry Dean Stanton. Bizarre and beautiful turns by character actors of several generations shine.  But it is the still honesty, song, and smile of Stanton that brings this film to depths.  Director Johnathon Carroll Lynch wisely gives the space and time to rituals of Arizona desert life forms.


HUMAN FLOW Ai Wei Wei’s documentary is an immersion in awareness and attention to the vast earth-wide scale of suffering and humanity of immigrants and refugees.  With simplicity and excruciating detail, the camera and Ai Wei Wei himself journey slowly to each sea, road, camp, encampment, face, body, child, interaction.  Images weave networks of narrative.  The cost of waging “distant” wars, human choices and climate change, globalization’s intensification of economic disparity are seen in plain relief without relief.


VICTORIA AND ABDUL This film evokes questions by what it does not ask or address regarding empire, power, race, class, gender, and right relationship.  Performances and production value surpass the venture itself.


Revo Reviews That-Which-She-Has-Not-Seen:  Anna Karenina

After seeing the film trailer for Anna Karenina I said to my partner, “I think I’ll root for the train.” Mick LaSalle’s review in the San Francisco Chronicle confirmed this, although I suspect that Keira Knightley’s performance should get more credit for train-rooting than Lasalle gives it. Tolstoy is not well served by high concept direction (read: gimmick) or by the lead performances.

Read the book instead.


Revo Reviews:  Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrait is a profoundly political, sad and wry Lincoln, showing what it takes and what it costs to lead. Best actor. Bright character performances show humanity and social change in all its beauty and messiness.  Spielberg’s direction stays close to the historicity Goodwin’s text’s with two notable glossy and indulgent speechifying scenes as exceptions.

See it and read the book.



Revo Reviews:         The Impossible

Screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez and Director Juan Antonio Bayona did the impossible: they made the audience experience unbearable overwhelming devastation and the intimate intensity of human suffering at the same time without losing complex connections to socio-politico-spiritual realities. This Spanish family caught in the 2004 tsunami morphed into a British family no doubt to get the film produced and distributed. Performances by Naomi Watts, Ewan Macgregor, and Tom Holland are as riveting as sound and visual effects.  The final scene is strained emotional framing, but the rest of the film is revelation.

Help the ongoing recovery.

“Hope Springs” Only Seems Eternal

Who are these people and why should we care about them?

These are the questions facing anyone unwise enough to shell out eight dollars to see David Frankel’s film, an example of therapy gone boring.

Who are these people and why should we care about them? We never know the answer to the first. But 15 minutes in it is pretty clear there is no why.

We know Kay is unhappy.  We know why. We’ve met Arnold.

We know Arnold is unhappy.  We’re not sure why but pretty sure we don’t care.  We don’t know whether Dr. Feld, a New England interpersonal Yoda, has any feelings beyond kind bemusement.

It takes a lot for this reviewer to dislike a film starring Meryl Streep and/or Tommy Lee Jones.  It takes a lot for this filmgoer to find Steve Carell irritating.

Director David Frankel has managed both.  As a late Baby Boomer I am very interested in the subject matter of relationships over time and how we change.

Shifts in character come from neither arc nor revelation, just grinding gears.

The ick factor for me wasn’t about aging adults exploring and addressing sexuality and intimacy.  The ick factor (especially the massage scene… I’ll say no more) came from editing preoccupied with action devoid of meaning.

Hope arises from depth.  This film floats on the surface with gestures of character and indication of story.

With apologies to Ms. Streep and Mr. Jones, I would like my eight dollars back.

“The Well Digger’s Daughter”

Daniel Auteuil’s film, “The Well Digger’s Daughter” is a small tapestry of love, family, and honor woven across class and generations.  Gelled pastoral images and muted passionate music illumine his steadfast choice of restrained intimacy in screenplay and direction.

Auteuil’s brilliance at self-direction and in his work with the other actors also shows restraint and economy of moment and expression.  What is left unsaid or understated carries more power than speech.  The crossing of a stream and then a brief ride on a motorcycle without dialogue or drama initiates the seduction of Patricia, the well digger’s daughter, by Jacques, the general store owner’s son.

Jacques and Patricia are prince and princess known and limited by what their parents do.  He is described as “a gentleman, but still kind.”  She is beautiful and is so loving that her father says with astonishment that he loves her as he would a son.

War and consequences separate the lovers, but it is losing and finding family and right relationship that sweeps through this film again and again, like the wind in country fields of Alpes Côte-Azur.

In many ways this is too beautiful a remake of the 1940 classic by Marcel Pagnol.  The harsh realities of class and survival are as muted as the lovely fields and operatic themes of the score.

Nevertheless, this is a more modest film in which you care about every character (seriously, every one) as they navigate their multiple selves and react to their own actions with surprise, “It isn’t me.”   Pascal, the honest well digger and widowed father of six daughters, seems to know who he is and what he honors.  So it is hard to imagine that he is surprised by his need to distrust those who “sell tools but never use them,” or that he might lose through pride what he knows he loves with his life.

The values portrayed and prized in this film, and needed today more than ever are reflected in Auteuil’s direction: the restraint of honor and the extravagant generosity of love.

Delicate performances by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as Patricia and Kad Marad as the unrequited “clean and decent” well digging suitor Felipe bring small revelations with each turn.  And even though you can see the turns coming a long way down the road, you look forward to each one.

“Death of a Salesman” preview re-view February, 2012

From the silent weary entrance of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Willy Loman in the opening scene of Mike Nichol’s production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” it is clear that “attention must be paid” to the gravity and scale of one small life.

Miller’s play expresses and exposes the tragedies taking place throughout this country today.  The tragedies of promised dreams unfulfilled, tragedies of lives destroyed by flaws, denial, disappointment and lies.

My father, Walt, was a milkman at the moment that milk routes were deemed no longer profitable by the companies.  Instead of bearing the cost of the change, they sold the milk routes to the men as a promise of the American dream of owning their own business.  However, they also had to purchase the products from the company, while paying down additional debt to the company for the trucks, losing their benefits as newly self-employed, and working themselves beyond their strength in the inexorable march to bankruptcy.

Miller alludes to the changes named progress that leave workers behind, focusing instead on Willy’s confusion and delusion.  Willy prizes being well liked without perceiving how others perceive him.  He confuses the road with freedom.

I saw the play at a preview performance. The claustrophobia induced by the set, staging and the isolation of the unseen bedroom served the play well and echoed the play’s earlier set design.  The disconnect between Willy and Linda in this production from performance and direction, and the fact that Andrew Garfield had not yet found his way into the role of Biff, did not serve well.

A respectful revival —  but it was Hoffman’s sometimes subtle, sometimes lurching movements between big dreams and self-loathing, between reality shared and reality conjured that was deep and transfixing.  From his first entrance, all the Walt Lockwoods and Willy Lomans were represented.  His performance was speaking the truth of Miller’s text through the text to the issues and decades beyond it.

The Women on the 6th Floor (Les Femmes du 6e Étage)

You will laugh.   Life and love grow cracking walls between class and culture… just a bit.

In Philippe de Guay’s small comedy “Les Femme du 6e Étage” the curiosity of Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini), a wealthy broker living on first floor of the Paris building in which he grew up, leads him to venture… upstairs.

Jean-Louis and his wife (Sandrine Kiberlain) live lives of empty order sustained in small detail (a 3 1/2 minute- egg is the key to a successful day).  When they fire their devoted maid of twenty years without a second thought, a new maid, Maria (Natalia Berbeke), introduces Jean-Louis’ to the world of “The Women on the 6th Floor.”

Jean-Louis follows Maria upstairs to see where she lives.  With him we enter the passionate struggles and delights of a vibrant divergent community of Spanish maids.

Actresses Concha Galán, Bertha Ojea, and Nuria Solé brilliantly draw these women. The writing of Le Guay and Tonnerre could bring grimaces with lesser performances. Particularly unfortunate is an easy dismissal of the radical voice  of Carmen (Lola Dueñas).

Jean-Louis “discovers” oppressive living conditions long ignored and with gentle compassion and easy acts of kindness becomes the women’s patron saint while still the patrón.

It is a charming and funny film with a modest dose of truth.  It is worth tracking down.  You will get over the minor romantic “ick” factor with a smile.