Sermons

Summary: Independence Day 1986: Fear leads to oppression, and vice versa. We overcome our fears by discovering the love that empowers us in the sacrificial death of Christ.

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I've noticed that what older people fear is very much like what small children fear. Older people fear going out alone into the darkness; they are afraid they cannot find their way, they are afraid they may have some kind of difficulty and will be vulnerable to people with evil intentions. Children also fear going out alone, they are also afraid they will get lost; if their world ends at the next block or over at the corner of the schoolyard, they are not sure who or what is beyond, and they get scared. Older people and children fear the same things.

Older people fear getting hurt, knowing that they are a little on the fragile side, recognizing that bones may be brittle and skin soft. And children come wailing and weeping when they have been injured, needing for mommy to kiss it and make it well, needing a swatch of Band-aid and a splash of Bactine, because, as far as they know, they may have hurt themselves deeply, this knee might stay hurting forever. How does a three year old know that it heals up? He doesn't, and so he is afraid. Older people and children fear many of the same things. And they acknowledge their fear, they keep no secrets.

The problem is all the rest of us, in the middle. All the rest of us who are old enough to pretend that we know better, all the rest of us who think that we are indestructible.

We are not about to admit that we are afraid of anything. If we have fears, we are going to cover them up; we folks in the middle, we who are no longer children and not yet senior citizens, we are the ones who have to act as though we can handle anything, we can tackle it all, we with our stiff upper lifts and our brave words of piety. We don't believe in being afraid, do we?!

Ah, but you see, what many of us do with our fears is to mask them, cover them up, suppress them. We have fears, fears aplenty, but we don’t want anyone else to know, so we paper them over and hope you don’t notice. And, more important, fear becomes hatred, fear becomes oppression, fear becomes the avenue for crushing somebody else.

Watch what I’m saying here. If I am afraid of you, if I have some reason to fear you and what you can do and what you can do, if I don’t want to tell you that, what I do is to put you down and trample you and try to bully you. All because, in truth, I fear you.

Now I mentioned bullies. Anybody here ever get into a fight with the school bully? Anybody here remember ever cringing behind a tree or around a corner trying to hide from the big guy who always picked a fight? I did I did! I remember as vividly as if it were yesterday the good old sixth grade at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow School, and I remember Patrick, Patrick who had red hair and the legendary temper to go with his Irish name. Sorry about that stereotype, but it was true in his case! And Patrick would lie in wait for me at a certain corner on my way home from school; he would then fall right into step behind me, so that his big clumsy shoes were planting themselves right onto my heels, and he would start his taunting and his mouthing.

"Whatsa matter, four eyes?" You see I've had these since I was about 11 years old – "Whatsa matter four eyes, can't see where you're going?" "Whatsa matter, mama's boy - gotta go home to mommy?" Which was true; if I were more than ten minutes late it seemed like all panic broke loose when I got home. Patrick kept up this business, day after day and week after week, and got bolder, of course, the more I tried to ignore him. If I said something, he twisted it. If I said nothing, he pushed and shoved. It was horrible, just horrible.

Ah, but the story is not done. The day came …and I do not recall exactly how it happened or who started what … but the day came when two schoolboys were rolling on the ground, punching and wrestling and beating on one another. One of them was kind of bulky and feisty and proud of his emerging muscles; the other one had to carefully lay aside his extra two eyes and his Donald Duck lunch pail. But, as the hymn so nobly urges us, "Fight the good fight with all thy might". That we did. That we did. I cannot say I did much to rearrange Patrick's Irish countenance, but it was enough to rearrange his attitude, and it was enough to rearrange mine too.

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