Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Monster isn't so Bad

    How many of you here this morning have ever read “The Monster at the End of this Book?”  I think we have at least a couple of copies of this book at my house.  It’s based upon the Sesame Street character Grover.  Grover is a furry, lovable monster who is quite full of drama.  I used to love him as a kid because every once in a while, he’d become Super Grover and fly through the air.  But that is beside the point.

    For those few of you who might not be familiar with this kids’ book, Grover starts off by saying, “What, what did that say?  On the cover?  Did that say there would be a monster at the end of this book?  Oh no.  That’s terrible.  I am so afraid of monsters!”  As the book goes on, Grover begs the reader not to turn the page.  He nails the pages together.  He builds brick walls.  No matter what happens, the pages keep getting turned.

    At last, we get to the page just before the end.  Grover pleads and pleads and pleads.  “The next page is the end of the book, and there is a monster at the end of this book.  I am so afraid of monsters.  Please don’t turn the page.  Please.  Please.  Please.  Please.”  Grover is sorely afraid.

    Most of the children I have read this book to in my life love this story.  In many ways they resonate with it.  What child isn’t afraid of monsters?  I mean, I don’t care how hard we as parents try, eventually our kids are exposed to those things which go bump in the night.  Whether or not it’s Scooby Doo or Twilight or some other such fiction, sooner or later they learn about vampires, werewolves, blobs, ghosts, and goblins.  Sooner or later they have nightmares about such things, and we as parents have to comfort them and tell them, “These things are imaginary.  There’s no such things as monsters.”

    Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Hopefully, as they get older, kids grow out of such beliefs in monsters, ghouls and goblins.  But the interesting thing that I have found, is that even as we grow up and put those fears aside, we do not stop being afraid.  In fact, in many ways, our fears just leap from one particular thing to another.  And I have come to think that as a nation, as a society, we suffer from an incredible amount of fear.

    What are we afraid of?  Let’s start the list:

    One of the main items of fear since September 11, 2001 is terrorism.  To stave off any sort of terrorist attack, we’ve battened down the hatches at airports.  We’ve created the NSA.  We’ve allowed spying on citizens lives in cyberspace and in reality.  We’ve killed suspected terrorists and their children without trial or evidence that they have indeed committed an act of terror.  And there is more that such agencies and the government would like to do to keep us safe.

    There are many who are extremely afraid of crime.  There is a heightened sense of fear as one reads the news stories about school shootings, inner city gang violence, and the beatings/killings of innocent people who are just going about their daily lives.  Depending upon which side of the political aisle you sit on, you believe the answer either has to do with more government power or making people take personal responsibility.

    We are afraid of losing our health.  Talk to anyone who is having to deal with the recurring nightmare of dealing with a major injury or cancer or an extended hospitalization.  They will flat out tell you how much of a headache they get from dealing with the whole medical industry.  They will tell you they wonder how it is possible for anyone who is poor to pay for healthcare.  They will tell you how much it costs them to regain some semblance of normalcy in their lives.  They will tell you the frustration in dealing with medications and their side effects.  So, we throw ourselves into all sorts of exercise routines and diets.  We are told to eat organically and locally even though it costs quite a bit to do this. 

    We are afraid of losing our money and income.  Whether it’s by losing our jobs or by having the government increase taxes or by the oil and gas companies increasing the cost of gasoline, we are afraid of not having enough money to live on.  We are afraid of having to cut back on what kind of lifestyle we live in.  We are afraid to be more generous with the money we have and make just in case we might need it in the future. 

    We are afraid of the weather.  Whether it’s the threat of climate change or the threat of drought or the threat of hurricanes or tornados, we are flat out scared of the weather.  It’s unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean we won’t try to control it.  We’ve got to change our behavior so that the climate changes and we won’t have more rain, less rain, more hurricanes, more tornadoes, or what have you.  Think about that for a minute–the suggestion we can actually control the weather.

    Oh, and I think I’m just touching the tip of the ice berg.  I think there are more than a few more fears and concerns I could throw out there.  I haven’t even dealt with the fears we as parents face when dealing with our children.  Will they do well in school?  Will they run with the right crowd?  Will they end up making good decisions?  Will they end up like Miley Cyrus?

    Fear after fear after fear pounds us.  News story after news story raises our anxiety.  Television commercial after television commercial scares us and then promises a product witch will offer salvation.  Documentary after documentary appears telling us that food isn’t safe to eat, water isn’t safe to drink, our cars aren’t safe to drive, and our homes are full of toxins.

    Is it any wonder people in our society tend to be more and more isolated?  More and more inward focused?  More and more depressed?   More and more unwilling to simply engage and talk to each other?  It’s much safer to text or email or perhaps call someone instead of having a real, live, sit down conversation.  After all, that other person might get angry with something you say or challenge a point of view you hold and realize one more fear: the fear of conflict.

    And it would be fortunate if we could come to church and find some comfort.  It would be nice to come to church to hear a word from God which would cut through the fear and anxiety and help us to walk through the world with confidence.  But all too often, we hear the opposite–or we hear claims of falsehood.  We either arrive to have the hell scared into us so that we may believe to avoid the pitfalls of the eternal fire.  Or we arrive to have our awareness raised about some other problem we cannot possibly hope to solve.  Or we arrive to have a preacher tell us if we just believe enough, our best days are ahead of us and God will provide us with wealth, health and prosperity.

    Alas, oftentimes, we leave the confines of these four walls beaten down even further thinking we are somehow inadequate because we do not measure up to God’s standards.  We are sinful.  We are part of sinful structures.  We don’t have enough faith to attain prosperity and the perfect life. 

    Is there a word of hope for us?  Is there a word that actually speaks to our situation?  Is there a word which acknowledges the reality of fear and anxiety; acknowledges our inability to overcome it and change ourselves and the world; and yet offers us hope?  Is there such a word?

    Take a listen to this word; a word given by the writer of Hebrews.  See if it hits you where you live:  3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ 6So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can anyone do to me?’

    What can anyone or anything do to me?  We know how we are called to live.  We know not everyone accepts this way of life.  We know we may suffer along the way, but we know how it all ends.  We know the page will turn.

    When the final page of “There’s a Monster at the End of This Book” is reached, Grover looks around and says, “Well, what do you know?  This is the end of the book, and the only one here is me.  I, lovable, furry old Grover am the monster at the end of this book. I told you and told you there was nothing to worry about.”

    For those of us who are Christian, the end of the book is God and His Kingdom.  The end of the book is resurrection.  The end of the book is hope.  Therefore, we can live God’s Word daily by saying with confidence: the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”  Amen.

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