given on Sunday, March 16, 2014–the second in a series based on Rev. Kemp’s book, The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss.
List all the things that scare you. (pause)
Now remember of all your childhood fears. (pause)
How did you learn not to be afraid? (pause)
What is different about fears today versus fears as a child? (pause)
Today’s scripture, Matthew 26:36-39, creates a familiar picture to those of us who are familiar with the story of Jesus. Years of reading the Passion Story and sitting through Lenten sermons is tradition to those regularly attending worship service.
Stop, clear your mind, and walk the walk of the unchurched. (pause)
An open door for the unchurched is a fearful thing. Not knowing the people on the other side is one thing; but what if you do not know what fills the space on the other side:
Well . . .
I was walking in the night
And I saw nothing scary.
For I have never been afraid
Of anything. Not very.
Even the list of things that scare us today may be rather short, but the very root of the fear is the unknown.
Over and over the list of fears changes as the unknown becomes known. The image of Jesus in the garden, praying to God, is familiar to those of us who are churched. But reading the scripture after reading about fear in a different context can shift the image.
Jesus goes to the garden to pray. He knows what is about to happen; yet the human element within him is afraid. The disciples who accompanied him to the garden had no idea what was going to happen over the next few days. They were like children simply following their friend and modeling his behavior. At least they prayed until they tired and started falling asleep.
Jesus knew. The disciples did not. Nor did the Sneetch know there was anything unknown or scary:
Then I was deep within the woods
When, suddenly, I spied them.
I saw a pair of pale green pants
With nobody inside!
I wasn’t scared. But, yet, I stopped.
What could those pants be there for?
What could a pair of pants at night
Be standing in the air?
The unknown caused fear for the Sneetch. Jesus knew what was ahead; and he still was afraid. Even though he was not physically alone, he was scared. Even though he was the Son of God, fear gripped him as he cried out to God. He even stepped away from the disciples, moved deeper into the garden, and continued to pray:
“My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. But let what you want be done, not what I want.”
Dr. Kemp, in his book The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss, makes the argument that faith is the answer to fear:
Theologically speaking, the opposite of fear is faith. The presence of faith does not automatically remove fears. Rather, faith provides us with the discipline, confidence, and courage to move forward in spite of our fears. (p.17)
Simply reading Dr. Seuss’s story about the Sneetch who was scared of a pair of empty green pants, triggered a theological thought for Rev. Kemp. He connected the concept of fear with faith. If one can turn over a fear to God, then there is no longer anything to be scared of.
Fear comes in all forms. Ask a group of people gathered in a huddle and you will find a long list of thing people are scared of. Maybe it is snakes, mice, rats, or birds. Sometimes the list includes the word phobia such as hydrophobia, arachnophobia, claustrophobia, and the list grows. Women talk about being afraid of giving birth. The fear ranges from the mere pain of delivery to fear of being a parent.
Fear freezes one from actions. Fear can keep us from experiencing life to the fullest. As Rev. Kemp states, “Our fears are preventing us from accomplishing our full potential.”
Think about your own fears for a moment. (pause)
How many times did fear keep you from making a change? (pause)
Do you regret fear prevented you from reaching a goal? (pause)
Certainly there were the times when we wanted to try riding a bike or driving a car or going on a date or take a class whether in high school, in college, or just for your personal satisfaction. We all are scared at times, but there is that one key to overcoming fear—faith.
Even Jesus was afraid and asked God for protection; and if he can do that, so can we. Consider what a difference letting go of a fear would make in your life. No fear to keep you frozen into inaction. No fear that keeps you from enriching your life through a challenge. No fear to prevent you from doing whatever God asks you to do.
The Sneetch ran away from the empty green pants. He did not turn and face them to learn more, he ran:
So I got out. I got out fast
As fast as I could go, sir.
I wasn’t scared. But pants like that
I did not care for. No, sir.
That demonstration of fear is not the same picture as in today’s scripture. Jesus prayed to God to “let this cup pass from me.” Rev. Kemp continues to explain how Jesus dealt with his fear:
. . . He did not allow this unspeakable fear to keep him from pressing on to accomplish his earthly mission. He did not run away from his fears.
Dr. Seuss also helps us to understand the secret to overcoming our fears. The secret is not to run faster or farther in the opposite direction. . . . The only way to overcome our fears is to face them. . . to make them our friends.” (pp. 17-18)
Jesus had to confront Herod’s interrogation, Pharisees accusations and the crowds torment and ridicule, the cruelty of beatings, carrying his cross, and dying by crucifixion. God did not protect Jesus, his own son; but Jesus had to complete his ministry. He had to die for the salvation of those who believed in him and accepted the New Covenant. Even Jesus had to name his fear and then turn it over to God and have faith that God would take care of even him.
Rev. Kemp read the Sneetch’s story of meeting the empty green pants and could see how important faith is in managing fear.
He asks, “What might happen in our Christians lives if we, too, faced our fears instead of running from them? Might it free us to do things that we’ve always wanted to do, but were afraid to try? Or perhaps something that we once enjoyed doing but are afraid to try again? (p. 18)
Fear has a way of keeping us from action. Fear limits our potential. Whatever our fears, whether personal or as part of a group—even of a church, follow the pattern of Jesus. Step out in faith. Come face to face with the fear. Name the fear. Then use the disciplines John Wesley taught such as prayer, worship, Bible study and service. Listen carefully for God’s direction. And give that fear up to God and have the faith that he will take the lead.
Rev. Kemp ends his sermon with this final statement: Faith will win out over fear every time. If Jesus can demonstrate it at the end of his ministry, then we can too. Go to God, cry out, share your fear, and then turn it over to him. Faith defeats fear.
Dear Faithful Father,
Fear fills our hearts and minds,
both small and large.
We look at scary experiences or things
and freeze from uncertainty.
At times we hear you share an idea
or ask us to do something,
But we let fear keep us from doing
so help us to practice faith.
Help us build confidence in life
as we practice the disciplines of faith.
Let us continue on through Lent
with the faith shown by Jesus. –Amen