|Calvary Episcopal Church, Rockdale
March 18, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
As I sat thinking, in preparation for this sermon, I was reminded of a game people play.
I don’t mean a game like football or hockey – but a kind of mind game that people play amongst
themselves. I call it, “The trouble with the world…”
To play it, all you have to do is say, to a group of people, sitting around chatting with each other, in a
voice filled with authority, “The trouble with the world, today, is…,” and complete the statement with
your own current pet peeve about the society – the world – we live in.
Then everyone chimes in with their own comments on the particular trouble named, until someone
else comes up with their own nomination for “the trouble with the world,” and the game goes on.
The fun thing about the game is that every one of us could come up with any number of nominations,
depending, I suppose, on the day of the week, or on which of our many buttons has most recently
been pushed! The trouble with the world is kids today don’t have any respect for anybody; politicians
only care about their own pockets; the kind of junk they put on TV, nowadays; the liberal loonies; the
It was this morning’s Psalm that pushed MY button!
Psalm 34, vs. 4:
I sought the Lord and he answered me,*
And delivered me out of all my terror.
You see, I think if there is “a trouble with the world, today,” it’s fear!
Fear: unreasoning fear; unfounded fear; fear that dominates; fear that directs; fear that infects the
very fabric of our lives; fear that we wind up passing on to our children and our grandchildren, raising
them in a climate of fear; fear that drives us to do things we would never dream of doing if not for the
We are a generation of the afraid!
We have been, and we are, afraid of so many things!
Most of us spent a good part of our lives in the fear of nuclear war, and of Communism. Those fears
have faded, but we’ve got whole new sets of fears.
Now we’re afraid of terrorism; of drug addicts. We’re afraid of child molesters and kidnappers. We’re
afraid of inflation, of recession, or – God forbid – depression. We’re afraid of economic instability.
We’re afraid of flying; but on the other hand, we’re afraid of driving!
We used to be afraid of AIDS (and still are) but we’re more afraid of bird flu!
We’re afraid of illegal aliens – and legal ones, too – straining our ability to absorb them, to deal with
them, to survive them. We’re afraid of people who look differently, act differently, pray differently that
Hey – make your own lists! The lists go on and on!
There’s so much fear in this world! And most of it – if not all of it – so unfounded!
One of the best and clearest example of unfounded fear in recent decades that I can think of came
from the height of the AIDS scare. AIDS is still with us, and it’s still a terrifying thing, but things are
much better under control, now, and most AIDS patients live relatively normal lives, with open-ended
But I recall a time, in the 80’s, when it was reported that there were problems with the blood supply,
caused by people with undiagnosed AIDS donating blood, contaminating the supply. That was a real
danger, and a real concern – for people who needed blood transfusions!
But I recall, as well, that a poll taken at the time – 1986 or ’87, it was – showed that close to 50% of
Americans were convinced they might contract AIDS by DONATING blood – a fear that had absolutely
no basis in reality!
Just a fear – unreasoned, irrational, senseless! As are so many of our fears.
As are all those fears I’ve mentioned! Real and legitimate concerns, certainly, many of them. But none
of them immediate; none of them worth more than a passing thought; none of them that the
application of a little common sense and normal precautions couldn’t prevent or avoid!
And yet all of them powerful factors in the lives of most Americans; all of them affecting millions of
people; determining the way people live their lives, paralyzing them, poisoning them!
Another example: Urban crime – crime in the streets! We lock our doors at night, we lock our cars
(even though it’s clear that if someone really wants to get in, nothing we can do will stop them!), we
avoid our cities if we possibly can – to the extent that we who live ½ hour from one of the great cities
of the nation – of the World! – go decades at a time without setting foot in it!
I recall when Mary and I first arrived in Pennsylvania, way back in 1984, and we expressed our
pleasure at being so close to Philadelphia, but so many of our new friends in Quakertown reacted with
horror! “Oh, don’t go to Philadelphia,” they told us, “It’s dangerous! Don’t walk the streets in Philly –
you’ll get mugged!”
“But, oh, if you have to go,” they said, “don’t drive – take the train! If you take your car ‘they’ll’ steal it!
– you’ll never see it again!”
It was fear! Irrational, paralyzing fear! The kind of fear that makes us long for “the good old days, when
we didn’t have to worry about such things!”
But I wonder how many of us actually know what “the good old days,” were really like! I wonder how
many of us are aware that, for instance, in the second half of the 19th Century (when the grandparents
and even the parents of many of us were living), there were neighborhoods of New York, Boston,
Chicago, and most of our major cities – and, yes, of Philadelphia – where even the police didn’t
venture, out of fear for their own safety!
And on this day after St. Patrick’s Day, I wonder how many of us realize that in the 1860’s not even the
militia of the State of New York could enter some areas of that New York City – not because of the
blacks or the Hispanics, or the drug addicts – but because of the roving gangs of Irish toughs that
roamed the streets and terrorized the neighborhoods!
Yes, we need to be aware. We need to take common sense precautions. But crime has been worse at
other times, and may well be, again – and there is no need to allow fear to dominate our lives!
Another story! Mary and I went to Seminary – the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal
Church, in New York City – in 1967; went there largely because we loved New York City (and still do).
In September of 1968, one of my classmates returned from the summer break with a new wife – a small
town girl who’d never been to “the big city” – any big city! But she’d heard about the city –heard about
New York – and she arrived terrified!
So terrified was she that for weeks she wouldn’t leave their apartment, except to cross the street to
the Seminary close – with her husband - and to go to the supermarket, also with her husband.
But, finally, she had no choice. If her husband was to remain at Seminary, she would have to work – as
most seminary wives did.
She got a job lead from one of the other seminary wives, and her husband accompanied her up town
for her interview – and she got the job!
Unfortunately, her husband couldn’t go with her to work, and pick her up, every day – she had to go
Her first day of work, she left her apartment, terrified. She found her way to the subway, as her
husband had taught her, and got on. And on her short ride uptown, on her very first time out, alone –
she was mugged, her purse was stolen, and her leg was badly slashed!
So she was right all along, right? Right to be terrified?
No! It was her very fear that cried out to all who saw her, “Look at me! I’m frightened. I’m defenseless
in my fear; I’m vulnerable!” It was her fear that made her a victim!
And how do I know! Well, I can’t KNOW! But in a community of 300 and more, with children trekking
downtown to school, wives working all over the city, seminarians doing fieldwork uptown and
downtown; in Harlem, the Bronx and the Village, in prisons and in drug Treatment programs, working
with street people and juvenile delinquents, over a period of four years, there was only one, serious
incident: hers! In her fear!
Fear is a problem in modern life, there’s no doubt. But all problems of modern life are not fit subjects
for sermons! What makes this one fit is that fear is not just a psychological or sociological problem, it’
s a spiritual problem; and a problem that’s addressed in Scripture! In fact, the Bible regularly does
battle with fear!
“Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the LORD your God is
with you wherever you go," says the author of the Book of Joshua, just a few chapters earlier than our
reading, this morning. And note: the author doesn’t promise the Lord will take away the danger, but
that we should have courage in the face of it! We should be not afraid, for the Lord is with us.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind,” says Paul in
his second letter to Timothy. Indicating that Paul didn’t regard fear as a natural state, at all, but a
weakness, at best!
And, finally, from the First Letter of John, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear!”
And there, finally, we have the remedy for fear: love! But it’s from a quite different source that a real
and useful definition of evil comes, not from scripture, at all. Rather it’s the Greek philosopher, Zeno,
who tells us what it’s all about when he says, “Fear is an expectation of evil!”
And that’s the problem with fear, and with the world! The world creates in us an expectation of evil! It
always does that, but how much more so in the present day, when television works so effectively in
bringing to us – right in our living rooms - all the fearful things: war, AIDS, Crime, the economy, air
crashers, pedophilia, kidnappings and all the rest! And all those frightening things our grandparents
only ever heard of have become part of our daily lives – our realities, right in our very homes!
And that fear, that expectation of evil, does us great harm – more harm then the things we think we
fear could ever do. The expectation of evil undermines what each of us could and should be;
destroys our better humanity and the higher promises of our lives – lures us into acting in
anticipation of the evil!
And that is exactly why God was in Christ! That is why the cross happened. And that is why there was
an Easter morning – so that each of us, through faith, might have, instead, an expectation of good, in
Lent has long been seen as a season of “giving up!” The season when we give up our addiction to
harmful things, harmful thoughts.
We could do no better than to give up the fear that infects our lives, give up acting in anticipation of
evil to come, and trade them in for “the love that casteth out fear,” and acting, instead, in anticipation
of the goodness of the Lord!
In Jesus Christ’s Name. Amen.