During dinner on Tuesday night, my cousin asked what age we would like to be again. As I pondered this very deep and important question, I realized I would love to be four again. Why four? Because it was a time of true innocence and happiness. At four, I didn’t have a worry in the world. My parents took care of everything. In those few short years I had lived, I had no understanding of grief, or fear. Mom and Dad, despite the war in Vietnam and the racial turmoil throughout the South, made everything about the world seem safe and wonderful.
I can’t tell you exactly when things began to change. Possibly in kindergarten, when I learned not everyone is nice or wanted to be my friend. Or perhaps it was later in life, when my desire for knowledge began to grow and I discovered the world was not as concrete as I had been led to believe. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter when my sense of innocence was lost because growth cannot take place without the loss of innocence. After all, isn’t that really what the story of the fall is all about, the loss of innocence? That moment when we discover evil exists in the world and choose to participate in it. It is also the moment we discover there is danger all around and much to be afraid of.
Recently, I have found myself asking when we as a country lost our innocence. I don’t remember us, as Americans, being as afraid of the world as we are today. On Thursday evening, I attended the community meeting held by Mayer Miner at the Past Time Athletic Club. The moment I walked into the room I could sense the fear that permeated from many of those who were there. Those who live on the North Side have legitimate concerns when it comes to refugee children being processed at the old Maria Regina School. Are these children prone to violence? Will their presence cause further devaluation of their property? Will their arrival cause a greater tax burden for the people of Syracuse? Are some of the concerns residence brought forth. But from there,the comments went from concerns to fear and, no matter how many times Mayor Miner explained how these children are running from violence, how information from the Federal Government indicated that their fears were unfounded, the crowd refused to believe her. The fear of the unknown, the fear of the other had become so deeply in bedded in their hearts and minds that they could not believe or trust that the children’s arrival could be good for the neighborhood or even Syracuse in general.
As a Christian people we aren’t strangers to fear. We are not called to live lives in a bubble of false innocence. In truth, we are a people born in the midst of fear. It’s even possible the theme song for the early church began with “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me and seem so far from me.” As we study the accounts of Christ’s time in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus begs the Father to let the cup of crucifixion pass from him. One can only imagine the fear he felt knowing the ruthless and inhumane torture he would have to face before his death. As Paul writes his words to the Romans, he too is aware of the physical danger his ministry has placed before him.
Paul, however, was both a faithful and stubborn individual. He knew the risks following Christ brought upon him, especially living in the context of the Roman Government. He understood his sharing of the Gospel in the public square would cost him his life.
Yet he , like hundreds of other Christians chose to proclaim the Gospel anyway, because as Paul has been telling us these past few weeks, through the cross we have been freed from the bonds of death. This didn’t mean we wouldn’t die an earthly death, instead, it meant there was something more and greater on the other side of death. It was something not p available through the law and it was not offered to him through his obedience to the Roman Emperor. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul explained this with the following words” When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ 55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
For Paul, admission to the kingdom was far more valuable than life itself. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul declares his admission to the kingdom as the victor’s crown itself. No one, and nothing could deny him this if he was willing to be just like Jesus. . . If he ignored his fears and was faithful in following the Risen Christ. This is part of what Christ tells his followers in today’s Gospel. In the parables of the merchant who sells everything to buy a pearl and the other who sells all he has to buy a field in which a treasure is
buried. Both believed they had found something more valuable than anything else on earth. This is how valuable Paul believed admission into the kingdom is.
However, if we are to believe admission into the kingdom is more valuable than life itself, we first have to trust in the unconditional love of God. To this Paul declares God’s love to be so strong that nothing can separate us from it. And yet, as I always add, except we ourselves. It is not God who separates itself from us, but we who allow our own fears and insecurities to overwhelm us. In the Gospels, there is the story of Peter, after realizing it is Jesus who he sees walking on the waters of the Galilean Sea asks Christ to allow him to do the same. As Peter steps out of the boat, he is able to take the first few steps on top of the water, but once he looks down he looses faith and realizes what he is doing is impossible, and then sinks like a stone. Like us, he doesn’t fully trust what he is capable of with love of God. He doesn’t trust that God’s love will keep him afloat and above the dangers and the chaos of the sea.
In order to value the kingdom, we have to trust in God’s love. We have to believe in what the prodigal son learned after spending his father’s fortune and bringing shame to the family’s name. That we are still loved and one of the father’s own. No matter what we do the bond between us and God can never be broken.
If we can’t trust in the bond of love between us and God, then all we have left is our fear of the world around us. To join countless others who live in fear of the evil in this world. To believe that all is bad, that all are against us and to allow that fear to prevent us from loving God and loving each other.
It is sad that the world has chosen to believe in fear and not in love. And how we have allowed that fear to keep us from welcoming refugee children
but to live among us.
So,this week, I pray we will grow deeper in faith and choose to love over being afraid.