I wonder what you are afraid of.
I am afraid of spiders. No matter how small they are they may seem, they are always big enough to eat me. They scare me the most when I don’t have my glasses on and am feeling vulnerable, like in the shower. “Is that a hair? Hair doesn’t move”. I have to call my wife to come and deal with it. She shakes her head pathetically as she scoops up a bit of hair and throws it in the bin.
But enough about me…what are you afraid of? And what are you willing to do to rid yourself of that thing you fear?
Wars begin with fear. We fear things that are different and hard to understand. We fear people who are passionate about things we don’t understand or agree with. We fear people who seem more powerful than us and we fear losing what we have. We fear losing power. We fear losing our standard of living. We fear the unknown. When we fear, we are paralysed. We are irrational. We want to stamp them out. We want to hold more tightly to what we have. Frightened people are also easier to control.
Fear makes us bad citizens.
In Micah 4:1-5 there is a description of the Lord’s mountain to which all the nations will be called. There the tools of war become the tools of planting seeds and cultivating fruit. They become the tools of a settled life, a peaceful life where there is the time to grow, to sit under a vine and feel content. It suggests abundance and a lack of worry about invading armies and rogue bankers and terrorists and the wrong people having a nuclear button to push.
Here there is no worry about prosperity or disability or exclusion. It is a picture of humans getting the chance to truly be human rather than parodies of humanity. There is a sense of Shalom – which we translate as Peace. But we can also use it to describe “contentment” as in having enough to be contented and alive.
Within this passage there is a phrase that always gets overshadowed by the swords and ploughshares and pruning hooks: “and no one will make them afraid”. Fear has no part of this shalom. Fear is used to make me hate muslims. To hate gay people. To buy new shampoos because I am afraid to be ugly. To cling to a damaging economic system because I am afraid to be poorer than my dreams tell me I should be. Fear gets me to go along with two wars which after a decade it’s hard to recall what they were about. Fear allows me to suspect my neighbour.
Every year, no matter how different the words may be, my remembrance Sunday message is the same: if we are going to ask young men and women to be prepared to die for us, our way of life and our principles, we must have exhausted all the other options first. We must have asked ourselves “does this take us a step towards that scene of peace and contentment, not just for ourselves but for all?” We need to ask “who benefits from this war?” Most of all we need to ask: are we doing this because we are afraid? Have we failed at all the other options because we have been too afraid to explore them?
Living without fear makes us better citizens and declares that lives are too expensive to throw away on a fearful whim. We honour the dead today not as cheerleaders for war or as some brave soldier society that values warriors. We value them because when they were told to go, they went. They went because, rightly or wrongly, we as a nation thought they needed to. The best way to honour and remember them today is to be vigilant of fear. To make sure that the grounds on which we make our request for young lives are the best possible and yet deeply regretted. We must be certain we have exhausted every avenue to peace and mercy.