A couple of weeks ago I brought my daughters to see Monster’s Inc during its rerelease in the theaters. I noticed that in the opening scene, both Isabelle and Annaleigh were watching the movie through their fingers. The opening scene is cultivated in such a way to make you think that something scary is about to happen. It’s dark, things are moving in the corners of your eye, and a great looming shadow appears in front of the window . . . and then you realize the whole thing is a training exercise in this funny-looking monster world. This frightening scene quickly becomes very comical. If you’ve seen this movie as many times as I have, you’ll notice that this opening scene offers the whole narrative of the movie, which is the transformation of fear into laughter. The audience physically expresses one of the main ideas in the movie right from the beginning—the transformation of fear into laughter, or the power of laughter over fear.
Monster’s Inc. plays with our notion of fear. The story takes place in Monstropolis, a monster city powered by children’s screams, which are collected at Monster’s Incorporated. Monsters use special doors to sneak into children’s rooms, scare them, and collect their scream in yellow power cells. There is something primal to this fear. Fear goes all the way back to the beginning of God’s story. The man and the woman in the garden of Eden eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they hide because they hear God walking in the garden. The man says, “I heard your sound in the garden; I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself.” This loving relationship between God and humanity is now one of fear and distance. You can hear this in the man’s words. “I heard your sound in the garden.” God’s evening walk in the garden now sounded thundering and ominous and fearful. Instead of being filled with a desire and love for God, humanity was now fearful of God. It is very difficult to love someone you fear. Salvation rooted in a fear of God is a false salvation rooted in the fall. As believers we approach God with reverence and humility. When we pray, by the power of the Holy Spirit we stand before an Almighty God who hung the stairs and raised the mountains. When our story is over we will stand in judgment, but understand that Christ is our judge. We will stand before the messiah who loves us enough to give his life for us, and that is good and hopeful news. In Genesis 3 our love was transformed into fear, and God offered the divine life in the person of Christ to transform that fear into love.
The monsters represent this primal fear in each one of us, but the movie turns this on its head. A child sneaks into the monster world, and you might think that she would be petrified and frightened. She is anything but fearful. In fact, the monsters are afraid of her. Rather than a primal fear, the monster’s fear of the child is a fear of the unknown. The monsters assume that children are dangerous and deadly. This fear of the unknown is beautifully express in a Pixar short titled, “Day and Night.” Let’s take a look . . . At times we fear what we don’t know, and I think fundamentally this is where our fear of God may lie. When we read the scriptures and hear how God put on flesh and walked among us, to heal us and to challenge us, our fear and trepidation transforms into praise and thanksgiving. Jesus says in our text this morning, “I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” First we must humble ourselves in praise and thanksgiving. Humility is rooted in a love of God, knowing that it is God who provides. All we own is on loan from God. We should give thanks for the blessings around us, which are so ubiquitous that sometimes we can take them for granted. The other night, Annaleigh woke up with the croup, and she was up most of the night. It was a pain, and I was frustrated. Really the only thing you can do at 1:00 am with a croupy child is to put them in the bathroom and run the hot water. As I was sitting in the bathroom with Annie, as frustrated as I was, the Holy Spirit put a prayer of thanksgiving on my heart. What a blessing this hot water is, and how sad I was for some who don’t have this luxury. Then the hot water ran out, and I started to panic again. Then I remember that, if the weather is cold, you can bring them outside to breath in the cold air. Then again the Spirit brought me to a place of thanksgiving. I did nothing to earn or deserve this brisk, cold evening, but it is exactly what we needed. My fear of watching Annie struggle for each breath was transformed into a prayer of thanksgiving as we rocked under the stars. This isn’t everyone’s story. Sometimes accidents happen and children get very sick, but on this night I was thankful.
By the end of the movie this primal fear and this fear of the unknown is transformed. Throughout the movie there are hints that there’s something more powerful than fear. The monsters discover that a child’s laughter is ten times more powerful than screams. The scream floor where they collected children’s screams was transformed into the laugh floor, where the monsters would sneak into the children’s rooms and make them laugh. This is the story of our faith. Time and time again when God appears the words of greeting are, “Do not be afraid . . . God is with you.” When we are alone, footsteps sound ominous and scary, but when someone is with us, the darkness doesn’t seem so dark. Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes a child welcomes me.” Not only are we called to have a deep love of God, we are also charged with loving each other and living in community. The monsters fear of children seems silly to us because it’s not our fear. We know that children aren’t poisonous . . . mostly. Living in community helps us understand that we all have fears of some sort. A child’s fear of monsters in the closet may sound silly to us because it isn’t an adult’s fear, but some of our adult fears, like the economy or success or status may sound silly to children. Just because your fear isn’t my fear doesn’t mean it deserves to be silent. Living in community is a blessing because we can give voice to each other’s fears and begin to heal them. I would rather climb Mount Everest than go to the dentist. I break out in a cold sweat, have trouble breathing, my body tenses up . . . It’s ridiculous, I know. When I come home from the dentist my wife always tells me, “I’m proud of you.” I know it’s silly, but hearing those words are so very important to me. I face that fear because I know on the other side of it, Christie is always there giving me encouragement.
You see, the opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is fear. God is calling us to let go of our fear and live in faith that God will keep God’s promise to be with us. With a love of God and a love of neighbor, our fears are transformed into prayers of thanksgiving and praise, like a cold, brisk evening that brings healing, like an adult who says to a child, “I know you are afraid of the dark, so I want you to know that I’m here, and it’s going to be ok.” Like the child who says to the adult, “Dad, I know you lost your job, but I’ll still play with you.” Like God who puts on flesh and says, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be filled with worry. Will worry add a minute to your life?” May the hands which cover our eyes be transformed to hands opened to receive the grace of God, our Lord, our Judge, our loving Messiah. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!