Take Up Your Cross: Face Fear

The Holy Gospel: Mark 8:31-38
Sermon, Given at The Episcopal Church of All Saints: allsaintsindy.org
Sunday, February 25, 2018

I don’t know exactly why or how it happened but over the years I have developed a huge, sometimes paralyzing, fear of flying.

As I was preparing to travel to London last month, I had to do a lot of coaching for myself. I had to go to my doctor and my spiritual director to get help with my fear of flying. And my daily prayers turned into something of a frantic, desperate mantra of “Dear God help me get on that plane”, in the days leading up to my departure.

My husband coached me too, helping me to focus on all the wonderful things I’d experience once the plane landed, safely, in London. He also looked up the statistics of how safe flying is compared to other modes of transportation. I also now know, thanks to his research, that I am, in fact, statistically more likely to meet my fate by choking on food, getting hit by lightning, drowning in a bathtub, or falling off a ladder, than by dying in a plane crash ……..

On the day of my flight to London, I was in surprisingly good spirits. I felt I could conquer my fear that day. And as I was saying an emotional goodbye to my family, my two-year-old son Samuel looked up at me with his big, bright-blue eyes and said “Mama, your plane is going to crash down into the dirt and break.”

My husband and I just stared at each other. I immediately began to panic and tears started streaming. My husband immediately began to remind me my son was a toddler, that he didn’t want his “Mama” to leave and that he knew I was scared of flying because we had been talking about it openly over the last few weeks. My husband was being reasonable. I, however, was overcome with Fear.

That day was really hard for me. I was on edge the whole time. I couldn’t eat all day and instead of enjoying my time alone, something I rarely get as a mother of two toddlers, I was mostly in a state of complete panic and stress the whole time I traveled.

I did manage to get on the plane. I survived (clearly). And I did have a wonderful time in London.

But I almost didn’t. Because of fear. Fear crippled me and almost kept me from this trip where I had the opportunity to learn, explore and grow. Because of fear.

Fear is irrational and it is all-consuming. Fear can make us do things we would never do. Fear can keep us from doing what we love. Fear keeps us from seeing the facts or putting things into perspective.

Fear can arrest us, delay us, keep us from growing and learning. Fear limits our other faculties, the other parts of our brain that help us make decisions and it can limit our emotions, such as empathy and compassion, from working at their best.

Fear. Fear can be our worst enemy. And we can clearly see fear rearing its head in this morning’s Gospel passage.

Earlier in this chapter of Mark’s Gospel we hear Peter proclaim that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the one who will come to vanquish the enemy.  Peter has just testified that Jesus is the one who will come to restore justice.

I imagine Peter and the disciples thought this proclamation of Jesus as Christ might be their moment of victory. They feel their answer is here, their savior has arrived. It’s time to rejoice!

They are ready for the part of the story where their Messiah comes and wins victory for them by thwarting the enemy and triumphing as King.

Just before this section of Mark’s Gospel, Peter and the disciples have witnessed Jesus heal the blind and the sick; they have seen him perform miracles of compassion and justice for the wayward outcasts and marginalized. They have put their hopes into this man, that he will be the one whom God has sent to overtake the Roman empire and the religious elite, to bring peace and justice to the earth.

And this morning we hear Jesus burst Peter and the disciples’ bubble. Jesus, has been given a different path.

After surviving temptation in the desert for forty days, after all the teaching and healing he has done on the road, this morning we hear the point in the story where Jesus breaks the news of what’s coming next, of what lies ahead for him and of what lies ahead for his disciples.

Instead of a story of earthly victory, triumph and power, Peter and the disciples receive a story of pain, suffering and death. Instead of the happy ending they have been waiting for, they hear their beloved Jesus, their Messiah, must march willingly into Jerusalem, to suffer and die at the hand of the enemy.

And that part about being raised again in 3 days? Peter, and the disciples are blind to it. This is not the way the disciples were expecting things to go. Their fear has taken hold and they can no longer see what it is their Savior is trying to show them.

Peter is so scared, so overcome by fear that he begins to rebuke Jesus, scolds him even, demanding that there is no way Jesus can go to Jerusalem. How can this be the outcome for the Son of God? How can Jesus’ death be the way God will bring about salvation? And further, how can “taking up the cross” be the way to gaining one’s life?

Peter and the disciples have been running from suffering and pain, seeking to heal sickness and death as they follow Jesus. How can it be that the suffering and death of their teacher, their savior, is what will happen next? How can Jesus be telling them to take up their cross also, to lose their life in order to save it?

“You cannot do this!” Peter yells desperately at Jesus.

Get behind me SatanJesus sees fear clearly spread across the face of Peter, across the anguished faces of his disciples and Jesus says to fear : “Get behind me Satan!”

Fear has blinded Peter. Fear has blinded the disciples. And Jesus sees this. After all, Jesus has been tempted in the desert by Satan, has been tempted by fear to prove himself powerful. Jesus knows fear well.

In fact, Jesus knows it so well and so intimately that it’s precisely fear that Jesus seeks to conquer. Jesus did not come to wear an earthly crown. Jesus did not come for wealth and power to rule as King. Jesus came to face and conquer fear itself.

It’s fear that captures the hearts of those in power who seek to dominate and control others. Fear that lives like a shadow in the corners of our minds, keeping us from reaching out to help others, that keeps us from knowing and believing in ourselves.

Fear, that poisonous shroud that blinds us to love and compassion for ourselves and others. This is what Jesus came to conquer and it is what Jesus calls us to face as well. This is our discipleship.

“Take up your cross,” Jesus says, “Face fear. Lose yourself. Lose that ego. Lose all those false ideas that you cling to; the false ideas of control, money, power, status….. Lose it. Let it die. Take up your cross, face fear and you will gain your life.”

In following Jesus and taking up our cross we are journeying on a road to heal our own blindness, to make ourselves whole.

As we journey on this road we are joined by others and together, we face the enemy, together we face fear. Together, on the road, we face the things that hold us back from realizing who it is we truly are as beloved creatures of our Creator.

Today, in this country, in this city, fear is on the prowl; thriving on division, violence, depression, anger, hate. Fear, that seeks to blind us and isolate us from one another, that seeks to keep us from loving one another, from helping one another, from listening to one another.

As Christians, as disciples, we are in the very important and needed business of facing Fear.

And we have the strength to do this work because we know that, while Fear is a battle we must face, God’s path for us will always lead to love, light, and new life.

As disciples we take up our cross, face fear, and offer the world love in the face of hate, light in the face of darkness,  life in the face of death. As disciples we have hope; holy and healing hope to offer this world. This is our gift. This is our work.

In making meals for families at Dayspring. In volunteering with teens at IYG. In helping to house a refugee family. In visiting friends in the hospital or making meals for those who are unable to leave their homes. In bringing communion to those who cannot be with us. In helping our friends who mourn the loss of a loved-one. In volunteering to make this church clean, beautiful and safe. In welcoming and being hospitable to outsiders. In loving the marginalized.

In all these things that we do we are showing the world around us the redeeming power of God’s love. We are sharing light, life and hope to a scared and anxious world.

And our greatest strength, and greatest blessing in this business, is that we don’t do this work alone.

We come here every Sunday, to this table, to renew our sense of discipleship, to renew our courage, together.

We come to this table together to be reminded that Jesus went to the cross, suffered and died, so that the power of God’s unconditional love might be known to the world.

We come to take part in the broken body through which God’s love entered the world, and we take that love back out into our daily lives and offer this gift to others.

I am so grateful for Peter’s honesty in today’s Gospel passage. Peter, the first apostle, the leader among Jesus’ disciples, was full of fear. And who can blame him? Peter and the disciples’ journey with Jesus helps us understand our calling as disciples today.

Like us, they were afraid and they were honest, and still they continued on the road to do this work together.

Yes, fear is real and is among us. We know this. We hear about it every day on the news, on our Facebook feeds, and social media outlets. We know fear, we’ve experienced it. We know the power it has and the ways it limits us and blinds us.

But we also know Jesus. We know the unconditional love our God has made known to us through Jesus. And we know that fear is not the end of the story.

We are disciples. We are followers of Jesus. We take up our cross, come to this table together and we do not let fear have the last word.

We have faith that God’s call for us will always lead to love, light and hope. We have faith that God will always take the pain of our world and transform it with redemptive love into something life-giving and beautiful.

As followers of Jesus we carry that transforming power within us and have faith that we too can help transform the fear in this world.

May we come to this table today and restore our courage for the journey we are on. May we work together to make the unconditional and transforming love of God known to others in this broken world. May we take up our cross and face fear together.

Amen.

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