Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fearless Losers

Psalm 116: 1-9; Mark 8: 27-38
******** United Church of Christ
Sept. 13, 2009

“Who Is Jesus?

“And Jesus said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’

“They replied, ‘You are he who heals our ambiguities and overcomes the split of angst and existential estrangement; you are he who speaks of the theonomous viewpoint of the analogia entis, the analogy of our being and the ground of all possibilities. You are the impossible possibility who brings to us, your children of light and children of darkness, the overwhelming roughness in the midst of our fraught condition of separation and brokenness, in the contiguity and existential anxieties of our ontological relationships. You are my Oppressed One, my soul’s shalom, the One who was, who is and who shall be, who has never left us alone in the struggle, the event of liberation in the lives of the oppressed struggling for freedom.’

“And Jesus replied, ‘Huh?’”[1]

Listen to all those expectations. Over the centuries we have heaped upon Jesus all our hopes, our desires, our deepest needs and all our fears. We have simultaneously made him into Superman, Savior and the Suffering Servant, our greatest hope and the hope of the world; thus, he also has the potential to become the world’s biggest disappointment and ours.

Peter answered Jesus, “You are the Messiah—the Anointed One”, but he didn’t know that meant suffering, rejection and death. When we follow him we run the risk of becoming one of the world’s biggest losers.

(Here I revealed the front of the t-shirt I was wearing with my suit: it was brown with the word 'loser' boldly printed in white letters on the front.)

Sometimes when we heap hope and fear together, we often end up with more fear than hope. And then it’s the that fear winds our clock, plays the old negative tapes in our heads, holds our focus, and creates the stress we think is a result of living our lives.

Since I began this artist’s workshop earlier this summer, I have become more aware of how much my life is motivated by fear, that my creative potential is blocked by a huge wall of fear. I ask myself, “How can that be? I’m a pastor, I’m a person of faith, I strive to follow Jesus. How does fear influence my life?”

Fear can be the source of perfectionism, wanting to please others and gain their good opinion. Fear is the source of stress that tells us we have to have it done yesterday. Fear is the source of scarcity, of not enough, of withholding. Fear is the source of addiction, that bottomless void we try to fill with behaviors and substances that only leave us feeling even emptier. Fear has the power to take us out of the present and hold us captive. But fear also tells us that we have something worth losing.

Fear can be the worst prison. But sometimes I wonder what does fear get out of this deal? My creative potential is thwarted but I also get to not fail or succeed, to stay the same, to have reasons to complain and not change—lots of payoff but what does fear get? Me? Company? Life? The opportunity to be right? Power? Fear permeates dreams, thinking, emotions, moods, attitudes, motives. Being aware of it helps me realize that I’d rather live with peace and energy for living a real life, rather than following around my worry and panic and my desire for control.

What blocks our ability to be energized, loving, creative, trusting, forgiving is fear—pure and simple. We all have it in varying degrees and in a multitude of disguises. And our fears reveal what we value but in the inverse. We love people’s good opinion but we fear losing it. We love our family and friends but we fear losing them and our life as we now know it. We like to be secure and have enough to enjoy and to share but we fear losing that feeling of security. We want to move into the future but we fear losing the familiar comfort of the past.

At our most basic level we fear change. We haven’t quite figured out how to love change, how to embrace it, how to be pregnant with change, to choose it, adopt it, and care for it like a newborn child. When we are stressed we are feeling fear because a change is coming and we’re afraid we won’t get everything done, that something will fall apart because of it; that somehow our corner of the world is resting squarely on our shoulders or on the shoulders of our leader(s), like a cross.
In other gospel versions of this morning’s story from Mark, we get to hear Peter’s rebuke: “God forbid it, Lord! This (this death, this tragedy, this failure) must never happen to you.” We hear Peter’s fear of losing that which he loves most—this Messiah, this Anointed One, who made a community out of poor fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot and other outsiders.

My favorite quote about church is this: “The gift of community is that each one of us is absolved of the burden of completeness. In and of ourselves at every moment we can lean on one another for the elements we lack.” We have nothing to lose but our fear when we surrender to community, when we allow the community and God working through it to be what we aren’t capable of at the moment. Trouble is, we’re not very practiced in communicating our fears, our honest fears, to one another, because we’re afraid of how we might appear to others—weak, incapable, incomplete.

When thoughts start racing, when we begin the cycle of worry and dread, when we project into the future in a negative way—that is when we need to stop and realize that we are setting our minds not on divine things but on human things. Fear is the source of that horrid feeling in the pit of our stomachs and that source is not the Source of All That Is, that Ground of All Being in which all of us are found.

Anne Lamott wrote that it would be nice if when grace arrived, it would be announced by a ringing bell. I wish the same thing were true about fear, when it begins its crazymaking cycle, because often I don’t recognize it until I’m well into it. One way I distract the fear within me is to do something creative, like try a new recipe for dinner or sing a song. Or I go to my peaceful place in my mind. Or I remember something good that I’m looking forward to. Or I pray or meditate or simply pay attention to my breathing. Or call a friend. Or I remember to be thankful for whatever it is I’m stressed about or fearful of, because usually it’s connected to something I don’t want to lose, something that is of great value to me.

The time between settled pastors can be a fearful one for some and for a congregation. For those of you who have not been worshipping here long, you’ve entered into a relationship in an interesting, adventuresome time. It is a time of the mysterious unknown; to all appearances, a dry spell on the journey of faith. We see our own story interwoven with the story of the community, and how the story is going to proceed is a mystery. How will it end, we wonder. Who is this Jesus and where is he leading us? And it can be tempting to attach our fears to this mysterious unknown, placing our focus on our anxiety and on the pain we can experience when we realize we are not in control of the outcome.

There are very few people on this planet who have mastered their fear and are solely focused on love. But that’s the transformation we’re headed for. That’s our salvation. And that’s why I need Jesus, the one whose deep love transforms my fear into a creative force. If I’m going to master my fear, I need a faithful, loyal Friend, especially one who has been through the fire. And remember, he did say he would rise again.

Denying ourselves and picking up our cross can mean different things to each one of us. For me, it is leaving behind fear and shouldering the weight of love and trust and compassion. The cross is the way of transformation, the way of becoming something altogether beautiful and new, the way of joy, the way of becoming something like Jesus.

And who is this Jesus? Who do we say that he is? That’s up to each of us to answer for ourselves. The key then is to follow that Jesus wherever he leads, even if it looks like we might lose the life we now have, that we might gain the life of the gospel, the life of the good news of transformation.

(Here I revealed the back of the t-shirt, on which was printed in white letters the following quote.)

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

What are your deepest fears about this interim time? Right now, in your heart and mind, transform them into your greatest hope and let that hope be your prayer. My greatest fear that has sometimes gotten in my way of leading you through this interim time is that somehow, in some way, I am going to let you down. And just by saying that, by admitting that, fear’s grip has been loosened and it has become a part of the past. And so my greatest hope is that, with God’s help and love and yours, I will do my best to lead you through this interim time to the launch pad where you will take off and fly with your new settled pastor. Amen.

[1] Bob Kaylor, Senior Writer at HomileticsOnline and Senior Minister of the Park City United Methodist Church in Park City, Utah.

No comments: