Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Fearless losers

Mark 8: 27-38 
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE 
March 1, 2015

The Cruciform Life

“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?’”

That is what is called in some circles as “Jesus Jaw”.  Over the centuries the Church has heaped upon Jesus all the hopes, desires, deepest needs and fears of what it means to be church.  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 less real to us and more likely the world’s biggest disappointment and ours. 

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

(reveal front of t-shirt)

You can order a t-shirt like this one at http://store.yefonline.com/default/1word/t-shirts/loser.html

Our hopes and fears are usually not in clean little compartments but heaped together, and on some days we can end up with more fear than hope.  And it’s then that fear winds our clock, plays the negative mp3 in our heads, holds our attention, and makes us less real, less of our authentic selves.

Fear can be the source of perfectionism, wanting to please others, and gain their approval.  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 fuels our anger and resentment. Fear blocks our ability to be real, to be true:  loving, creative, trusting, forgiving, open to all of the human experience.  But fear also tells us that we have something worth losing.

Our fears reveal what we value but in the inverse.  We hold dear the good opinion of others 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 what we know now. 

At our most basic level we fear change.  We haven’t quite figured out how to love change, how to embrace it. When change is coming, we can become stressed because fear likes to peddle our hamster wheel.  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 leaders, 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, as well as the drunkards, prostitutes, and gluttons he hung out with.

My favorite quote about church is this:  “The gift of community is to be absolved of the burden to be complete.”  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, imperfect—vulnerable.  

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 on 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. 

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

Denying ourselves and picking up our cross can mean different things to each one of us.  Ultimately, it is about leaving our fear behind 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, especially 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. 

(reveal back of t-shirt)


What are our deepest fears about being in community, in this faith community?  Right now, in our hearts and minds, let us allow them to be transformed into our greatest hope and let that hope be our prayer.  By admitting our fear, its grip has been loosened and it has become a part of the past.  Now, from this day forward, may we be filled with hope.  Amen.

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

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