“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself;” that may be the most popular quote ever about fear spoken by the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Fear: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. Fear. Is there any more pervasive or powerful motivating force in human experience? Many of us would argue that Love is, but Tupac said, “Fear is stronger than love.” Was he right? Marianne Williamson said that, “Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.” I think I’d have to agree with Marianne the same way I believe that we are not born of many races but of the human race, and racism is what we learn here. Whether you agree with Tupac or Marrianne about the status of fear; I think we can all agree that fear is real and it’s used against us in our daily lives in politics, economics, and even religion.
The G.W. Bush Administration’s agenda was fueled by a politics of fear stemming from the attacks of 911 where the American people were scared straight into 2 wars that left us in debt as a country and in death as a military. Until 2011 you may notice when you travel that the alert level for imminent threat in our airports was perpetually at “orange;” the 2nd highest level of threat of terrorist attacks. It had remained there since the 911 aftermath until they realized that the alerts did nothing for citizens other than make them afraid. Ironically, more American citizens have since been killed by law enforcement officers than by terrorists, but I digress. Fear. The stock market fluctuates up and down as a result of conflict in different markets around the world, causing us to franticly shift our financial assets here or there. Fear. Even we as people of faith use the fear of Hell as our personal jail to condemn “ungodly” behavior as if somebody made us judge. Fear. Fear is prominent in our psychology, so much so that an entire branch of clinical medicine is dedicated to the study, diagnosis, and treatment of fear; we call them phobias. There’s a phobia for everything ya’ll. There are very common phobia’s like acrophobia- the fear of heights. And there are very uncommon phobia’s like Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia – fear of the number 666: The number of the Beast, associated with the Revelation of the Beast in the 13th Chapter of the Book of Revelations. There’s my greatest fear: maniaphobia- the fear of losing my mind. You see I believe that my mind is the greatest gift God gave me and when I no longer have control over my mind I no longer have anything to contribute. Then there’s one of my least favorite phobia’s: Gamophobia – fear of marriage, commitment; I’ve probably been diagnosed more than once with this one by a young lady or two but that’s another sermon. Fact is, fear is present in a wide variety ways.
Based on a 1977 study from “the book of lists” a survey was taken among 3000 Americans asking them to name their greatest fear. 44% named glossophobia – fear of speaking in public or of trying to speak as their #1 fear. Glossophobia. And to this day the #1 named fear among Americans is still the fear of public speaking; ahead of the fear of heights, and deep water, and even the fear of death, or thanatophobia. Now this study doesn’t necessarily suggest that a person would really rather die than give a speech, but it does suggest that when asked to identify our fears in our immediate consciousness, we worry about things like public speaking and heights and finances and sickness, more than we worry about dying. Perhaps it’s because these are all things we can expect to encounter in our daily lives more so than death; although those of us in Chicago could probably argue otherwise. The irony is however, death is the most definite of them all. You can go about life avoiding public speaking although that would be difficult. You can navigate life intentionally evading heights, but that would be a challenge as well. You can even earn billions of dollars in your lifetime, never having to worry about finances, but that too is easier said than done. One thing’s for certain though: you can’t beat death. Death is inevitable. I only know of one Person who beat death and even He was dead for 3 days. Bottom line: we all got to get out of here one day ya’ll. So why is it that we fear these false idols over the truth of our earthly mortality? I suppose it makes sense to not worry about that which we can neither control nor avoid. But the truth is…the human condition doesn’t allow us to ignore that which we cannot control. If it did we’d be a whole lot less stressed out, Amen? So no matter how much we name or prioritize these other fears over death, we greatly fear it. We fear the mystery in how we’ll die. We fear the uncertainty of when we’ll die. We fear dying.
Not Jesus though. In our text this morning Jesus predicted his own death as He “began to tell His disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that He would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.” Jesus wasn’t afraid to die.
His disciples on the other hand – Peter in particular, rejects Jesus’ forecast and rebukes Him for His words saying, “Heaven forbid, Lord. This will never happen to you!” Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” You see unlike Jesus, and much like you and me, the disciples feared death; they didn’t want to talk about death; they didn’t want to give death much thought, let alone entertain predictions of when death might come. The disciples feared death because their humanity wouldn’t allow otherwise.
Jesus understands this about the human condition. But He also knows that that very fear has the potential to block discipleship in its entirety, so Jesus reminds his disciples that, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds. And I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”
In this morning’s gospel, Jesus issues an important reminder: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. An important reminder. How do I know it’s important? I know it because it’s a reminder that’s not only found here, but in Mark 8:35. I know it because it’s a reminder that’s not only found there but in Luke 9:24 and later again in Luke 17:33. It’s an important reiteration from the first time it appears 6 chapters earlier in Matthew 10 when the disciples are just beginning their call to discipleship and Jesus explains the dangers of following him beginning at verse 24:
26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[a] 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’[b]
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Jesus understood fear. The fear of death. The fear of man. The fear of God. He understood the fear of death in his disciples as he sent them forth into eminent danger with no money, shoes or clothes and more importantly no staff for protection. Jesus recognized that fear had the potential to throw a monkey wrench in his entire mission. But instead of keeping his disciples in darkness about the dangers of the mission they were to embark upon, he’s very honest and forthright about the threats of this call to discipleship which include even death; yet and still, after missions and miracles and the realization of Jesus as Messiah, we find Jesus needing to remind his disciples of the conditions under which they have chosen to follow Him.
My brother and sisters in Christ on this 16th Sunday after Pentecost Jesus reminds you, reminds us, as 21st century disciples that, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. So I ask you Saints, who or what are you willing to give up your life for? What are you willing to die for? And if it’s Jesus as the scripture says it should be, are you willing to overcome your fears of the threats and dangers that come with following Him? Now I noticed some of you sat up in your seat like, “Now who said anything about me dying? Jesus died for my sins but He didn’t mention anything about me dying for Him?” But I’m not talking about a literal death and neither is Jesus; rather death in the metaphorical sense: to die unto one’s self so that we might live for Christ. Death to your old archaic beliefs. Death to your antiquated ways of thinking. Death to your fear of change. Death to darkness. Death to selfishness. Death to jealousy and envy. Death to hate. If we are to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus we’ve got to overcome our fear of dying. A fear of death to our old ways; our old selves.
You know, the fear that keeps us from standing on every corner where the police are not in order to thwart gun violence in our own neighborhoods; the fear that keeps us from standing on every corner where the police are not because we are too afraid of the personal sacrifice it might cost us to possibly save God’s children? Imagine if we would just let that mentality die.
Or the fear that prevents us from tithing the way we should because “I’m barely making it as is and I’ve got bills;” as if any of what we earn is ours and all of it isn’t God’s anyway. As if God hadn’t been faithful in paying your bills every other time we didn’t have it. Oh imagine if we would just be willing to let that state of mind wither away.
Or the fear that precludes our outreach to youth and young adults because “we’ve always done it this way” and any other way that might be appealing to youngsters is a threat to the old establishment and therefore a threat to me. Imagine if we would just allow that attitude die a horrible death.
Or the fear that prohibits us from extending God’s amazing grace to all no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or religion. Oh imagine if we would just be agreeable to burying that mindset.
What if we could overcome our fear of death, enabling us to die unto ourselves so that Christ might live within us? What if? What If you try to hang on to your life? The bible says you will lose it. But if you give up your life for Jesus’ sake, you will save it. So take up your cross, and follow Him.
Take up your cross and take our neighborhoods back instead of relying on a law enforcement system that has killed as many black men as it’s been called to serve and protect.
Take up your cross and take up collection not just for your home Church but for those without a home, understanding that God has given us more than enough, and we can’t take any of it with us when we go to glory.
Take up your cross and take in a young person to mentor in life and in Christ, inviting not only their presence but their ideals.
Take up your cross and take a page out of Jesus’ manual for ministry to the least of these especially those marginalized and discriminated against who don’t enjoy the same social privilege as you.
God’s sovereignty is revealed not in the walks through porticos of power, but through the grimy alleys of weakness and misery. That’s where Jesus walked, and that’s where he leads us to walk. That is where he strengthens us to bear the burdens of discipleship. It is His burden we take upon our shoulders. It is His strength that bears the weight. We do nothing on our own, but He can do much through us. Without Jesus, Peter was no rock, but a stumbling block. With Jesus, Peter was the rock upon which Jesus would build His Church. With Him we are not powerless to deny ourselves, but able to bear all He may give us, if we can just manage to overcome our fear of dying. My brothers and sisters of the way, I encourage you this morning to have no fear! Take up your cross and follow Jesus. Amen.