What Are You Afraid Of 2-21-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 13:31-35, I discuss the paralyzing nature of fear and pose the question of what is it that you as an individual, are afraid of?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-are-you-afraid-of-2-21-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

To start…a disclaimer. It is never my intention to utilize this pulpit as a place to get political. Additionally, I have had conversations with many of you sitting out there today when I have expressed the utter distaste for politics in general…and especially politics during election years. Honestly, I don’t have a lot of patience for it, and more often than not, political candidates on both sides of the aisle irritate me when I listen to them.

That being said, I’m going to site a specific candidate, who’s actions and words this past week highlight a pretty important point that I want to address today. Please take note, that if this happens to be the candidate you support, I’m not trying to take a shot at you or your views…nor am I trying to sway anyone’s opinion here today…let me be clear…that is not…I repeat not…my intention.

Earlier this week, Pope Francis made a comment regarding foreign policy, and his belief that anyone who wants to build a wall on our border to keep people out can’t be considered a Christian. And though he didn’t name names, it was pretty clear that he had Donald Trump in mind. Trump didn’t take kindly to that and issued a statement at the Pope’s expense saying that without strong foreign policy, ISIS will eventually attack the Vatican.

Now maybe Trump knows something I don’t. That is certainly possible. But I bring this up because it really seems that he was making a wild accusatory statement intended only to cause alarm…to raise our fear level…and that right there, is the aspect of election year politics that irritates me to no end…this idea that all I have to do is make you afraid of the other option…raise your level of apprehension…appeal to that voice in the back of your head that speaks out of fear…because if I can you make you afraid of the other side or the other candidate and what they might just do to infringe on you and your fears…well then I can put your vote in my pocket…I’ll go on record today, my observation is that our political landscape is dominated by this tactic…betting on fear. (pause)
Now I bring this all up today, because fear tactics seem to be on display within the gospel lesson. Admittedly, this is a bit of an odd little passage…right in the midst of Jesus’ ministry…as he has set his face towards Jerusalem and the reality of his mission that will culminate there…Jesus encounters a handful of Pharisees…representatives of the very group that we typically consider to be his opponents…and they play the fear card.

Get away from here…for Herod wants to kill you. (pause) This passage is strange for a lot of reasons. First off, what’s up with these particular Pharisees…are they working for Herod…trying to get Jesus to back off…or on the flip side is this a legitimate warning, with Jesus’ best interests in mind? And we don’t know…only that we hear the warning. And so if we read between the lines just a bit, what’s really going on here? Jesus has stated multiple times that he’s heading towards Jerusalem…to the capital…the home of the temple…the very place where his opponents tend to hang out…in short…the single most dangerous place he could probably go…and so this cryptic warning from the Pharisees might as well be saying “Whatever you do…DO NOT…go to Jerusalem…or you are a dead man.” (pause)

And the fact of the matter is that they’re right aren’t they? We know that…we know what happens in Jerusalem don’t we? But in that moment…it hadn’t happened yet…and the only thing that we have to go on is this hint of danger from Herod’s direction…as well as Jesus’ own words about the danger for a prophet there in the city.

And strangely enough, the two are connected…For Herod is the “king” if we can call him that…he’s actually a Roman stooge…loyal to the empire, yet taking full advantage of the political benefit that he get’s from being in this position…and we do know that he’s got a least some power and prestige…he’s got status…he’s got influence…he’s got riches…in short…he’s got something to lose…and as strong as positions of power might initially seem at first glance…history has shown us that it doesn’t take much to lose all that.

Likewise…history also sheds some light on that odd ball comment Jesus makes about prophets dying in Jerusalem. For if we look back through Israel’s history…we see that the prophets really came to prominence about the same time that the nation started having kings…and the voice of God spoke through the prophets…often times at the expense of whatever guy was currently sitting on the throne…For if they failed to lead the people faithful in God’s eyes…God sent a prophet to tell them…and if the king didn’t really appreciate the message…the easiest way to close it down is to shoot the messenger…quite literally. And so throughout history we see the prophets come to an end in Jerusalem when they cross paths with the monarch.

Oddly enough Herod even has personal history with this…remember John the Baptist? Well he crossed Herod…calling him out about his unlawful marriage to Herodias, the wife of his own brother…and since neither Herod nor Herodias really appreciated John’s words…low and behold…he ended up dead. (pause)

Now all of this history serves to point us towards one thing…those in power want to keep it…and they don’t want anything threatening the status quo…much less a popular prophet or rabbi traveling around…attracting crowds…and changing up the way that people think about how things are supposed to work.

And isn’t that the very basis of Jesus message when he proclaims to us that the kingdom has come near…that the world is in the process of a great reversal…that those who are poor in spirit…or hungry or thirsty…or persecuted…they are the very ones who he calls blessed…and on the flip side that those in power are called out…told straight up that they are missing the point and failing the people. (pause)

And if that’s the case…and secretly Herod felt threatened…just like all the religious leaders who seemed to have it in for Jesus…then maybe it makes sense that they try to scare him off. To keep him out of Jerusalem…to keep him away from those who might witness first hand, the results of this great reversal…maybe it makes sense that they would do anything in their power to avoid that which they fear the most…losing the power that the world has granted them. (pause)

Fear is a funny thing…on one hand, it can be one heck of a motivator…and on the other hand…it can utterly paralyze us. So now I’m going to pose a question…What are you afraid of? What are those things in life that can paralyze you…can trip you up…can keep you from acting or speaking? (pause)

I can give you some examples across the spectrum. Often times here in worship, I’ll stop and give you some pastor commentary…those thoughts that go through my head…but I certainly don’t share everything going through my head…and believe me…my brain is going a mile up a minute up here.

The biggest fear I have while leading worship is that I’ll mess something up. That I’ll skip an important part of the liturgy…or that I’ll call someone the wrong name…or that my sermon will get misplaced between the start of worship and the time to preach and I’ll have to wing it. Sometimes I’m afraid that I said the wrong words during the Apostles Creed…or that I mess up the Words of Institution…or that I’ll slip up and use off colored language…or I’ll drop the chalice of wine…or heaven forbid, I walk up here and start talking only to have you all start laughing because unbeknownst to me, my fly is down. (pause)

I wish I could say that I was making this list up…but I’m not…I have these thoughts almost every single week while I’m up here. Now funny enough…some of these things have happened. The first time I had a baptism, I called the child by the wrong name during the sermon about 4 times…Once I skipped a line in the words of institution…just a couple weeks ago I was uninformed about an announcement and got red in the face when I was corrected from the congregation. These things happen…and sure I was embarrassed…but I didn’t die…and we all had a laugh…and we moved on. It wasn’t the end of the world.

But as a pastor I have bigger fears than just a snafu in worship. I fear letting you down as a congregation. I fear making mistakes in my teaching and preaching and leading someone astray. I fear dropping the ball by focusing on one thing and missing something that turns out to be more important…but worst of all…the biggest fear that I have is to be misunderstood…or worse yet, to be perceived as an uncaring jerk…and I have fears in my personal life as well. Fears that I will fail as a husband or father…fears that I will make foolish decisions that will cause hardship for my family…fears of being a failure…fears that I might get sick…or worse yet that someone I care about will get sick and there is nothing I can do about it.

In short…like everyone else…I experience a lot of fear…and so I’ll ask the question again…be honest with yourself…what are you afraid of? What is that paralyzes you…or on the flip side what is that you are so scared of that you work your tail off in order to make sure that it never happens? (pause)

Now what if I told you that in the end…you have zero control over any of it? Things will happen…or on the flip side things that you fear may not happen for you…won’t. Accidents occur…tragedies occur. Jobs are lost. People are hurt. Disasters happen…and in the midst of all that…the world keep on spinning.

This is the reality that we face…and it can often be a very scary place. I’m guessing the world was a pretty scary place for Jesus too…because he was human like us…and he knew what was coming in Jerusalem…he knew the lengths that people would go to in order to keep their illusion of power intact…he knew that it would cost him his life…but as scary as I’m guessing that was for him…Jesus also knew that this was precisely what he called to do…this is who he was meant to be…this was the path that needed to happen to him in order to bring about a change within this scary world.

As we continue through this season of Lent, we grow ever closer to Jesus’ death on the cross…a death that had to happen in order to do something about that which is our greatest fear…and then on the third day his work is finished as he walks out of that tomb…having overcome the power of death…and by doing so making us a promise that we can count on…that in his death he draws all people to himself…he overcomes that which separates us from one another and from God…and he promises us that everything we are afraid of ultimately holds no power over us…but he shows us that God is the one who truly holds the power…and that this same God uses that power to overcome that which we fear.

Yes we still experience it…because we are still experiencing life in this broken world…but thanks be to God that he has also invited us into the action of reconciling it…and finally that he has promised us that even though we walk in dark scary valleys…even valleys that end in death…we are not alone…and somehow he has made it possible for us to come through it into his perfect light. Amen.

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