Transcribed from the audio.

May the words my mouth and the meditations of our collective hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

During the summers when I was growing up, my mother would take my brother and me for the weekly pilgrimage to the public library. I grew up in a really small town with not a lot of options to keep children entertained and out of trouble. We didn’t have swim camps and soccer camps and learn a third language camps and so it was a little bit more challenging for my mother. There was the public swimming pool, but I was fair skinned and would get sunburned fairly easily so that was not a great option. There was one movie theater in town but not many family films to speak of, so that was not a great option. And to make it even more challenging for my mother, my father ran the local grain elevator and during the grain harvest time, which was in the summer, he would work literally around the clock. So, my mother being the creative one, decided to share one of the great loves of her life which was reading.

So every week we faithfully went to the library, checked in the books we’d read that week, and checked out new ones. Somewhere along the line I came up with the bright idea that I should focus on biographies. You see, my parents and my church had instilled in me the belief that God had a plan and a purpose for me, for everyone. Our challenge was to discern it and to find the courage to pursue it. I reasoned that if an author had gone to the trouble and the time to write about someone there must’ve been something fairly noteworthy in their lives. So I began to read biographies to see if I could learn some important life lessons. Yes, I was a nerd even then.

What I began to discover in reading these books about these people was that there were some common threads and themes in their lives. Almost without exception every one of them had had something in their life that was an obstacle or a hardship that they had to overcome, sometimes at multiple points in their lives. It could have been that they grew up in a very poor family. It could’ve been that they grew up in some backwater town without access to quality education. It could be that they had a dysfunctional family environment. There was always something that they had to dig down deep to navigate and make their way through.

The other thread that I saw was that whenever they felt called to something much larger than themselves there was always an element of fear present in that. Sometimes it was within: they didn’t feel that they were up to it or worthy or whatever. But more often it was the people closest to them who expressed fear and doubt because they loved them. It was too big. It was too risky. It was too dangerous. Other people have tried and failed. So that fear, either internal or external, was also something that they had to navigate and work their way through.

Thinking about those threads and looking at today’s gospel story, some of those same tensions are at work. The eighth chapter of Mark marks the tipping point, if you will, of the story of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. Heretofore, all the previous chapters tell the story of Jesus and his miraculous healings: raising people from the dead, stilling the storms—things that were extraordinary that no ordinary teacher or Rabbi could do. They were so extraordinary that he not only had the loyalty in the following of his disciples, but he’s gathering huge crowds by virtue of his being different and extraordinary. Power and authority in a very tangible way.

So Jesus pauses at this moment to ask his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Elijah, John the Baptist, one of the prophets. Jesus listens to this and then he makes it personal: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, never being bashful, blurts out, “You are the Messiah.” And I can imagine Jesus saying, “Good answer”. But, because Peter, the disciples, and the Israelites believed that the Messiah was in fact someone who would come with power and authority to bring the kingdom of God to earth in a tangible victorious triumphant way—that the Messiah would overthrow the crushing Roman occupation. But that was not the Messiahship to which Jesus had been called.

He begins to explain what his call by God is: to journey on to Jerusalem, to suffer, to be rejected, to die, and to rise on the third day. His victory looked very different than what they imagined. So Peter begins to rebuke him, saying, “No.” Jesus turns to him and says, “Get behind me Satan.” I don’t think Peter was suddenly inhabited by evil intent. He loved Jesus, followed Jesus, gave up his life for Jesus. He was fearful, fearful of what that meant, fearful and doubting about the dream that they had all held dear. Fear can be a very powerful deterrent, if we let it do so. Jesus knew who he was, knew his call, and despite the voices closest to him, he pursued what God had called him to do.

How often in our lives have we felt that we were called to do something? We had some obstacles to overcome, but also had to work our way through fear. In his current book, The Road to Character, David Brooks chronicles the lives of people who through life and circumstance and strength of character and call made some extraordinary contributions to the world. One of the people he talks about is Frances Perkins. Now we may all remember that she was the first female cabinet member. She was Secretary of Labor. What you may not remember or may not know, is that she didn’t start out that way. There was a seminal event when she was 31 years old that changed the course of her life and vocation. Despite being a woman in a very male world in the early 1900s, despite having a husband and a daughter who were mentally ill, despite having to work her way through very complicated things, she was a champion for workers and laborers. She was instrumental in the establishment of Social Security and many of the programs in the New Deal. She also was called before Congress with impeachment proceedings.

How did she do it? How did she work her way through that? One of the things that David Brooks writes about in this book is that she, from time to time, would go away to an Anglican convent for two or three days to be still and pray, knowing that God had called her to do this. It was hard. There was a lot of fear out there, but she pursued it because she knew it was hers to do and that God had equipped her to do it.

What is God calling you and me to in this time and this moment as we look across the landscape within our city, within our country, and certainly abroad? We are not at a lack of things that need us to pick up our cross and follow Christ. All of us, I’m sure, have been moved by the humanitarian crisis of epic proportions in central Europe with the migrants and the refugees fleeing from war-torn countries. We’ve looked at average people like you and me trying to reach out as best they can with food, clothing—whatever they can do. But it also takes leadership and standing up against fear.

This week, in a public forum German Chancellor Angela Merkel was asked a question by a woman in the audience saying, what does that mean for us, was does that mean for our country and our identity? I’m afraid that it will mean more terrorist acts in our country by militants like ISIS. Chancellor Merkel took a long breath before responding, and she said, “Fear has never been a good advisor for us as individuals or for societies. Cultures and societies that are shaped by fear can’t grip the future.”

Jesus shows us the way. It’s not always easy and sometimes the people closest to us will express their fear and concern for our well-being. Ask what God is calling you to do. Ask what God’s plan and purpose for your life is. Imagine Jesus asking you, and who are you in relationship to me? What would you attempt if you knew you wouldn’t fail? All of us need reminders. My daily reminder is actually a refrigerator magnet—refrigerators are good for reminders. My magnet is from Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”


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