Pick up Your Fears & Follow Me…

30/8/20 – 12th Sunday after Trinity

Matthew 16:21-28

Borrowed from St Mary’s. Kilburn Facebook page.

If you remember the gospel reading from last week, Peter did so well! He answered Jesus’ question correctly then received praise and blessing in abundance. This week – well… I hope it is comforting to know that all people, across the ages have their highs and lows. Peter was no exception, and neither are we. There are also things that we simply don’t want to hear, like Peter did when Jesus was predicting his death.

This is a challenging piece of the Gospel. I am sure many of us might prefer some nicer words right now: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, he leads me besides still waters, The Lord will keep you from all harm, he will watch over your life, The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.’

However, Jesus is aware that much is at stake! He wants the disciples to know what is coming and to be prepared for it. They did not want to hear about suffering and death and betrayal. Rising on the third day?! When Peter tries to stop Jesus and deny what he is saying, he received the harshest rebuke ever recorded by Jesus.

Why? I had to ask myself this again. Jesus knew what we going to happen, what had to happen to him. Peter is suggesting that what Jesus was describing, didn’t need to happen. It was too awful to even contemplate. Peter likely held the belief, that many people hold, that if we are very, very good, God won’t let anything bad happen to us. We will be protected, be spared from whatever comes at us. This is a very human response. Peter held out a tempting offer to Jesus – who doesn’t want to avoid pain and suffering if possible?

Peter also only heard the first part of what Jesus was saying to them, the talk of death and suffering. Peter doesn’t seem to hear ‘the third day raised to life’ part. There is light in this darkness. God is at work, the body that suffers will be turned into the body that lasts forever. Amen!

Jesus’ instruction to ‘deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’ isn’t easy either. This would have been difficult for the disciples to hear. We live on the other side of the cross; we know that it ultimately brings good news. The cross of Good Friday leads to the joy of Easter Sunday. The disciples would not have known that. Yet. For them, a cross meant only death. It has no religious meaning at that time as Jesus had not yet died on one. They struck only fear into the hearts of people.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, ‘There were days when the road to Jerusalem was lined with crosses, each of them bearing the dead or dying body of someone whose public execution was meant to scare everyone who saw it. Crucifixion was not only a very efficient form of punishment; it was also a very effective form of intimidation. It reinforced the idea that death was the most awful thing in the world and that people with any sense should do everything in their power to avoid it.’

We can see why Peter wants Jesus to avoid death; he wants to as well. In telling the disciples to take up their crosses and follow him, Jesus is saying that death is not the worst thing in the world. Fear is. Pick up the thing that you fear the most and come with me says Jesus.

There is a lot of fear in this world right now. I will spare you a list as I am sure you will have your own. What are we going to do about our fears? Jesus is clear on what he wants us to do, pick up those crosses, those things that we fear the most and follow him. In doing this we will both lose and save our lives.

Barbara Brown-Taylor again: ‘In Luke, Jesus tells his followers to take up their crosses daily, which sounds more like a way of life than a death wish. He does not tell them to find their crosses, either because he is pretty sure they already know right where they are. He just encourages them to go ahead and pick the wretched things up – to stop covering them up and tripping over them and pretending they are not there. He urges them to squat down and get hold of them so they can find out there is more to life than being afraid of death.’

We all have crosses to take up. Our crosses don’t have much to do with the Roman government, but fear is timeless. We all have things that we fear and rightly so. However, it is what we do with our fear that matters. Jesus is not denying that there is anything to fear, or that his message isn’t difficult to hear. He doesn’t even say that he will take away the fears we have. He is saying that there is more to life than fear and that if we follow him, we will find that life. The full and abundant life that is promised to us.

Whatever it is that scares you, eats away at your life, the thing you would do anything to get rid of – that is your cross. If you leave it where it is – you will lose your life. Many people don’t pick up their crosses, they blame God, the universe, the world, these are the ones who lose their soul.

If you can believe God more than you believe your fear, you will be able to pick up your cross and follow him. You may find that it not nearly so scary once you get your hands on it. He isn’t asking you to pick it up alone but to pick it up and then follow him. You will find your life by following.