Sunday, June 22, 2014

2 Pentecost

June 22, 2014

Matthew 10.24-39

+ So, if I was going to ask you, what is your greatest fear? What would you answer? I think most of us would not have to think long about the answer to that question. For me, there are maybe two or three things that are my greatest fear. Now, with that answer in mind, what honestly, do you think would be the worst thing that could happen if that fear of yours became a reality?

Maybe I should ask, has one of your greatest fears ever become a reality? For me, I would say, yes.  I know that awful feeling of suddenly realizing that something I feared more than anything else became real.  It is a horrific feeling. But, weirdly, after a period of time, there is also a sense of relief. This thing I feared so much for so long, is no longer a fear. I’ve dealt with us—I didn’t have a choice. And now, it’s gone.

In a sense, that fear is possibly what Jesus is hinting at in our Gospel reading. Well, there’s a lot going on in our Gospel reading for today. There are layers and layers in our Gospel reading. And some really fairly unpleasant things.  But essentially it is about our fear of doing the work of God—doing the ministry of Christ—and, about taking up our cross.

Essentially, probably our greatest cross to bear is our fear.  Our fear of the unknown. Our fear of the future. Our fear of all those things we can’t control in our lives.

Let’s take a moment his morning to actually think about the symbol of our fears—the Cross.  Look at how deceptively simple it is.  It’s simply two pieces, bound together.  For someone who knows nothing about Christianity, for someone who knows nothing about the story, it’s a symbol they might not think much about.

And yet the Cross is more than just another symbol in our lives.  Most of us have never even given a second though to how the Cross came to be.  We no doubt think that it just simply was there when the Romans gave it to Jesus as he began his journey to Calvary.

But there is a wonderful story about it, that I’d like to share with you. This story can be found in a wonderful sermon by a saint that whose feast day we  celebrated about a week ago, St. Anthony of Padua.  St. Anthony was a priest of the Franciscan Order, the order founded St. Francis of Assisi.  In his sermon, he spoke on how the Cross was present in scripture from the very beginning of Creation.  According to St. Anthony, in his colorful sermon illustration, the Cross originated not with Jesus’ death, but it can actually be traced much earlier—to, of all people, Adam, the first human.

The story goes that when Adam became ill with his final sickness, his son Seth went looking out for medicine to heal him.  As he approached the Garden of Eden, the place from which Adam and his wife Eve were earlier cast out, Seth saw the Angel who guarded the Gate to Eden.  Seth begged the Angel to help him find medicine for his father.  The Angel broke off a branch from the Tree of Life, from which Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit.  As the Angel handed the branch to Seth, he said, “Your father will be healed when this branch bears fruit.”

Seth returned only to find that Adam had died and was buried.  Seth then buried the branch in Adam’s grave.  The branch grew into a giant tree.

Later, St. Anthony tells, this same tree was seen by the Queen of Sheba in Solomon’s house of wood, which we find in I Kings 7.2.  The Queen had a vision of the origin of the tree and of how on it one day a great man was going to die. She was unable to tell the King of her vision and instead wrote him a letter when she returned to her home, telling Solomon that she had seen in her vision a man hanging on the tree who would bring the downfall of Israel.  Solomon, in fear, buried the tree in what would become the Bethesda Pool.

The tree grew so that, by the time of Jesus, the tree grew up over the water.  It was this pool, that we find in John chapter 5.  In John we find the pool called Bethesda surrounded by five colonnades.  One of these colonnades was believed to be the Tree.  In John we find that interesting story about the Angel who would come down to disturb the water of the Bethesda Pool.  The first person to enter the water after the disturbance would be healed. It was here, on the day that Jesus was going to be crucified, that the Romans looked for a tree on which to crucify him.

And it was there that they found this tree.  They cut it down and made it into the Cross, which Jesus carried to Golgotha.

And Golgotha, as some people know, was believed to be the place where Adam and Eve were buried. In some representations of the Crucifixion, you will often see a skull at the base of the Cross—Golgotha being the place of the skull.  That skull has always traditionally been believed to be the skull of Adam.

So, the Cross had made a full circular journey back to where it began.  The tree that grew out of the grave of Adam, again was set into place on the grave of Adam and, finally, then and there, it bore its fruit.  It bore Jesus.  And the prophecy of the Angel of Eden was fulfilled.  Finally the tree bore fruit.  And when it did, Adam was restored.  Humanity was restored.  When that tree bore fruit, we found our new Adam—Jesus.

Now, the story is good for us if for no other reason in that it helps us to look at the Cross as a very major part of our salvation. Jesus knew full well what the cross was all about, even before he was nailed to it.

In our Gospel reading, he says,  “anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

These are words we do not want to hear from Jesus.  Taking up our Cross is frightening after all. The Cross, as much as it defines, as much as it is symbol of our faith, it is also an instrument of torture and death.  To take up a cross means to take up a burden—that thing we maybe fear the most in our lives.  To take it up—to face our greatest fear—is torturous.  It hurts.

When we think of that last journey Jesus took to the place of Adam’s skull, carrying that heavy tree on which he is going to be murdered, it must’ve been more horrible than we can even begin to imagine.  But the fact is, what Jesus is saying to us is: carry your cross now.  Carry it with dignity and inner strength.  But carry it without fear.

Twice in this morning’s Gospel, Jesus commands us, “Do not be afraid.”

“Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid of what the world can throw at you.  Do not be afraid of what can be done to the body and the flesh.  Taking our cross and bearing it bravely is a sure and certain way of not fearing.  If we take the crosses we’ve been given to bear and embrace them, rather than running away from them, we find that fear has no control over us.

The Cross destroys fear.  The Cross shatters fear into a million pieces.  And when we do fear, we know we have a place to go to for shelter.  When fear encroaches on our lives—when fear comes riding roughshod through our lives—all we have to do is face it head-on.   And there, we will find our fears destroyed.

As St. Anthony said: "Extending his arms on the cross like wings, Christ embraces all who come to him sheltering them in his wounds.”

Because of the Cross, we are taken care of.  There is no reason to fear. I know that sounds complacent. But there is no reason to fear. There is no reason to fear because we are not in control. God is in control.

“Even the hairs of your head are counted” by the God who loves us and cares for us. This God knows us intimately. So intimately than this God even knows how many hairs are on our head.

Why should we not be afraid? Because each of us is valuable. We are valuable to God, who loves us.  When we stop fearing whatever crosses we must bear in our lives, the cross will stop being something terrible.  Like that cross on which Jesus died, it will be a ugly thing will be turned into a symbol of strength and joy and unending eternal life.  Through it, we know, we must pass to find true and unending life. Through the Cross, we must pass to find ourselves, once and for all time, face-to-face with our God.

So, I invite you: take notice of the crosses around you. As you drive along, notice the crosses on the churches you pass.  Notice the crosses that surround you.  When you see the Cross, remember what it means to you.  Look to it for what it is: a triumph over every single fear in our lives. When we see the crosses in our lives, we can look at it and realize it is destroying the fear in our own lives.  Let us bear those crosses of our lives patiently and, most importantly, without fear.

We are loved by our God. Each of us is precious to our God.  Knowing that, rejoicing in that, how can we ever fear again?


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