Child of God

“Child of God”
Mark 8: 27-38
Pastor Todd Buegler
September 12-13, 2015 (Rally Weekend)
Trinity Lutheran Church

My deep gratitude to Jessica Dant for singing the musical interlude that is woven through today’s sermon.  
Grace and peace to you from God our Creator, and from Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world! Amen.

I recently came across a list I thought was interesting. It was in a Washington Post article that listed the top 12 things that Americans are afraid of. And while some of the items on the list are quite predictable, there were a couple of surprises on the list. So in order of importance, I present to you the top twelve things that Americans are afraid of:

  1. Number one on the list: Public speaking. This is not a shock. I’ve heard this before, you probably have too.       According to the Washington Post, a full 25.3% of Americans fear speaking in front of a crowd of people.
  2. Fear of heights.  This too is not a shock. It makes sense. I had a good friend who was afraid of heights.  He was 6’ 6” tall. He used to say “It’s not that I’m afraid of heights…it’s just that I have a healthy respect for gravity.”
  3. Third on the list are bugs, snakes and other animals. I get this. Snakes are my big fear. As a matter of fact, when we do the “blessing of the animals” service in a couple of weeks I’ve already told Pastor Dean that he gets to bless any snakes. I don’t do snakes.
  4. The Fourth greatest fear is drowning. That seems reasonable.
  5. Fifth is blood and needles.
  6. The Sixth is claustrophobia: a fear of small, tight spaces.
  7. Flying is seventh, followed by:
  8. Number 8: a fear of strangers.
  9. American’s 9th biggest fear? Zombies.       Yes, zombies.
  10. The tenth biggest fear is fear of the dark.
  11. Number eleven is a fear of clowns.
  12. And rounding out the list at number twelve is ghosts.

I find it interesting that more people are scared of clowns than ghosts, but that zombies beat out both of them.

We can laugh at some of the items on this list, but we do have to recognize that fear, even those fears that seem irrational at first glance are real. In my ministry, I’ve spent time talking with people about their fears, and I’ve learned a couple of things: If you live with a fear long enough, pretty soon it becomes a part of who you are. Fear can mess with your emotional and even your physical health. Fear of intimacy, fear of taking action, fear of risk, fear of rejection: Fear can damage and even destroy relationships. It can paralyze us …fear can twist us, overwhelm us…consume us until it becomes a part of our very identity.

And fear is nothing new. Humans have lived with fear since creation. In our Gospel lesson today, the disciples had to be experiencing anxiety. They were at the nucleus of a movement that was beginning to change their world, and were starting to seriously irritate the religious and political leaders. They were putting themselves at risk.

And Jesus was having this conversation in the city of Caesarea Philippi, over 100 miles north of Jerusalem. It was just at (or even a bit beyond) the edge of Jewish tradition and influence. This was Roman territory. And the Romans weren’t exactly friendly with the Jewish people. The city was named after their emperor, Caesar, and after Phillip, the son of King Herod. The Roman leaders. And they were surrounded by statues and monuments to Roman gods and goddesses, most notably Pan, the Roman god of the wild. For the Jewish people, this was the frontier. It wasn’t safe. It would be like wearing your Viking jersey in the middle of Lambeau Field.

For the disciples, every time they turned around; they were reminded that they were at risk; strangers in a strange land. But the disciples trusted Jesus. When Jesus asked the question “Who do you say that I am?” Peter’s answer “You are the Messiah” implies that “despite the risk, despite the fear, you are my savior, and I am your follower. I am a child of God.”

Like the disciples, we live in a world of uncertainty and fear that can paralyze. But also like the disciples, we are reminded as people of faith that we are called to trust. That while fear may challenge us, it cannot overcome us. That our faith is placed in the God who calls us his own.

When I was doing my hospital chaplaincy rotation as a part of my seminary education, I was visiting with a woman in our chemical dependency unit. “I’m so afraid,” she said, “of what it will be like when I leave here. I don’t know if I can do it. How do I not be afraid? I don’t think I’m brave enough” My answer was simple: “You trust.”

The opposite of fear isn’t courage, which can seem like an elusive goal; something we have to try and attain by ourselves. The opposite of fear is trust…trust in those around us and trust in God. As people of faith, we trust that we are children of God, and that God as a loving parent, watches and protects us.

(Song Interlude 1)

You unravel me, with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance, from my enemies
Till all my fears are gone

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

So the question that I want to ask you today is simply this: What are you afraid of? Where do you find your fear? And how do you find trust?

Like the disciples, our sense of trust comes from our identity. As Peter boldly proclaimed his trust that Jesus was the messiah, and in the process affirmed that he was a child of God, we too look to our identity to find the source of our trust.

We find our identity in our baptism. I have taught baptism classes and preached about baptism for my entire career. But it was fourteen years ago, when I held our oldest, Nathan at the font, and the water was poured on his head…in the name of the Father, of the Son, of the Holy Spirit…that I finally understood something that had escaped me before. In that moment, looking down at Nathan, it was as if I overheard the voice of God saying: “Nathan, you are mine…” and at that moment, I realized that Nathan doesn’t really belong to Lori and me. Nathan belongs to God. God is just loaning Nathan and then Sam to us for awhile…to tend while they grow, to care for, and to love. But ultimately, Nathan and Samuel belong to God. Ultimately, I belong to God. Ultimately, you belong to God. We are born, baptized and called into something new…something much larger than ourselves; something that sets us free from our fear…
(Song Interlude 2)

From my mothers womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again, into your family
Your blood flows through my veins

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

We live in a world that is perfectly happy to tell us what our identity should be. In fact, in 2014, according to the National Council of Marketing Executives, over $540 billion dollars were spent on trying to tell us, among other things, how we should dress, what music we should listen to, what cars we should drive, how much weight we should lose and what our hair should look like. By these standards, if we spend this money and do these things, then our lives will be full…our identity will be complete. But as followers of Jesus, we know better. These things, they are not our identity. They are image. They are shallow and incomplete; and there is no love and grace within them.

So why do we all (and I mean all of us) buy in to these perspectives? Because of fear. We are afraid of not fitting in…of being the outsider.  The fear of not fitting in, of not being picked for the kickball team in 1st grade, follows us through our entire lives.

  • Youth sports
  • High school sports
  • Tryouts for the play
  • College applications
  • Music auditions
  • Job interviews
  • Are we invited to that “important” meeting
  • Parties
  • Conversations
  • Friendships

But these things are not our identity. Let’s not confuse what we do with who we are.

The God who knows us by name, who calls to us in the waters of baptism and who walks with us, never abandoning us; the God who sent Jesus as Messiah; who went to the cross because of his love for us. That God is the source of our identity. It is the God who called us, and continues to remind us, that we are his children. That is our identity: Child of God, loved beyond measure.

(Song Interlude 3)

I am surrounded
By the arms of the father
I am surrounded
By songs of deliverance 

We’ve been liberated
From our bondage
We’re the sons and the daughters
Let us sing our freedom

 You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
All my fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
So I could stand and sing
I am the child of God…

You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
All my fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
So I could stand and sing
I am child of God…

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

“You split the seas so I could walk right through it; all my fears were drowned in perfect love. You rescued me so I could stand and sing. I am a child of God.”

Remember who you are, child of God. You are loved beyond measure. Marked with the cross of Christ, now and forever, no longer afraid. That is your identity. That is who God made you to be.

Amen.

Song: “No Longer Slaves” by Bethel Music.  Written by Brian Johnson, Joel Case,Jonathan David Helser.  Copyright Bethel Music Publishing, 2014.

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