Finding God in times of fear.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

[This sermon was delivered at Buck Mountain Episcopal Church on Sunday, November 20, 2016]

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

I expected it to get easier. I wanted it to get easier. I wanted to feel less like a stranger in a strange land. This melancholia, it’s not me. I don’t sit around and waste away. I get up. I breathe. I stretch my eyes to the sun and believe in goodness and possibility. I look to my King and I say, “yes.” I get out, I work, I write, I throw myself at the blank page and stain it with my body and its fears.

But that’s not happening.

I’ve been walking around in a daze, fearful and intimidated by shadows of men, men I’ve never met, men I know nothing about, fearful of what this world thinks of me without taking the time to ask…afraid to ask.

*

This fear that has infected my soul, it is foreign. I do not know it. And yet it is familiar. It is the fear I have always felt around men who get too close to me, strong enough to overpower me. It is the fear I have always felt when I walk out of my apartment and realize my clothes are just a little too flamboyant, maybe a little too obvious for Earlysville, for Christiansburg, for Danville, and I turn around to change. It’s the quiet confusion with which I kept my eyes down and my body invisible in my high school locker room. It’s the same fear I have always felt in the thrill of coming out to a crush, thinking that perhaps this time he’ll say “me too.” That maybe this time he won’t back away, armor up and eyes wide. It’s the sickness I feel in the pit of my stomach when I make eye contact with a boy at a fraternity party and have to decide whether he’ll kiss me or punch me if I keep staring, frightened himself of things he doesn’t understand.

*

And believe me, I hate this sin. I hate this sinful fear that keeps me from believing in the goodness of others. It is deep within me, that if they knew the content of the deepest chambers of my heart, they too would back away in fear. That the God who shines in naked majesty on Golgotha is Christ the King, but is not my King.

*

I expected to believe what I know is the truth that just because they voted for him does not mean they hate me. I know this. I swear I know this. And I expected I would understand. I do not understand.

*

I am afraid of you all. I am afraid to speak these words to you. I am afraid that you will not believe them, that you will think they are theatre, that you will think my fears are naïve or simple, or unfounded. I am afraid that you will not want to hear these words. I am afraid that what you want to hear is a simple message of reconciliation and unity. I am afraid at my total inability to preach that message. I am afraid that I cannot be the person God wants me to be behind this pulpit when I am in pain, that I do not deserve to stand in the footsteps of Christ four years from now, holding his Body in the air for you all to see, when I am this weak. Lord, how do I place the bread in the hands of this faithful person when I cannot meet his eyes?

*

“There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’”

Jesus was indeed King of the Jews, King of those of us who are lucky enough to know Him, and those who are not, of those who are as I am lost in sin and fear, and those who are saints enough to lift themselves to heaven. God reminds me that even as I live in fear of my country’s leader, Jesus remains my King. And God pleads with me to remember that Jesus provides the ultimate example of leadership on this earth, and always has. And He uses this knowledge is not to dismiss my fear but to energize it for His purpose. Christ is King of all, and living in his footsteps means recognizing our own power and influence and loving others as Christ loved us, and gave Himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.

*

But what if I don’t want to? What if I don’t want to sacrifice myself? What if I cannot bring myself to believe that this world is worth sacrificing myself over? What if these past two weeks, full of 437 hate crimes and skirted glances at dark shadows, as my eyebrows grew furrowed and my eyes teared because of the overwhelming panic I felt rising in the throats of my closest friends … what now?

Because, Lord, I tried to do it. I stood up in this pulpit and decried evil. I railed against the violence against black and brown people in this country in all its forms. I taught and taught about how marriage equality is not the same as equal rights, that I am not free just because I too can marry, that it is more than just not fearing for my life that I seek, it is acceptance and love. And I spoke against words of hate and unspeakable violence and it was not enough. It was not enough.

*

“Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us,” says the man crucified alongside our Lord. Save us, Jesus, save us from ourselves. Talk about privilege, your job is done. You did your time on Earth, and now you’re just hanging out in heaven while we deal with all of this. Some King. Leave us a book, a broken church full of broken people and some metaphorical Spirit and just hope it works? What kind of wack-job attempt at sanctification is that? What kind of God?

The kind that asks more of me. The kind that doesn’t respond to tests, to threats, to “are you not the Messiah?”

*

“In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things.” In him, God was pleased to reconcile himself to me, with all my fear, with all my lack of clarity, my despair, my confusion. The fear I feel is known and beloved and fully understood to Him.

*

“In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Jesus of Nazareth was not content to be only divine but also to be human. And Jesus, Jesus the human was scared. Jesus bargained with God to take the cup from him, to just do the salvation part himself, Jesus was afraid of what would come next, just as I fear the unknown, whether I should or should not, whether I even deserve to. But Jesus said okay. He lived through the fear — not fighting back, not leading an army, not conquering his kingdom, but walking quietly to his judgment. Walking surely, with purpose, with justice behind him and his Father smiling down, Spirit at his side.

He received his kingdom from those who despised him. He was crowned in glory even while naked and bleeding, while hated. And with every lash of the whip, every vengeful, sinful thrust of the Roman arm, his Kingdom became more assured, and at last he was raised above all others on that hill, with his glorious title raised above him, “The King of the Jews,” the King of God’s chosen people, which are all creation, the king of this world. And he raised us with him, the meek, the oppressed, the fallen, we look up to the light of that shining city of Jerusalem that waits for us to prepare it a place, as Jesus has prepared it for us at Golgatha. And he did so without uttering a curse, without a fight, even in his fear, his self-doubt, his quiet walk in protest to his death, in protest of the injustices of His Earth that led him to his death. “Father, forgive them.” Father, forgive me…for fearing, for losing trust.

*

There are days I feel a burden to my church. That the sexuality God challenged and blessed me with would have been better kept to myself. I have always known that this Episcopal Church would walk more easily without people like me. I did not know until last Tuesday that my country would also have walked more easily without me, without my black and brown brethren, without my Muslim brethren, without my quietly suffering survivors of sexual assault, not because it felt animosity toward them, but because it is harder this way. It is harder to smile and try to understand. I did not realize the anguish with which everyone in this country weighed economic, immigration, and tax policy as well as the poor and the physical and mental wellbeing of its most endangered citizens. I did not realize that in the eyes of my fellow patriots, there is no right answer.

*

And please, please hear me when I say that it is not the fault of any voter that I feel the way I feel. It is the work of the devil that puts me at unease. But if that is so, if the work of Satan is felt in my brain and the rest of we who fear, then Christians have a new urgency to our way of living, to our message.

*

So here is the only message I can leave you with today. If you do not understand the font of my fear, I give thanks to God, and hope you never do. But if you are in fear, if you look at your neighbors with wary eyes as I do (whether that is sinful or not), if you tread lightly on the earth, careful not to disturb social norms or expectations, if you have darkened the light of your heart so as not to blind those who would do you harm, know that you too can be King. Know that God welcomes you with a painless crown of thorns and a balming pierce of the hands. Know the Lord hears my fear, your confusion, my self-hatred, your sadness, and tells us “I know. I know.”

*

And if you have lived without fear these weeks, if you have looked at the protests that have erupted across this country with confusion, find someone who fears and speak to them. Believe your truth and their truth. And fight like hell for them. If you cast your vote last Tuesday swearing that you rejected the hateful and violent rhetoric from either side…prove it.

*

Protect me and my queer brothers. Protect your black and brown sisters. Protect the families who live in fear of being split by deportation. Protect those whose dignity has been compromised. This is the cost of your Baptismal covenant, the one we recite today — to respect the dignity of every human being. This is the cost of living as a Christian in a democracy. This is the cost of discipleship.

You, I, we do not get to throw up our hands the day after an election and give up responsibility. We do not have the privilege to dismiss the fear of our brothers and sisters. Those that march down the streets of LA, Philadelphia, New York, and the paths of the University of Virginia do not do so out of entitlement or naïveté. They do so because they do not feel safe.

And it is the responsibility of those of us who do feel safe not to invalidate that feeling, but to say, “yes, and I will protect you too.” Not because you asked me us to, not because we are obligated, but because the love we know Christ feels for us, more than we can possibly imagine, overflows out of us out into the world and ALL those who inhabit it.

We must believe that, we must be willing to sit with those who are afraid and listen, we must be willing to know their fear and know its truth, we must be willing to scream to the powers of this world the violence that is so painted on the backs of our eyelids, we must be willing to see the same slivers of light in their fearful eyes that so defined Christ on that hill and to see their pierced hands and feet and sides and to stretch out our hands to catch them as they collapse!

*

You do not need to agree with each other. You do not need to be friends. You do not need to give up your convictions at the door. But you must hear them. You must protect their dignity, for that is the message of the Gospel: the salvation of the oppressed.

Because we all live together on the hill that is called The Skull. You, me, the soul we baptized this morning, and those who have not and will never meet Christ. And on that hill shall we remain until we make for ourselves a Christly Kingdom and are raised with him.

*

And, I will try to believe the fact that nothing has changed, only my perception of this country. I will try to believe that this country is not afraid of me or what I represent. I will try to believe that I could have stared at the boy at that party a little longer and his eyes would not have turned to fear and anger. I will try to believe that those fellow Christians who put this man in office will also demand Christlike leadership from him, and will march in the streets with me as I too demand justice . I will try to believe that my beloved, oppressed, systematically hated fellow Christians will be hated no longer, because you will love them and teach others to.

*

I will try to be still, and know that while I stand on Golgotha, watching my LORD die in quiet ascendance, you all stand with me, and you too will grimace at the crucifixions of our world, you too will hold out your hands to be pierced if only to know you too can bleed. And I plead you know he bleeds for you still, he is your King, in all his queerness, all his blackness, all is poverty, all his mental instability, all his seeming failure on that cross and blinding, white-hot victory. And I will try to believe that Christ is also my King, that he dies also for me.

*

AMEN.

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