With Fear and Trembling If We Really Understand It

Anunciation (James Christiansen)
“The Anunciation”, James Christiansen

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1: 26-30)

Do not be afraid…it sounds so simple. Just stop, stop being afraid. The truth is that in my humble experience, when someone in a Bible story tells you to not be afraid, you probably should totally rethink where you are and what you are doing. It happens over and over again. Throughout the Bible, time and time again, people are approached by other people, by God, by angels, by incinerated bushes, by mountains engulfed in clouds, maybe even by chariots of fire…you name it. There is the person minding his or her own business and then they hear the fateful words: “Do not be afraid.” (Oh, shoot…I was afraid of this!)

Intellectually, we tell ourselves that we have no reason to be afraid because God is by our side, walking with us, protecting us from harm. But Mary’s not afraid of something coming after her. She’s afraid because the very messenger of God is talking to HER, calling HER name. There’s no getting out of it. She stands there but she can no longer feel her feet beneath her. She might as well be sinking into quicksand. In that moment, her world, her carefully-planned world, her simple betrothed little world, the only world that this young maiden has ever known is falling away. It sounds so simple. The Lord is with you. So, thought Mary, what does THAT mean? I mean, I worship God and all. But what do you do when the Lord actually shows up? Because, see, when the Lord shows up, things change. When the Lord shows up, your life as you know it is gone. But do not be afraid. Do not be afraid even though you no longer know where you are going. Do not be afraid even though nothing makes sense any more. Do not be afraid even though you are giving everything that you know away and you are left with nothing that is your own.

There’s an old hymn that says something like “Be not afraid what ere betide. God will take care of you.” But the most disconcerting thing in one’s life is when God really does show up, not to protect us, not to take care of us, but to call us to follow, to call our name and ask us to come and see and be a part of this whole building of the Kingdom of God thing. But, oh yeah, don’t be afraid. The truth is, this life of faith is not for the faint of heart. Anyone who follows God without at least a respectful modicum of fear and trembling doesn’t really understand it at all. You know, I don’t think God is expecting us to not be afraid. After all, we’re walking into the unknown. We’re dancing with mystery and we don’t even know how it will turn out for us. But, oh the dance! Maybe that’s it. God is not asking us to move forward with blind courage but to dance even though we’re a little apprehensive about what may be. Because you see, that would be faith. Faith is not living without fear; faith is dancing to God (hey, someone should name a blog that!) when you barely know the tune and are petrified that you’ll take the wrong step. But you just follow.

And so the angel stood there not able to breathe. The question hung suspended for the longest moment the world had ever known. Clouds gathered and birds stopped their flight just to hear the words. Will you come with me? Will you follow? Will you give your life to me so that I can give my life to you?

38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.(Luke 1:38)

And God came and the world was never the same.


God, I am sorry I ran from you.  I am still running, running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge.  For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain.  So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid.  (Annie Dillard)


Grace and Peace,



With My Mind Stayin’ on Jesus


Kneeling at the CrossScripture Text: Mark 8: 31-38

31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

So many of us are like Peter. We want to “fix” things, to make sure that everything and everyone is safe and alright. We want things to be OK. We want to get this wilderness place cleaned up and ready for show. But that was never part of the promise. I think Peter actually DID understand that Jesus was the Messiah. He just didn’t fully grasp what that meant. For him, the Messiah was here to fix things, to make it all turn out like it was supposed to turn out. And now Jesus was telling them that the way they had thought it would all turn out was not to be, that instead this Messiah, this one who was supposed to make everything right, was to be rejected and would endure great suffering.  “No, this can’t be!” yelled Peter.  This cannot happen.  We have things to accomplish.  We are not done.  This ministry is important. It cannot go away.  You have to fix this. You have to fix this now! We are not ready to do it alone. We are not ready to be without you. 

Now, contrary to the way our version of the Scriptures interprets it, I don’t think Jesus was accusing Peter of being evil or Satan or anything like that.  More than likely, this was Jesus’ way of reprimanding Peter for getting hung up on the values of this world, getting hung up on our very human desire to save ourselves and the way we envision our lives to be, to fix things.  But what God had in store was something more than playing it safe.  I think that Peter, like us, intellectually knew that.  We know that God is bigger and more incredible than anything that we can imagine.  And yet, that’s hard to take.  We still sort of want God to fix things, to make things comfortable, or at least palatable.  We still sort of want God to lead us to victory, to lead us to being the winning team.  Face it, we sort of still want Super Jesus in the story.  And, of course, Peter loved Jesus.  He didn’t even want to think about the possibility of Jesus, his friend, his mentor, his confidante, suffering, of Jesus dying.

You know, there is a danger in our thinking that God is here to make life easier for us, to keep us safe and warm and free from harm. After all, there’s that whole Cross thing that gets in the way. If we think that God came into this world, Emmanuel, God-with-us to make life better or easier or grander for us, then what do we do with a crucified Savior? What do we do with the cross?  Well, let’s be honest, most of us clean it up, put it in the front of the sanctuary, and, sadly, go on with the security of our lives.  So, what does it mean to “take up your cross and follow”? What does it MEAN to follow God not just to the altar where that gleaming, cleaned-up cross sits, but to follow Christ to the hills of Golgotha, to walk with Jesus all the way to the Cross?  I think it means that sometimes faith is hard; sometimes faith is risky; in fact, sometimes faith is downright dangerous. And, to be honest, faith rarely makes sense in the context of the world in which we live. After all “denying ourselves”, “losing our life to save it”, and “letting go to gain” make absolutely no sense to us. They don’t make sense because we are setting our minds on the human rather than the Divine.

There’s a old Gospel song with these lyrics:  (Hear it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xit39G0lIk4)

Well, woke up this mo’nin with my mind, stayin’ on Jesus

Woke up this mo’nin with my mind, stayin’ on Jesus

Well, woke up this mo’nin with my mind, stayin’ on Jesus

Halleluh, halleleluh, halleleluh


In all probability, none of us will be physically crucified for our faith.  But it doesn’t mean that we should clean it up and put it out for display either.  Sometimes our journey will take us through waters that are a little too deep and torrential; sometimes we will find ourselves bogged down by mud; and sometimes faith takes us to the edge of a cliff where we are forced to precariously balance ourselves until we find the way down.  The promise was not that it would be safe; the promise was that there was something more than we could ever imagine and that we would never journey through the wilderness alone. The promise was that a Savior would come, not to save us from the world or to save us from evil, but to save us from ourselves.

On this Lenten journey, this journey that takes us through the wilderness all the way to that place beyond the wilderness, to the Cross, we are called to follow Christ. We are called to begin to wake up in the morning with our minds “stayin’ on Jesus”. It will not lead you to safety; it will lead you to Life.

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside…He speaks to us the same word:  ‘Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time…And to those who obey, whether they be wise or simple, [God] will reveal {Godself] in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in this fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who [God] is.  (Albert Schweitzer)

FOR TODAY:  Put your plans aside.  Let go of the images of God that you have conjured up.  Let go of the notion of a Savior who will fix things.  Close your eyes.  Then wake up…wake up with minds stayin’ on Jesus…all the way through the wilderness of Golgotha to Life.

Grace and Peace,