Emmanuel Baptist Church
275 State St. Albany, NY 12210
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|A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation||
Minister: Rev. Kathy J. Donley
The Fear Factor
Rev. Kathy Donley
Scripture Lesson:Mark 10:32-45
One seminary professor thinks
that he is familiar with these
Here is how he describes
“James and John McZebedee
matriculated at my seminary
again this fall. The "Sons of
Entitlement," I call them. They
are usually -- but not always --
young and white in addition to
being male. They have typically
grown up in the church, attended
Christian colleges and majored
in religion. They like to refer
to their mental index of
Some of you may not have been aware that seminary students could be so competitive or seminary professors so cynical. I’m sorry if this comes as a shock to you. It is one way we might imagine James and John, as young students vying for position, or young adults aiming high on the career ladder.
This is not the first time they have had this conversation with Jesus. The first time was back in chapter 8; 8:31 says “Then 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.” After that Peter tried to rebuke Jesus for even thinking like that, but Jesus rebuked Peter even more strongly and said, “Get behind me Satan.”
They continued with their travels and a second time, Jesus foretold his death and this time, Mark says “they did not understand but were afraid to ask him.” Immediately after that, they started arguing about who was the greatest.
And now, in chapter 9, Jesus tells them for a third time what he is anticipating in Jerusalem and this time, James and John make their request which makes the others mad and then they argue again. It is as if none of the Twelve are listening. Jesus has told them three times that he is going to die an awful death and they don’t understand. So we could think that they are incredibly competitive. Or we might begin to think that they’re just not very bright.
The Zebedee brothers say, “Hey Jesus, if we ask you for something, will you do it for us?” It sounds like a childish way to ask, trying to get Jesus to promise something before they say what it is. Then they ask for what they anticipate will be the places of honor, to be his left and right hand men. They want something, something big, but they don’t really know what they are asking. Jesus says. “Can you drink the cup that I drink? Or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
Baptism recalls the beginning of
his adult ministry.
The cup points ahead to
the last supper and his prayer
And the confident, but clueless, Zebedee brothers say “Yes we can. Bring it.”
I wonder how Mark’s first
audience reacted when they heard
this part of his gospel.
Did they laugh at their
Were they embarrassed for
Apparently Matthew can’t
bring himself to admit that
James and John actually made
According to his gospel,
it was their mother who asked on
Of course, by the time
the gospels were written down,
everyone knew that the places of
honor on Jesus’ right and left
went to two bandits, crucified
So we can see these disciples as
primarily competitive or
primarily dull, dim-witted, or
an embarrassment, but I think
there is one more key to
In verse 32 says, “They
were on the road, going up to
They are on the road to
When fear becomes our primary
motivation, our behavior is not
likely to be something we’re
What happens here?
The disciples start to
lose the mission.
Their call is to follow
Jesus and technically, they’re
still doing that.
It says that they are
behind him on the road to
In their fear, first they lose their sense of mission and then they turn on each other. When fear is our primary motivation, our behavior is not likely to be something we’re proud of.
Think about human history – many
of the low points reflect
fearful leadership or leadership
that intentionally played on
I’m thinking about things
like the Crusades, the
Inquisition, the Salem Witch
Trials, Japanese Internment
camps within the
When fear becomes the primary factor, the disciples lose the mission and turn on each other. That happens in churches too. When churches become afraid for their own survival, the goal of balancing the budget and paying the bills gets confused with the mission of following Jesus. If we are afraid that our church will die and our bottom line fear is “what will happen to me if I lose my church?” then that is not so different from James and John thinking, “What will happen to us if Jesus dies?”
We have a mission as a church, a
mission to follow Jesus, to
share the radical, expansive
love of God with others.
We have that same mission
And, of course, as
individuals, we can be overcome
On Friday and Saturday,
six of us were at the Mission
“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” Sometimes we are afraid of the challenge. We don’t want to be changed. And fear pushes us to abandon our own mission, our own calling from God.
Jesus gave the disciples three opportunities to face their fears. Three times he told them about his death and three times they chose not to listen, to create a distraction within their own ranks. I wish they had chosen to face their fears, to talk it through with Jesus. It probably would have been better for them if they had, but also, it might have given us more guidance about how to handle our own fear.
In other places, Jesus did say some things about fear. He said, “Have no fear, little flock, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And “Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me.” His actions speak as loud as his words. He modeled for us, courage in the midst of fear. He modeled submission to God’s will no matter what the cost.
And even here in this exchange with the disciples, there may be a word of encouragement and blessing. Jesus says, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized. Sometimes these words sound ominous or foreboding as if Jesus is promising
the disciples the same kind of
suffering and death that he will
But Charles Campbell,
professor of preaching at
It’s a great promise to them and to us – we don’t have to live in fear. We can live as faithful disciples, willing to accept the challenges even though they will change us.
The writer of I John says “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Let me close with some words from that remarkable spiritual director, Henri Nouwen. In his book, The Inner Voice of Love, he wrote “You will discover that the more love you can take in and hold onto, the less fearful you will become. You will speak more simply, more directly and more freely about what is important to you, without fear of other people’s reactions. . . . The more you come to know yourself as truly loved, the freer you will be to proclaim the good news. That is the freedom of the children of God.”
Sisters and brothers, let us not be driven by our fears, by our need for security or approval or status. Rather let us know that we are loved with infinite patience and mercy, truly loved. Keep taking that in. Hold on to it. Revel in your freedom as children of God. Amen.
 Stephen B. Chapman, “Sons of Entitlement,” The Christian Century, October 17, 2006, p. 20 http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3457
Feasting on the Word
Year B, Volume 4,
 Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love, (New York: Doubleday/Random House, 1996), p. 74-75.