Getting Past Our Fear of Change

The Rev. Kate Alexander
Christ Episcopal Church, Little Rock, Ark.
August 28, 2011
Proper 17, Year A
Matthew 16:21-28

According to members of my extended family, Little Rock has officially arrived. It depends on how one defines that, of course. For some it has to do with which headliners come to the Verizon Arena, or what Broadway shows come to the Robinson Center. For others, our arrival can be measured by what restaurants come to town, especially those beloved in other, larger cities. Case in point, the new Chipotle Mexican Grill on Cantrell has many people eating celebratory burritos. But if you ask the Alexanders, Little Rock is now on the map for a very exciting reason. The new Apple computer store opened yesterday at the Promenade at Chenal. Having the store here puts us in the ranks with the likes of New York and San Francisco, even if our Apple Store isn’t open 24 hours a day.

No, we did not line up outside of the store on Friday night, but many did to keep vigil over the store’s opening. We went at a reasonable hour on Saturday to cheer for my sister-in-law who works there. In case you’re wondering, that doesn’t mean we can get anyone a big discount on an iPad or an iMac – we checked. At any rate, the place was packed and the mood celebratory. It was a stark contrast to what’s been going on in the news this past week about the resignation of legendary co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs. Known as the business visionary who led his company through one of the most remarkable turnarounds in corporate history, he resigned on Wednesday for health reasons. The news shook the market as shares dropped and fears set in that the company would lose some of its magic. As one news commentator put it, never have so many obituaries been written of a man who is still alive.

For better or worse, the market’s reaction to the news reflects something about human nature. When we’ve got a good thing going, we desperately fear change. We hold on so tightly to what we know that we run the risk of suffocating anything new that might emerge. Holding tightly onto the familiar is pretty much what Peter was up to when he argued with Jesus about heading to Jerusalem to be crucified. He wasn’t ready for Jesus’ premature obituary. “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” To which we hear Jesus’ famous retort, “Get behind me, Satan!” Harsh words to a man who simply wanted Jesus’ amazing ministry to continue for years to come. Holding onto the present, Peter could not hear the part about a new future emerging, one in which Jesus would be raised from the dead and God would triumph over the ruling powers of this world. I guess it’s human nature to hold on tightly to what we know over an unknown future.

And then in the story, Jesus does his cryptic spiritual leader thing, telling the disciples to take up their crosses and adding this advice: “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” I would bet that the talk of crosses and losing and saving lives didn’t clarify much for Peter and the others at the time. And for that matter, what does this advice clarify for us as followers of Jesus?

There was a quaint and obscure American philosopher by the name of Josiah Royce who, in the late nineteenth century, had a remarkable insight into this losing and saving business. He believed that we are ever in danger of missing the point of our lives. We hold tightly onto our lives as they are, controlling what we can, but to save our lives, we need something more. Our lives are meant for higher purposes. We are meant to live not only for ourselves, but for the betterment of the world. Royce suggested that living our lives dedicated to good causes is what gives life meaning. And there are many good causes to choose from, like family and a faith community, justice and compassion, and political and moral life.

Salvation comes, Royce said, when we realize that we need help to live our lives better. Salvation comes when we realize that we need something outside of ourselves to get us on track. Salvation comes when let go of what we have known and open ourselves up to a new future in God. If we simply took the messages of the world to heart, the most important stuff would be things like buying a new computer. That’s a fine goal, but it’s not one that necessarily speaks to our souls and helps us to discover authentic meaning in our lives. We are meant for so much more.

I think this is what Jesus was trying to communicate to the disciples. He told them to lose their lives to save them. To let go of life as they knew it, no longer clinging to life dictated by worldly standards. Losing that life opens up the possibility of finding true life and true meaning in Christ. And it means being open to—instead of stifling—the future that God has in store.

And in all of this losing and saving business, there is the cross to consider. The cross is that central symbol that beckons us into our future in Christ. It represents many things, not least of which are all of the core causes and activities that got Jesus into trouble in Jerusalem. He preached the coming of the Kingdom of God. He healed the sick. He hung out with outcasts and sinners. He showed mercy. These are the causes that we can orient our lives to as well. And if Royce was right, then we won’t miss the point of our own lives.

Now that the Apple Store is open in town, I’ll be asking Scott about getting a new iMac computer for my office. You know, to help me in my ministry. Ok, not really. But looking at the fear over transition in Apple, Inc. this week is an interesting lens into human nature. The gospel challenges that basic tendency towards fear. It reminds us that we need to not hold on too tightly to the present, worrying about what we could lose, but to open ourselves to a new future. The gospel reminds us to orient our lives the way Jesus did, to things like mercy and God’s kingdom. And in so doing, God will lead us to the very meaning of our lives and to the future that awaits us.