- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2000

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Daniel McLellan of the Washington Theological Union at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Crofton, Md.

The ministry of Pope John Paul II has often challenged us to "be not afraid." He said that in his inaugural Mass as bishop of Rome. Be not afraid, he said, to open every aspect of our life to the power, energy and grace of Christ.

In the early years of his ministry, many men and women under totalitarian regimes took up that call: "Be not afraid." By their own testimony, they were moved by John Paul's example. They were not afraid, and we know the social and political results of their courage in Eastern Europe.

Yet it remains a challenge to us, and to all believers. What could we possibly be afraid of in letting Christ into our lives? The pope was on to something, and it is also the lesson of our Scriptures today.

Through most of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus does not allow His disciples to tell others what He's doing. Why is that? The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk. Jesus believes people will misinterpret Him as some kind of miracle worker. He's not that at all.

In the scene today, Jesus reveals He will be God's instrument not as a miracle worker, but as a suffering servant. "The Son of man will be handed over to His enemies and suffer and die." Peter tries to stop Jesus from this fate, but He says, "Get behind me Satan." Today, the disciples continue to misunderstand what Jesus is about.

By their words, they ask for the perks that come with following Jesus [Mark 10:32-42]. Maybe position or social power. Jesus said, "You want to be at my right hand or left? But can you endure my baptism? Can you drink the cup I will drink?" Could they bear His suffering and death?

The words from Isaiah today bear a similar promise of redemption. They are words to a dispirited people in exile. But God says he will raise up a "suffering servant" whose life will show that God's purposes will not be frustrated. So we see how our Savior fulfills His purpose not as a political or religious leader, but as God's suffering servant. He associates with sinners, and the sick, alienated and imprisoned. It is with this model for our lives that we must "be not afraid." Be not afraid to suffer or sacrifice for others.

We like power and control of our lives. People fear flying, but not driving, even though more people die on the roads than in the air. Driving, we at least feel we are in control. We love rewards from our accomplishments, especially those that put us in high places. Places where we can "Lord it over" others, as Jesus says. But He tells us, "With you, it must be otherwise."

This is a timely lesson for us two weeks before Election Day. You and I belong to a church that is a public church. We are men and women who need to speak our voice in the public square. What goes on in the halls of Congress, in our states and cities must be influenced by our values and our examples. We do it as individuals who are convicted to remember the suffering servant, to live for the common good and to give special attention to the poorest and weakest among us.

And yet we are so easily tempted to evaluate the candidates on, "How is it going to hit me? What is it going to do for me?" It's not an illegitimate concern, but it is not worthy of a disciple of Christ for our benefit to be a first concern. The first concern is: Who can lead us in such a way that the structures of our political, social and cultural life make it possible for every man, woman and child to know that they are cared for and loved by God? How can all people receive their dignity, as created by God. That is countercultural… .

We will decide in different ways, and that's our freedom. But none of us can abandon the responsibility of being citizens after the manner of Jesus. In the next two weeks, we have work to do, to embrace that suffering servant, to "be not afraid."

Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Marshall Dunn at University Christian Church in College Park, Md.

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