Sermon for June 20, 2021

“Faith Beyond Fear”

Mark 4:35-41

 

What Are You Afraid of?

Claustrophobia, agoraphobia, aerophobia, acrophobia, pyrophobia, frigophobia, pogonophobia, autophobia, phobophobia, zoophobia, algophobia, monophobia, aquaphobia, astrophobia, nyctophobia, triskaidekaphobia, ailurophobia, canophobia, thanatophobia, technophobia, cyberphobia

 

Don’t ask me what they all mean.

 

    What are you afraid of? The experience of life can be fearful. Gordon Lightfoot sang “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” immortalizing the fearful memory of the tragic loss of this ship in the deep cold waters of Lake Superior. In a horrific storm the ship sank taking with it those on board. Part of the song lyrics ask, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes, When the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

    The reality of life is that ships do sink. Life can be lost. Tragedy can find us. In our text today the disciples knew this. We find them out in a small craft in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, and during a powerful windstorm. The boat is getting swamped. The waves are relentlessly beating over the side of the ship. They are paddling and probably bailing; trying to reach to nearest point of land before it is too late; using all their combined wisdom and skills to stay alive. Some of them had been fishermen by trade. They knew how to deal with boats and the water, but here we see them being quite overwhelmed, and they are afraid; believing that they are about to perish.

    The Sea of Galilee is about 13 mile long, 8.1 miles wide, and it has a maximum depth of 141 feet. If you were in the middle of this body of water and the waves are rolling, I can see how the problem would be serious. Swimming back to shore would be difficult on a good day.

    Finally, someone considers Jesus asleep during the storm, and they had to wake him up. Jesus how can you sleep at a time like this, we are all about to die. With that Jesus rises and rebukes the wind and the waves. Peace, Be Still! And suddenly the waters grow calm. If you can imagine the anxiety and adrenaline filled disciples sitting in their boat with water up to their ankles, buckets, and oars in hand; a moment ago fighting for their lives and now they are in the midst of a great calm. What was the problem again?

    Jesus said to them, “Why were you afraid? Have you no faith?” And they were left with their mouths gaping open. All they could ask was who is this man that even the wind and sea obey him?

Who Is Jesus?

    Indeed, who is Jesus? Water is often a symbol of chaos and disorder. In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth the Spirit of God is moving over the face of the waters. That is all there was, and out of this disordered nothingness God spoke and the world was formed. In ancient mythologies images of waters were also usually associated with forces of evil. In the Bible Jesus is seen at times cast demons out of people with a word, and restoring people back to a right and whole life. The image of a stormy sea in some ways is the same thing. When Jesus calmed the storm, he was again demonstrating God’s creative power to order and restore life. It not just mastery over the weather that is being preached, but this is a witness to God’s presence in Christ that overcomes all evil and recreates life according to God’s perfect will. The implication of who Jesus is, is significant to all of life. The one who masters the waves does so because Jesus is the master over all of the disorder, chaos, and evil within every life. Just as surely as he could quiet and heal a person possessed by a demon, so he can quiet and heal creation. These images can be seen in the same light.

Fear or Faith

    So, will we have faith, or will we be fearful? Will we understand who Jesus is and what God has done for us, or will we keep paddling and bailing like salvation does not exist? Would it not be a particularly ridiculous and strange to imagine the disciples continuing to bail and strain against the oars and act like the boat was sinking after the storm ended? The image of the sleeping Christ in the boat is a great contrast to the image of the fearful and doubting disciples, but will the disciples understand that they do not need to be afraid. This question is in this text as well; however, it is not as obvious, until you consider the gospel of Mark as a whole. In the Gospel of Mark there are three scenes in which Jesus is pictured with his disciples in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. The first is today’s text. The second is found in Chapter 6:45 in which Jesus is walking on the water and encounters his disciples with the wind once more against them. And the third is in Chapter 8:13, this immediately followed the feeding of the four thousand in Mark’s text, and the disciples are seen discussing the lack of bread, for they had only one loaf.

    These boat scenes are more than just individual stories, but they are moments which the disciple’s faith is tested, and each time a comment is made about the disciple’s faith. In our text today Jesus is seen as chastising his disciples for their lack of faith. He says, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith? In verse Chapter 6:51 Jesus fed the five thousand and came to his disciples walking on the water, and we read that the disciples “were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” And finally in Chapter 8 after the feeding of the four thousand, Jesus offers his strongest words yet concerning his disciples in 8:17, “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? Do you not remember?

    The boat scenes are more than just moments of outward struggle in which Jesus was present to save his weary disciples, but they are scenes during which the faith of the disciples is tested and judged, and Mark’s Gospel continues to move its reader toward the question of whether we are going to live by fear or by faith? Will the disciples out there on the waters of Galilee ever truly believe? Will they come to trust in God with their very lives, and grasp the salvation of God that is present for them in Christ, or will Jesus be forced to continue challenging their disbelief, doubt, and fear? One can argue that the gospel writer wove this pattern into his story with repetition throughout the text because fearfulness of life is such a real thing. We always at some level find ourselves struggling between fear and faith, and I think Mark wants to remind us that there is good reason to have faith.

Have Faith beyond Fear

    The sleeping Jesus represents a faithful expression of life –calm beyond our understanding and in control in the face of a life endangering situation. If we should be afraid of anything it should be the fear of losing our own lives, and it is precisely at this point that we find Jesus certain enough about God’s plan for them all that he can lay his head down and sleep like a little baby. You see it wasn’t that Jesus found the storm something not to fear, but it was that Jesus had an even greater certainty that his life was in God’s hands, and that our lives likewise are kept in God’s care. Can you depend upon God for your very real needs of survival? Our text is a promise of what God intends for us even in the midst of the storm. The storm is the momentary worry; the calm is the eternal reality. The fear is in the human struggle; the restoration of peace and wholeness is God’s free gift. As Christians we are to grow towards faith that overcomes the fear and the storms of life. There is a faith that moves us beyond our fears, because Jesus has already overcome the world.

    Once my son, James, send me a video of how a son sees his father as he is growing up. The images run from a child seeing his father as superman when he is small. There is nothing that Dad cannot do. He is a hero, and then as he gets older, he thinks his Dad is an embarrassment. Dad shows up looking like a clown, and the adolescent boy just hopes his friends do not see him. After a few more years the boy gets older, and the problems of life are pressing in and the bills are due. This time dad sows up like James Bond appearing at just the right moment to step in and save the day and send the bad guys packing. Finally, after a few more years the child becomes a man and discovers that dad is a person a lot like him, or as the story ends the child discovers that well he is a lot like his dad. He grew up. Maybe he will have a child of his own someday, and dad was pretty smart after all.

    Somewhere along the way, if we honestly meet life, we grow up and learn how to make life work. We discover that life has its problems and even more, so life has its answers. We don’t have to be afraid. There is a plan. Empathy and compassion are good to practice, forgiveness is necessary, and in the end despite everything we discover that God is faithful.

    Therefore, once again what are you afraid of? How do we deal with the tempest tossed seas of life? I know that the waters can be quite fearful and at times overwhelming. Sometimes illness and disease strike us or those we love. Accidents separate us in life. We find ourselves challenged emotionally, or financially. Disasters befall us and we lose our possessions. What can we do?

    While you find yourselves paddling and bailing, remember that your life is in the hands of the one who brings order out of chaos. You truly are in God’s hands. Pray that God may calm the waters and have faith. Know that somewhere beyond our reason to fear is a faith that overcomes.

    The apostle Paul once said, “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Through our faith in Christ then, as we persevere, God has promised that even the difficulties we face shall produce within us spiritual strength, and a hope that shall not fail. Even if our enemy is death, God has and will deliver. I think that all there is beyond this world is a larger expanse of eternity that makes the infinite universe look small.

    The main thing you need to do is make sure that as you are sailing in this boat of life that you take Christ with you. In Christ is the faith that will move you beyond fear. Practice this faith and you will see God’s created order and plan for your life. Jesus is the master of even the wind and the waves. This has always been true. Amen.

Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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