35 Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” 36 They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along. 37 Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. 38 But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?” 39 He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. 40 Jesus asked them,“Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?” 41 Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!” -Mark 4:35-41
One of my sister’s best friends, named Katie, loves to skydive. I always see her post pictures of her adventures on Facebook, and I know that I, for one, look on in disbelief!
I asked her why she loves it so much and how she got into it. Her response was, “I actually started skydiving to try to get over my fear of flying. I used to have a huge fear of flying, so what better way to get over a fear! I think I love it so much now because I’ve met some pretty amazing people along the way, seen some amazing places, had some really cool experiences, and it’s an amazing feeling: adrenaline, excitement, survival, etc.” She has now had over 300 jumps, and she will tell you that if you are considering giving it a try, her advice is: “Don’t psyche yourself out! Once you overcome a fear like that, it makes you feel so empowered and on top of the world.”
There are two different kinds of people in the world: those who take risks and take them often, and those who do not. I would say for myself that I’m not much of a risk taker. I enjoy traveling and seeing the world, sure, but I’d rather not see it by jumping out of an airplane! My sister was always the risk taker in the family, while I tended to play it safe. In fact, she had her own skydiving adventure several years ago. But when it comes to our faith, perhaps we need to become risk takers more often, because Jesus was, in fact, a risk taker.
He wasn’t a daredevil or anything like that, but he did purposefully go into risky situations with questionable people and liked to cause a scene. He knew that a particular crowd would get out of hand and demand more miracles. He knew that certain religious leaders would call for his arrest and eventual death, and that people would confront his teachings and truths. If you’re like me and play the safety card, you wouldn’t be wandering into a questionable crowd or stirring people up, yet Jesus never tried to avoid these people and situations. He embraced them. Jesus was a risk taker and engaged in some risky behavior. And guess what? If you are following Jesus, you have to be a bit of a risk-taker, too! (Homiletics).
In today’s gospel story, the disciples have found themselves caught up in another risky situation. They have all piled into a boat to sail across the Sea of Galilee, which has the reputation of becoming violent and stormy, sometimes without much warning. While the disciples fear for their lives, Jesus is fast asleep and doesn’t seem fazed by the storm at all. When they finally wake him up, he does more than calm the storm. He also teaches them a lesson about faith, fear, and discipleship. This wasn’t just a moment for Jesus to show his power and divinity, but a moment where he has led his disciples to the edge of the airplane (so to speak) and asks them why they are afraid to jump and he asks, “Have you still no faith?” The disciples were so caught up in the chaos of the storm that they had forgotten the company they kept. Jesus makes it clear that their faith must not be in the ground on which they stand, but in the person with whom they’re standing (Homiletics). Sometimes that’s hard to remember in the chaotic moments in life.
Not much has changed for us as the disciples of Jesus today. We stand and face chaos, fear, and storms of life, and often times we let fear win. Instead of engaging in the risky behavior that Jesus calls us to be a part of, we stand off to the side, afraid of where he is leading us. I read an article (http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/6103/dreaming-of-a-day-when-fear-is-defeated) earlier this week that said that “fear is the unrecognized God of the American people. We are a nation controlled by fear. We fear loneliness, we fear our rights being taken away, we fear ISIS, economic downturn, the other political party. We fear gays, blacks, and people with 19 children. Fear drives us to spend more and socialize less. Fear controls where we live and who we associate with. Fear provides the seedbed for hate.” It seems that Christians are oftentimes just as guilty of this idolatry of fear worship as anyone else. And all this despite the fact that the most frequent command in scripture is, “Do not be afraid.” Today, Jesus asks us, “Why are you afraid?” “What are you afraid of?”
Like many of you, I awoke on Thursday morning to the news of another tragic event in our country: the shooting of 9 African Americans at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. And all at the hands of a 21 year old young man who complained that “blacks were taking over the world and that someone needed to do something about it for the white race.” And this in a community where the confederate flag still flies at the state house, and the streets where blacks drive are still named after confederate generals who fought against the freedom for them to do so. In this country, we fear foreign attacks, ISIS, and war, but we don’t seem to do much about another tragic and senseless act of violence except chalk it up to another crazy person with a gun. On Thursday night, comedian John Stewart, host of the Daily Show, took an unexpected turn when he didn’t do his normal job of making jokes out of the news. In his broadcast, he said,
“I didn’t do my job today, so I apologize. I got nothing for you in terms of jokes and sounds, because of what happened in South Carolina. And maybe if I wasn’t near the end of the run, or this wasn’t such a common occurrence, maybe I could’ve pulled out of the spiral. But I didn’t. And so, I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal yet we pretend doesn’t exist.”
As Christians and Americans, we stand today not staring into a stormy sea, but we stand staring into an abyss of depraved violence, ignorance, racism, homophobia, fear, and the hatred that we have for one another. We may have fears of enemies that may attack from outside this country, but those fears should not amount to anything when compared to the fear that we have invoked from within ourselves. The pain and harm we have done to one another far outweighs anything that has happened from the outside coming in. We need to take a long hard look at the fears that we carry, and we will probably find that those fears and misunderstandings we carry are about the other person- that person who looks different from us, who believes differently, who practices another religion, whose family looks different than our own, whose skin color is not the same as ours.
If we don’t stare down the storms of our own prejudices and misunderstandings, then we will never come out on the other side. It involves some risky behavior in order to admit to ourselves what fears we carry of others, and even more risky behavior to stare into the abyss and begin to overcome those fears. But Jesus calls us out onto the stormy waters and asks us to have faith instead of fear. If we don’t, then we will never be made whole. If we don’t, then we can never begin to repair the world.
After all, the story of Jesus calming the storm is one of hope and promise. Jesus could have let the storm rage and let the disciples sweat it out. They could have kept crying out to him, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” But Jesus didn’t let them carry on for too long. With his voice, he calmed the sea: “Silence! Be still! And there was a great calm.” How often do we cry out to God, either as individuals or as a country or a church and ask God, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” Whenever there is another senseless act of violence, the question is raised. Whenever we hear of another person diagnosed with cancer, or hear of the loss of a child, or fumble over trying to understand acts of terror: “God, don’t you care that we are perishing?” Don’t you care that we are killing each other, that we still hate one another because of the color of skin, that men and women are being imprisoned at a rates never seen before, that people in the midst of a time of prayer are gunned down for no other reason than they are black? The chaos of life is at all sides, and we can’t seem to get away from it. One thing happens after the other and we feel a sense of hopelessness, pain, and fear.
Yet in the words of Jesus today we hear that God does care. And we, as people of God, should care, too. We should have no tolerance for people who are in the world and are not trying to change it. Jesus is calling us to: 1) not let fear overcome us or have the last word, and 2) have faith in the one who calms the storm. Fear is an overwhelming emotion. But the trick is to break our fears of something big into smaller fears that we can tackle one by one. Be honest about your fears, name them, have tough conversations, ask yourself why you are afraid. And remember that we can continue to live in a world of fear and chaos, seeing ourselves as orphaned or alone without the power of God, living in a world controlled by evil. Or we can be open to hearing the message and promise of Jesus in whom we are told that the kingdom of God has come into our midst and now offers a whole new future for our world and for our lives (workingpreacher.org). But the catch is that we have to be willing to stare not into to the abyss of fear, but the promise of Christ: the one who defeated fear and death.
I don’t know about you, but I was a bit scared of even coming to church this morning, and was especially afraid of standing up here as your pastor, preaching. A part of me is fearful for our church and for my life just by setting foot into a church after the events of this week, even though the nature of this week’s attack was a hate crime fueled by blatant racism. But Jesus still calls us out of our fears and doubts and asks us to have faith in him who will calm the storm. The families of the victims killed in the unthinkable act of violence this past week will have to decide, in the midst of their grief, if they will choose faith or fear. The congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church will have to decide if they will walk back into their beloved house of worship, now tainted with terror and violence, with a sense of faith or fear…or perhaps a little bit of both.
So today I want to ask you, “What are you afraid of?” What storms or chaos are you asking Jesus to calm in your life? And how can we set aside our fears of declining, perishing, and taking risks, and be all in for Jesus? We hear him asking us in the midst of our fear, “Do you not have faith yet?” How will we respond?
Know that wherever you are today, whatever fears you carry with you, whatever you are trying to overcome, whenever the storms of life come your way, that we are to stop and take inventory of just who is with us. We are to lift our eyes off our crisis and on to Christ. There will always be some reason to fear, but our risk taking Savior is mighty to save and tells us, “Do not be afraid.” Amen.