Saturday, February 25, 2012

First Sunday in Lent: Why are We Afraid?

Scripture readings for the week (I am off lectionary):  1 Kings 19:1-13; Psalm 55:1-8, 16; 2 Timothy 1:5-10, Mark 4:35-41

We started our study of the Max Lucado’s “Fearless this week.  The first chapter is titled, “Why are we afraid?”

Why are we afraid?

Let’s see.  The nightly news is enough to frighten anyone. 
  • Rising gas prices make us fear that other prices will rise and we won’t be able to afford the things we need.  
  • Every few days a common product is determined to cause cancer or to be defective and needs recalled.  
  • The jobs report and the rate of unemployment make us fear that maybe we’ll be next in the unemployment line.  
  • We hear stories of violence, sometimes in response to trivial offenses, sometimes seemingly random, and sometimes heartbreakingly against the perpetrator’s own family.  
  • In our global world, economies are tied to economies and reports of Greece’s economic woes spike fears for our own fragile economy.  
  • The Cold War may be only a memory, but the thought of small, erratic nations with nuclear weapons makes our blood run cold.
Why are we afraid?
  • We fear for our health and that of our families.  
  • We fear our children will get sick, 
    • or be bullied, 
    • or have a car accident, 
    • or experiment with drugs or alcohol. 
  • We worry that our spouse might leave.  
  • We secretly worry that we ourselves are somehow just not good enough, and someday everyone will realize it.
Why are you afraid?

Face it - we live in a world ruled by fear.  There are terrors all around us.  We all have our fears.  Some are named above, some only you know in your heart.  Whatever it is that keeps you up at night and robs the joy right out of your life – whatever threatens to throw you orderly world into chaos.
Why are you afraid?

That was Jesus’ question to his disciples.  It’s been a long day of teaching and Jesus decides to catch a quick nap as the disciples row across the Sea of Galilee to the next place he wants to teach.  And heal.  And cast out demons.  And care for his lost, frightened sheep.
So Jesus settles down in the back of the boat, safely out of the way of Peter and company, to rest.  The rocking waves lull him to sleep.

Soon the rocking picks up.  The waves become larger, the winds stronger.  Soon the disciples are battling a fierce storm.  Some are rowing as hard as they can, others are bailing as fast as they can. 
Jesus sleeps.

They can’t keep up.  The waves are swamping them faster than they can bail.  The boat sits lower and lower in the water.  The disciples are beyond frightened – they are terrified, panicked, absolutely sure they are going to die.
Jesus sleeps.

Finally, they turn to Jesus – Rabbi, do you care that we are out here and this storm is going to kill us all!?!
Jesus wakes up.

And says -  2 words.
Just 2 words:  “Peace! Be still!” (Yes I know that’s 3 words, but it’s only 2 words in Greek.)

Having handled the storm, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks, “Why are you afraid?”
“Um – Jesus – large waves, little boat?”

"Um, massive storm, uh, little boat?  Why do you think we were afraid?!”
Actually the disciples didn’t get to say that, because Jesus answers his first question with a second:

“Have you still no faith?”
Jesus gets the whole ‘large waves, little boat’ thing.  The disciples had good reason to be afraid.  But they didn’t have good reason to STAY afraid.  After all, Jesus was right there with them. 

Maybe it never occurred to them that this man who cast out demons, healed the sick, and forgave sins would also have the power to calm a storm.  Although the forgiving sins should have tipped them off that there was something extraordinary about this man, since only God can forgive sins. 
Maybe they were too focused on the storm to remember Jesus was right there with them, sleeping in the back of the boat.

That storm – Matthew uses the word ‘seimos’ to describe it.  It means a trembling eruption of sea and land and sky.  That’s a good description of how it feels when fear really grabs hold.  The very earth seems to fall away from under you.  Your world swirls out of control into chaos.
Matthew uses this word just three times.  Here, at the moment of Jesus’ death and on Easter morning when the stone is rolled away.  All three times were moments of chaos and fear in the disciples’ lives.  All three are moments when Jesus demonstrates that he is firmly in control:

  • Two little words still the raging storm,  showing his control over all creation;
  • The earth shakes and the sky darkens and the veil separating God from humans is torn apart, showing his defeat of sin and all that separates us from God;
  • The earth shakes and the stone rolls away and the tomb is empty, showing his defeat of death.
Have you still no faith?

We’re going to have fears.  Baptism is not a vaccine against the tragedies of this world –
  • Christians still get sick,
    • lose jobs, 
    • have trouble making ends meet, 
    • get in accidents, 
    • go homeless,
    • lose loved ones, 
    • and die. 
And not all fears are bad – sometimes fear is a very good thing, motivating us to get out of the way of danger, or reminding us how A-W-E-some our God is.

We’re going to have fears.  That’s just part of the world we live in.  There’s real evil out there.  Jesus didn’t promise clear skies and smooth sailing.  In fact, he promised the opposite – “in this world you are going to have trials (John 16:33).” 
In fact, if you live as Jesus teaches, the way God intended humans to live, then there will be times when you buck the system and make the powers that be angry with you.  If you doubt that, just remember Jesus, who lived exactly how God intended humans to live, ended up on a cross.    

Paul writes to Timothy from prison.  It’s his last letter to Timothy – Paul knows his execution is coming very soon.  We would expect him to be full of fear, but he’s not.  Paul is not looking at the storm around him, his eyes are firmly focused on Jesus.  Paul’s concern as he faces death?  That his protégée remembers to keep his own focus on Jesus.  Paul reminds Timothy (and us), God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7).” 
We live in a fear-ful world.  And we can let those fears overcome us.  But God has already given us the tool to face our fears – the Spirit, full of power, and love, and self-control. 

There will always be fears and times we are fearful.  It’s just part of the human experience.
The difference is how we, as Christians, respond to those fears.  We can focus on the storm, or we can focus on Jesus.

We can keep rowing as hard as we can, we can keep bailing as fast as we can, trying to control the storms raging around us...or…
                              We can remember Jesus is in the boat with us.

We can stop rowing and bailing and struggling to maintain control, take a breath and listen as he says those simple words:
Peace. Be still!

Peace. Be still! – to the storms that rage around us.
Peace.  Be still! - to the storms that rage within us.

Peace.  Be still!


  1. The beginning works really well to capture the images in people's lives.

    Could you perhaps return to the the "peace be still" for the ending...peace not as the absence of turmoil...but as hope in the midst of it"...

  2. I like the distinction that, though there is fear in the world, there doesn't have to be fear in our hearts. And the question "Why are you afraid?" is also distinctively different than the more usual, "What are you afraid of?" Very thought provoking!