Note: the Psalm and the Romans text are not from the lectionary, but were selected in conjunction with our outdoor worship service.
Fear can distort your vision.We were at a church for a preschool parent meeting. I was just days shy of turning 13 and Mom had dragged all of us along because she was helping Nancy, the preschool teacher, set up for the meal before the meeting. It was a late spring afternoon, the type that turns heavy rainstorms into threatening weather in a heartbeat. We ran from the parking lot to the church in a downpour, just as the first tornado siren went off.
Mom and Nancy started setting up for the meal with a radio tuned to the weather alerts. We heard the progression of the storm – warnings for the next county over, the town just 20 miles to the west of us in the path of a tornado. Pretty soon our county was in the warning area and multiple tornados were being tracked. The lightning terrified my 5 year old sister, and Nancy’s young children.Nancy cancelled the meeting, but we were trapped at the church for the duration of the storm. It was simply too dangerous to be out on the streets. My job changed from setting tables to supervising the younger children in the inner room Mom determined to be the safest place in the event of the tornado. By now the kids were beyond terrified. We could hear the weather alerts, hear the tornado sighting, and as the paths of the tornados were listed, I thought of all the people we knew whose houses and farms were in the way.
I knew when they announced a tornado heading for the area of the church.My eleven year old brother would periodically go out and look through the entrance door at the storm and come back to give us reports – lighting, huge rain drops coming down so fast that he could barely see past the parking lot, then hail.
After the warning that a tornado was heading toward us, he went and checked and ran back in breathless.Tornado – heading right toward us!
He could just see it through the greenish light and flashes of lightning.I had to go see for myself. I ran to the door and looked.
It WAS coming!I ran back to the room, huddled with the frightened children and prepared to die.
Ten minutes – still no tornado.
At fifteen minutes, we figured the tornado had missed us. We calmed the younger children down, thanked God we were still alive, and ventured out to find our mothers.By then the worst of the storm had passed over us and we could leave. We asked Mom if she had seen the tornado that just missed us.
What tornado?We were confused. How could she NOT have seen it! Just then, we drove the water tower, grey with a single, slim stalk and a rounded reservoir on top, just a block away from the church.
The water tower was our tornado. Our fear of the terrible storm, part of the 1974 Super Outbreak, had distorted our vision. Already terrified, we expected the worst, and a harmless water tower was transformed into the means of our death.
Fear can narrow your focus to only the situation at hand. Fear can make you believe that the worst will happen, that there’s no way out.Fear can make you think that you’re going to die.
That’s exactly where the disciples were. They knew about storms on the lake, about boats. Some of them were fishermen. This was not their first time wrestling with wind and waves.But this storm was fierce and the boat was sinking. They couldn’t keep up with the bailing. They couldn’t tack and ride out the storm.
All they could see was the fierce storm around them and the water filling up the boat. Their vision was limited to their immediate circumstances.
They knew they were about to drown.
About this time, someone remembered Jesus, exhausted from teaching and healing the crowds, was sleeping in the rear of the boat.Waking him, they cry out “don’t you care that we are about to die?”
Their vision is limited to their circumstances. They see the storm raging around them, but their fear keeps them from seeing who is really in the boat with them.They see their Rabbi, their teacher and friend. They don’t see the man who heals the sick and casts out demons with authority.
Jesus wakes up looks and sees their danger. He rebukes the wind and the sea, “Silence! Be muzzled!”
After taking care of the danger to his disciples and himself, it’s time to restore their vision.Jesus doesn’t scold them for being afraid of the storm. He doesn’t say, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” He doesn’t say, “I’m with you, so you were never in any danger.” He doesn’t say, “If you just had more faith, you could have slept through the storm like me.”
Jesus doesn't challenge thier fear. The disciples had a right to be afraid. They were in serious danger.
Jesus asks them to question their fear."Why are you afraid?” Actually, the word used here is not the usual word for fear. This word means ‘cowardly, timid’ and points to the internal condition of the person, not the external circumstances that may inspire one to be afraid.
In essence, he tells them, “This is a fear-filled situation, but why are you letting your fear rule you? Why aren’t you looking beyond the storm?”
Their fear didn’t have to control how they chose to respond. It didn’t have to shrink their world to just the very big waves and the very small boat
“Do you not have faith yet?”
Faith quells cowardice, bolsters the timid, corrects the internal condition that shuts off our vision. Faith allows us to see past the fear to the big picture. Faith allows us to see beyond the dangerous, past the fear-inspiring to behold the One who controls it all.Jesus asks them to look past the fear to their relationship with him, their trust in him. Jesus asks them to look with the eyes of faith to see who he really is.
They haven’t gotten it yet, and won’t figure it out for a long time, but their Rabbi is also the One who set the bounds of the sea and said it could come no further.Today, they simply marvel, “Who IS this man, that even the winds and seas obey him.”
Their fear takes a new shape, transformed from the kind of fear that limits vision and cripples potential, to the kind of healthy fear that expands vision, frees the imagination, and opens up possibilities – today the possibility that their beloved Rabbi is indeed the Son of God.
The disciples continue to miss the point. In fact, there is another sea crossing, another storm and another show of Jesus’ power over creation, and they STILL won’t get it. They continue to categorize Jesus, to put him in a comfortable box, to limit his power. And Jesus will continue to surprise them, ultimately revealing God’s biggest surprise when Jesus appears before them in the Upper Room, after the crucifixion, after the resurrection, and calms the storm of their fears, with a word of peace and asking once again why they are afraid, encouraging and empowering their faith.
You would think it would be easier for us. We know how the story ends. We know God wins. And yet, we all have times where the terrified 13 year old in us cowers in the storm, seeing tornados in water towers. We all have times where our boat is taking on water and the waves threaten to sink us and all we can see is the storm around us. Times where our fear freezes us and we are certain that the thing we fear will consume us.It those times that God is in the boat with us, calming us, inviting us to trust, healing our fear-induced blindness so we can see that the God of all creation is bigger than the thing we fear.