Be not afraid—you’re not alone in the boat: Pentecost 5

Be not afraid—you’re not alone in the boat: Pentecost 5

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, June 24, 2018

Year B, Proper 8: 1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

CLICK HERE to listen to the recorded sermon.

In Mark’s gospel today, Jesus asks the disciples: Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

They’re in a great windstorm. The gospel writer uses the word “great”, and in this context, the word great comes from the Greek word, megalē, which is also the root of our English word, mega. When we use the word “mega” we mean huge. This is a storm that was very fierce. Perhaps not unlike the storms we had this past month.

I think the disciples’ reaction of fear is very normal, very rational.

Who can fault the disciples for being afraid? Four of these disciples are experienced fishermen. They know when it’s time to be afraid.

The disciples were faced with a severe, a dangerous situation. Many of you may recall the movie The Perfect Storm, which is based on a real-life disaster. Experienced sailors were on the “Andrea Gail.” These sailors, like the fisherman in the boat with Jesus, knew that on the ocean, there comes a point where nature takes over and they are helpless to stop the power of a raging sea. For example, if a boat heads into a wave that is higher than the boat, the boat will inevitably go headfirst into the water. The “Andrea Gail” was 72 feet long; it eventually encountered waves higher than 72 feet. The sheer physics of the situation meant there was nothing those experienced sailors could do to stop that deadly nose dive from happening.

The disciples, like the sailors, couldn’t control the physics of the situation. They knew the sea. They knew its power.

I don’t believe their fear had anything to do with their faith or a lack of faith even though they asked: “Who is this?”

People controlled by fear would not have committed themselves to Jesus who had been demonstrating powers completely unlike anyone they had ever encountered. A man who could control natural forces by rebuking the wind and saying to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”

The disciples had been with Jesus long enough now to have seen a lot of spectacular healing. They had been around Jesus long enough to sense that he possesses powers, and in this passage, we come to understand that Jesus’ power is divine power. He was controlling the very force of nature, of creation that God created. Only someone with divine power could do that.

The sea, the storm, and the fragile boat that carry Jesus and his followers across the Sea of Galilee offer thought-provoking images of our own life journey – of the profound vulnerability we feel along the way, and our longing for God and Jesus. We want to know the calm during the storm. Often after we have been through difficult situations or experienced tumult that we reflect and come to know that God was with us. Somehow, the sense of Peace! Be still has come out on the other side with us.

Peace! Be still. Deep in our hearts, we pray as the disciples prayed that God will intervene in the chaos of our lives. What Jesus is asking the disciples, asking us, is to step out into faith even when we are afraid. It’s an extraordinary choice we face. Jesus asks us to transform our fear into courage.

The disciples in that boat are faithful. Yes, they are anxious – they are fearful.

We can be anxious and faithful at the same time. The same faithfulness, fear, and anxiety the disciples experienced is also a part of our lives.

Fear lurks just under the surface of a lot of difficult moments in our lives. Faith doesn’t banish fear but helps us cope with it.

We know from experience that we usually live with some level of fear. We cannot dismiss the real concerns we have. Fear is often about our families, our friends, our nation. We might worry about our elderly parents and relatives, we might worry about our own health, and we might worry about our own futures and financial security. We must not be afraid to acknowledge that our lives have storms and dangers and we cannot deny them.

Fear is real. In fact, fear is so real that in biblical tradition, fear of the Lord is considered the “beginning of wisdom.”[1] We see the intersection of fear, wisdom, and trust throughout scripture.

Yet, I’m somehow sure that the disciples and the people of the church in the first century felt mostly fear and not so much wisdom or trust. They must have felt much like the crew on a storm-tossed ship, facing persecution and feeling small against powerful and unfriendly forces.

Even when there are powerful and unfriendly forces, God is here. Loving us and protecting us. Sending us forward in life, into ways that might be less comfortable, but more life-filled. Our faith in God is about trusting in the love that God gives.

To have faith is to trust that God is a good and gracious God, a God who loves us, a God who will not abandon us. Not to the storms of life, nor to the gale force winds of our fears. Rather, God will come calling, telling us again we are God’s own beloved children.

Our experience of God may not involve a rescue at sea or a miraculous cure. I feared that we would not be able to unload 2,000 pounds of food. God had other ideas. Sure enough, Church of the Resurrection from Alexandria arrived yesterday with the 2,000 pounds of food and 30 youth and adults to unload as well as a $2,000 check for Emmanuel’s Table. When we turn over our fear to God, then we can be fed and sustained by at the table by Jesus.

We can find the courage not just to survive, but to flourish. We find the courage not just to live, but to live with an abundance of joy. Not just to get by, but to know the life we enjoy in and through Jesus Christ.

If you look closely at this passage, you’ll see that Jesus never said: “There is nothing to be afraid of”. What I hear is that we don’t need to let fear take hold of us because we are not alone. This passage is not about the quality of our faith, but about our struggle to understand that God is always with us.

We are God’s beloved children. Do not be afraid because we are not alone in the boat.[2]

[1] Michael Lindvall, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, Loc. 5945
[2] Michael Lindvall, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, Loc. 5939

The sermons are recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. You can listen to this sermon by clicking the link above, but to access the library of audio files for recent sermons, CLICK HERE