July 26, 2020
8th Sunday after Pentecost
Questions Jesus Asked Summer Series
Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?
Recently, a charming little sign showed up on Instagram with the following printed on it: “Do Not Be Afraid” is written in the Bible 365 times. That’s a daily reminder from God to live everyday fearless.”
Well, when we see amazing stories spread like wildfire on social media, it is good to be skeptical!
Let’s take this charming Instagram message. A little fact checking uncovered it isn’t actually true! Shocking, right?!!
Depending on what, if any, variations are included in the count, the number of “fear not” references in the Bible are actually between 100 and 300 – hardly a year’s worth!
But does that make it any less true? Would the admonition to not fear be any less true if it only occurred once in the Bible? After all, God only had to say “Let there be light,” once and that was enough!
In our gospel lesson, Jesus has been teaching the crowds and he needs a break. “Let’s take a trip across the Sea of Galilee,” he says to his disciples.
In his book, “The Journey,” Alister McGrath explains that in the New Testament the earliest term used to refer to Christians was “those who belong to the Way,” based on Acts 9:2.”
McGrath goes on to say, “Thinking of the Christian life as a journey through the world offers a vivid and helpful way of visualizing the life of faith.”
He provides two points to consider:
“1. The image of a journey reminds us that we are going somewhere. We are on our way to the New Jerusalem. It encourages us to think ahead and look forward with anticipation to the joy of the arrival. One day we shall finally be with God, and see our Lord face-to face!
2. Traveling does more than lead us to the goal of our journeying. A journey is itself a process that enables us to grow and develop as we press on to our goal.
To travel is thus about finally achieving journey’s end, with all the joy and delight that this will bring—but it is also about inducing personal and spiritual growth within us as we travel. Journeying is thus a process that catalyzes our development as people and as believers.
In one sense, people who complete the journey are the same as when they began it. Yet in another sense, they are different in that they have been changed by what they experience. A journey is a process of personal development, not simply a means of getting from A to B. The journey allows us to understand ourselves better.”
In our scripture journey today, we know that at least four of Jesus’ disciples are experienced fishermen so when a storm arises that terrifies them, we can safely assume it’s a dreadful storm. As the water rises inside the boat, so does their sense of doom. And if you’ve ever been in a boat filling up with water, you can certainly identify! They are scared out of their wits!
With hair standing on end, they’re quaking in their sandals convinced that disaster is at hand, while their beloved Miracle-Worker is undisturbed by the tumult, fast asleep on a nice soft cushion.
“Are you kidding me?!” they must have thought. They reach over and shake him. “Jesus! Jesus! Wake up! Look’s what happening! We are about to die! Don’t you care?!”
Jesus wakes up and realizes that his disciples are in a tizzy. So Jesus calms the storm that’s causing the ruckus, “Peace, Be Still!” The storm listens. The storm obeys. Then Jesus turns to address his companions: “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They are dumbfounded. How is it that even the wind and sea obey the Teacher?
Now I’m sure all of you have noticed the yard signs around our neighborhoods that read, “Faith over Fear,” and I’m sure Jesus was holding up this sign at this moment in the boat! Yet, isn’t it so much easier to read it or think it, than to live it?!
While in one sense this incident may be foreign to us — on another it’s quite familiar. Because even if we have no experience of being on a boat in a storm — the story resonates with us for it depicts chaos without – the storm at sea – and chaos within – the disciples’ fear. Yet – Jesus isn’t afraid. Instead, Jesus takes a nap. One commentator has this to say:
‘This story offers meaning on literal and figurative levels. The world of nature can and sometimes does bring terrible storms, and we must take necessary precautions. On a figurative level, there are many “storms” in life that cause us to feel swamped indeed, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Often, one of the first casualties when we are afraid or uncertain is our ability to sleep peacefully and restfully. Yet here Jesus sleeps in a storm of wind and waves at peace and unafraid. Jesus sleeps in trust and confidence, because he knows that in life and in death, he belongs to God. God has power over everything, including nature itself. Jesus’ word to the wind and waves is also his word to the disciples then and now, “Peace! Be Still!” Believing that Jesus is the Son of God and has the power to save us replaces fear with trusting confidence, allowing us to sleep in peace.’
‘Does this mean there’s nothing to be afraid of? No doubt the disciples have good reason to respond as they do to a very real danger just as the frail vessels we call our lives respond in fear at the wind and waves that assail us from time to time. In our individual lives, in our life together as a church, as a nation—we have plenty to fear: disapproval, rejection, failure, our own insignificance, disease, and of course, we fear death – our death, and the death of those we love.’
There is more than enough to make us afraid, and if we keep up with the news, our fears are multiplied with things that are happening in our neighborhoods, cities, and country, as well as tensions around the world.
So what are we to do? Pretend things are okay and bury our fears deep inside ourselves until we explode with anxiety? The disciples certainly could not muster up the faith in the face of the storm to rest their heads on a soft cushion. Rather, Jesus calms the storm and Jesus calms them with the power of his presence.
On our life journey, in the face of wind and rain, in the face of stresses in our lives, are we waking Jesus up? Are we turning to Jesus, the Lord of wind and wave, and saying, I am afraid, please calm the storm?
There are plenty of scary things in life, but no matter how scary something may be to us—it does not—it cannot—have the last word because ultimate power belongs to God Almighty! Are we training ourselves to look forward with anticipation of the joy of arrival?
Recall the words of the Apostle Paul, “…in all these, neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We should paint that on our garage walls so we can read it as we drive out into the world every day!
We should tattoo on our forearm Peace! Be Still! so we can glance down at it every time fears rise inside us.
“Peace! Be Still!” The truth is fear doesn’t get the last word of who we are and whose we are. Surely, there are real and fearsome things in life but they need not paralyze us for no matter what boat we’re in—we’re not alone. Being still and knowing God is God—–that’s something we need to remember—365 days a year.