Why Are You Afraid?
On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to [the disciples], “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be s till!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
“Why are you afraid?” Those are the words that stand out to me in today’s Gospel story this time around.
“Why are you afraid?” “Have you still no faith?” If we’re supposed to look at the storm in Mark’s story as some sort of metaphor for our lives in this world – which I think is fair – then I think it’s fair and faithful, too, to wonder about Jesus’ question today in the same way.
“Why are you afraid?” “Of what are you afraid?” “What is it that makes any of us scared, anxious, full of worry … AFRAID?”
Maybe your answer to that question, like the disciples’ is, actually, “storms.” Fair enough. My wife is “this close” to drawing up plans for a storm shelter whenever the wind blows just right or the weather radar changes colors. But there is plenty more that scares us – worries us – makes us afraid – from day to day, isn’t there?
I’m afraid of heights.
I’m kind of afraid of birds and definitely afraid of bats.
If I were in the Sea of Galilee with the disciples, I’d prefer to be out of the water, in the boat or, say, on water skis because I’m afraid of the weeds and the fish and God knows what else is beneath the surface of the water waiting to nibble on my toes when I can’t see them.
But I’m afraid of some other things, too.
I’m afraid of my dad’s unpredictable – and apparently untreatable – heart issues. I was afraid to hear that my uncle, my dad’s younger brother, had to have his first open-heart surgery on Friday. And I’m afraid of the fact that I have a lot of those Havel genes and DNA running through my own veins.
I’m afraid I’m not a good enough husband and father – no matter how nice my family was to me on Father’s Day last weekend.
I’m afraid for the Church – that people don’t see or respect or value what we have to offer the world, like they used to. And I’m afraid the Church that the gives them good reason for that sometimes.
And I get a little anxious around here every year at this time, in this Church – that we won’t give enough to the General Fund or to the Building Fund, not just to sustain, but to grow our ministry in faithful, fun, meaningful ways. And I’m afraid I won’t be able to inspire that kind of faithfulness or generosity.
I’m afraid of the same bigger picture stuff most of us are stewing about these days, too.
I’m afraid of school shootings.
I was afraid this week to learn that a friend of mine – if he didn’t have health insurance – would have had to pay $71,000 for an appendectomy, a completely unpredictable, unpreventable need that could befall anyone.
And I’ve been afraid about what’s been going on at our southern border. Not afraid, really, in any imminent way, for myself, of course. But I’m afraid for those families and I’m sad for those kids and I’m afraid, too, of what that issue – and all the ways we defend or dispute it – reveals about us.
I’m afraid that we’re afraid of each other. And I’m afraid that we’re afraid of “THE OTHER.” I’m afraid we don’t see people as people enough of the time. I’m afraid that instead of people – instead of brothers and sisters in Christ – instead of Children of God – we see each other as the sum of our posts on Facebook; as the collection of our tweets on Twitter; as allies or as opponents; as political persuasions; as “right” or “wrong”; as “legal” or “illegal” – as if anyone’s worth or value or personhood; as if anyone’s safety or well-being should be determined by those kinds of labels or ideologies or political opinions or national origin.
Sometimes I'm afraid there is nothing new under the sun in all of this. And sometimes I'm afraid that there is.
And I’m afraid all of this fear – the personal stuff and the big picture things, too – will get the best of us, if we’re not careful. I’m afraid if we don’t invite Jesus into the mix – if we don’t remember and recognize what he would do and have us do, just the same – that all of this fear, and the fighting and anxiety it fosters, threatens to win the day.
See, I don’t think the disciples in the story were just scared of the wind and the waves that stirred things up on the Sea of Galilee that day, in the boat with Jesus. I think they must have been afraid, too, that Jesus had the power to stop it all. Like some magical meteorologist, Jesus gave the command – “Peace! Be still!” – and the storm ended. If all the healing and preaching and cleansing and teaching they’d already seen from Jesus wasn’t enough, this reality check about the power of God, alive and well in their midst… in that boat… in the carpenter’s Son from Nazareth… must have scared them silly. It would have me.
And if he was who he said he was… if this power was real… if he could do all of these things with the blessing of the Almighty… then what he was asking them to do all of a sudden carried a kind of weight and burden and power and importance that would have been frightening, to say the least.
Because in the face of our fears – however large or small, personal or big-picture – we’re called to remember, to trust, and to live differently because of God’s good news in Jesus. Our God is stronger than death. God’s love is more fierce than the grave.
So, even heart troubles, heart attacks, and heart surgeries are no match for God’s kind of healing – whether that takes place on this side of the grave or the other.
My shortcomings as a father and as a husband are no more real and no match for the mercy and forgiveness and second chances I’m afforded by God’s kind of grace.
The Church in the world – and our little piece of it here at Cross of Grace – are under God’s care and provision. Yes, we pray, we give, we do, we ask hard questions, but we trust – ultimately – that God’s mercy has been our help in ages past and that God’s mission is our hope for whatever is to come.
And our hope for healing the divisions that separate and threaten us these days rest, too, in the ways of Jesus. Remember, he called the disciples that day from one side of the sea to the other … away from home… away from what they knew … away, perhaps, from where they felt safe, even … into Gentile territory… where the “others” were – the outsiders, the unclean, more of the sick and leprous and demon-possessed from the wrong side of the tracks.
May all of that symbolize and represent for us those people from whom we’d rather keep our distance; those people with whom we disagree; those people from whom we are repelled, even. And may we see them, too, as children of God – much to our surprise. And may we show ourselves to them in the same way. May they see in us image-bearers of a loving, gracious, forgiving, merciful Creator in as many ways as we are able.
Maybe then the storms that surround us will subside. Or maybe then, we’ll be able to endure them with less fear. Maybe then, our fear will be a mere portion of the energy with which we experience the world around us – less fear, more faith, hope and love, I mean. And maybe then, our faith will win the day, so that living and loving in the ways of Jesus – who even the wind and sea obey – will still, not just the storms and fears and anxieties in our own lives, but will give us the power to calm, too, and transform the fears of the world where we live.