Sunday, June 21, 2015


“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
We sometimes get the word “faith” mixed up
with ideas we have in our heads.
We think “faith” is agreeing with something we’ve heard.
But the world in the Bible isn’t about signing on to doctrines.
It’s about trust that turns into courage.
Faith means trusting God, so we have the courage to live our lives.
The great 20th Century theologian Paul Tillich called it
            “the courage to be” – the chutzpah to face the day.
Today’s lessons are about courage.

In our Gospel lesson, the disciples were in a little fishing boat
            on the Sea of Galilee.
It is 13 miles long, 8 miles wide, and 141 feet deep.
You don’t want to be out in the middle of it when a storm blows up.
This was a really big storm and a really small boat.
The situation was scary.

The disciples woke Jesus up and said,
            “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”
They interpreted his calm as apathy.
It had not occurred to them it might be confidence or trust.

So Jesus told the storm to be still.
Then, Mark tells us, “there was a dead calm.”
It didn’t just settle down. It was “a dead calm.”
Apparently that display of divine power over chaos
            scared them even more,
because Jesus asks them in the present tense,
            “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Remember when Jesus says “faith” he isn’t talking about something
            we think in our heads.
He means something we decide in our hearts.
He means trusting God, putting our hope in God,
            so that we can face head on whatever life throws at us.

This story happens on a big body of water.
In ancient literature bodies of water
always  stand for the chaos in life.
In physics it’s called the law of entropy,
            which means things tend to fall apart.
In regular life, it’s Murphy’s Law,
            “whatever can go wrong, will.”
The sea stands for accidents, illness, crime, death, racism, bad bosses,
            lost jobs, gossiping neighbors, and all the life-wrecking forces
                        that shoot up out of nowhere like sharks to take a bite
                        out of our happiness.
That’s what the deep waters mean in the Bible.

Take the 69th Psalm:
            “Save me O God for the waters are come into mine soul
            I sink . . . . I come into deep waters where the floods overflow me.
            . . . . They that hate me without cause are more
than the hairs of mine head.
            They that would destroy me . . . are mighty.”
We can’t get through life without the waters coming
into our souls.
So much can go wrong.
Even when things are going right, we are afraid it will fall apart.

We therefore walk thorugh life looking over our shoulder
to see what disaster is gaining on us.
The problem is that when we are looking over our shoulder
            we can’t see where we are going.
Living in fear doesn’t make for much of a life.

But Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly,
-- John 10: 10 -- so he offers us the option of living by faith.
The most frequent commandment Jesus gave his disciples
            was “Do not be afraid.”
The Bible repeats the commandment “Do not be afraid” 365 times,
            once for each day of the year.
It isn’t an easy commandment.

The earliest manuscripts of Mark end with the women at the tomb.
An angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. He is risen.
            Go tell the disciples he will meet them in Galilee.”
But the women ran from the tomb and did not tell anyone anything
            “because they were afraid.”

It is impossible to not feel fear.
Fear is programmed into our cerebral cortex.
Feeling fear is instinctive.
But the Bible doesn’t t say, “Do not feel fear.”
It says “Do not be afraid.”
Do not give into your fear.
Do not identify with it.
Trust in God.

In the words of John Wayne,
            “Courage is being afraid but saddling up anyway.”
That is precisely what faith means:
            “being afraid but saddling up anyway.”
So where do we get the courage to saddle up for life?
It happens when we fall in love with God
            “in all things and above all things” as the Prayer Book says.
When we fall in love with the source and destiny of the whole creation,
            we forget about ourselves and the fear calms down like the storm
                        in today’s Gospel lesson.
My favorite verse of Job is sometimes translated,
            “Even though he slay me, I will trust in him.”
Our foundation is that God is God, God is good, and God is forever.

The sea in our Gospel story stands for evil and chaos.
But the wind stands for God.
Mark doesn’t use the ordinary word for wind or storm.
He uses the word for a whirlwind.
It’s the same word used in Job to describe the whirlwind
            God appears as at the end of that book.

Today’s Gospel isn’t about just a regular storm at sea.
The lesson applies to the ordinary storms of life,
            but especially the storms that happen
            when God moves against evil of any kind,
            when God sends his people to speak against injustice
                        or the mistreatment of his people.
That invariably stirs things up and makes a storm.

Being faithful to God in a watery world of fear and chaos
            is dangerous.
We saw that in Charleston this week.

Those of us who are old enough to remember 1963
            cannot read the news of Charleston without remembering
the bombing of a Black Church in Birmingham.
At the eulogy then, Dr. King spoke of courage. He said,
            “(The victims) say to each of us, black and white alike,
            that we must substitute courage for caution . . . .
            We must be concerned not merely with those who
            murdered them but with the system, the way of life,
            the philosophy that produced the murderers.”

I do not know the heart of the killer in Charleston,
            but from his own words it sounds as if
            the dry rot of fear had decayed his soul.
That dry rot can turn any of us toward bitterness
            and mean-spirited resentment.
It can turn us inward into a kind of stingy self-focus.

But Jesus calls us out from that tomb.
Jesus calls us to come forth, to live boldly,
 loving God in all things and above all things.
That’s why it isn’t a political agenda but faithfulness to Christ Jesus
            compelling the Church to demand
            that hospitals teach their patients’ families how to care for them
                        when they go home, and to demand
that the state provide home health care so the elderly and disabled
can stay with their loved ones instead of nursing homes.
It’s why we save immigrants who are legally entitled to be here
 from being defrauded by unethical lawyers and notaries.

When those godly winds of justice blow,
it stirs the waters of fear and bitterness,
the kind of fear and bitterness that feed prejudice
            and mean spirited resentment.
Standing with Jesus is risky.
But we saddle up anyway.
That’s faith.
When God sends us against the world,
            we saddle up.