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What makes you afraid?
I think many of us have a certain level of phobia lurking around inside. I know I suffer from Cnidophobia. That’s the fear of stings. Seriously, ever since I was a little kid I’ve been terrified of flying stinging bugs. Even now, when a bee or wasp flies near me I have to close my eyes and breath deeply. And then my wife lets the wasps land on her and it totally freaks me out.
There are lots of phobias. Maybe you have claustrophobia—the fear of closed in spaces, or arachnophobia—the fear of spiders. Some of you might suffer from Homilophobia—the fear of sermons. Now that I’ve finished my first year of post-graduate work I can appreciate this one…Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia. It’s the fear of long words.
This summer we are looking at the idea of meeting God in everyday spaces as we follow the lectionary through the readings in Ordinary Time. This week we come to the story in Mark 4:35-41 where Jesus calms the storm. I looked at that passage and thought, what is ordinary about this story? At first glance it doesn’t seem very ordinary at all. I mean, Jesus speaks to the wind and waves and they stop. That’s not an everyday occurance. But then I thought about it a little more and realized that there really is an ordinary, everyday space in this story. It’s the place of fear. The disciples were facing a terrible storm and they were afraid.
Can you relate to that? I think about Duluth right now. Did you hear about the little boy that was sucked into the sinkhole and dragged for a mile and then spit out. Talk about a scary thing.
We all face storms regularly in our lives. We face things that scare us.
As we look at this story I think we can learn some things about fear and how we can face fear in the stormy weather.
There are three types of fear in this passage.
The first type is the kind of fear that comes from ignorance. Don’t get me wrong. Ignorance has nothing to do with intelligence. I think I’m a fairly intelligent guy, but if you put me in a boat with a fishing pole and tackle, I’m an ignoramous. I don’t know how to fish, other than put a worm on a hook and drop the line in the water. I could overcome my ignorance by gaining knowledge about fishing. That’s what I mean by ignorance.
Sometimes our fear comes from ignorance.
Let’s look at the story. Jesus and the disciples are in a boat sailing across the lake. A huge storm kicks up and starts dumping water into the boat. The disciples are freaking out and they look over and see that Jesus is asleep.
They shout at him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Can you relate to the disciples at this moment? I know I can. There have been many times in my life when things seem to be crashing in around me that I honestly asked, “God, are you sleeping right now? Do you not see what I’m going through?”
That’s legitimate. Don’t be afraid to be honest to God like that. But, also, be open to the thought that you might not have all the information about the situation.
That’s what the disciples’ problem was. Here’s where their ignorance shines through. They don’t really know who Jesus is. First of all, they call him teacher. Did you catch that? I think that is a common place of ignorance for the majority of people. If you were to poll the general population, I think you would find that most people have generally positive ideas about Jesus. There really aren’t a lot of Jesus-haters in the world. Most people would say that Jesus was a good teacher and a positive moral leader. And they would be right. He was a great teacher and an incredibly positive moral leader. But so have many other people been those things. Jesus is so much more than that. Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Sometimes our fear comes because we just don’t have a clear picture of who this Jesus is. When we haven’t taken the time to really get to know Jesus, then we can be tempting to question whether he really cares about us. If we think Jesus is just a good teacher and moral example, then when the storms of life hit us we might be like the disciples and shout out, “Jesus, don’t you care that I’m suffering?”
Let me just ask you. How much time have you spent really trying to get to know Jesus? It’s one thing to attend church, but there is another layer of really investigating who Jesus is by digging into the gospels an d asking the deeper questions in a small group or Bible study, or reading books about it, and spending time in prayer.
I think much of our fear can be calmed when we take the time to get more information about the situation and know our Savior in a deeper way.
There is a second kind of fear. It is the fear that comes from a challenge.
Look what Jesus says at the beginning of this story. He says, “hey guys, let’s cross over to the other side.” So far in the story of Mark Jesus has been hanging out on the west side of the sea of Galilee in the region of Galilee which was populated by Jewish people. He had been doing amazing things and stirring the pot among his own people. Last week Pastor Karri reminded us that Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God and how it is like a crazy weed that spreads like wildfire and crosses over the boundaries of people’s fields.
Jesus challenges his disciples and says, “let’s cross over to the other side.”
“whoa, wait a minute Jesus. Do you know who lives over there? That is where the Gentiles live.”
On the east side of the sea of Galilee was the region called the Decapolis which was full of non-Jewish people, the Gentiles. For Jesus’ Jewish disciples this was a scary prospect. Jews weren’t supposed to cross over to the other side and mingle with the Gentiles.
What I think is wonderful about this story is that when they do get to the other side, in the first part of chapter five, the first person they meet is a naked dude filled with demons hanging around in a cemetery. If that’s not a scary person who is one of the “others” then I don’t know what is.
Here’s the thing. When you follow Jesus he asks you to do scary things.
It baffles my mind when I hear people say that following Jesus is for weak minded people. That it is a crutch. Now, that might be true if your religion was all about coming to church, singing some songs, getting some bread and juice, going on with your life, and knowing that you’ll go to heaven when you die. That could be a crutch, but that is not what Jesus is all about. Jesus calls us to get into the boat and go to the other side where he wants to love people who are scary and different.
Jesus says, “see that person, I love that person.” And we look at that person and think, “I don’t like the way that person looks, I don’t like the way that person smells, I don’t like the things that person does. I don’t want to love that person.” And Jesus says, “get in the boat with me and let’s go to the other side.”
That’s a stormy ride.
I have to be honest with you. Sometimes following Jesus scares me. We were talking on Leadership Team this week about the future of Grace and where we think God is calling us. As we strive to be a missional congregation that is seeking to meet God in this community, God is going to ask us to meet people and do things that make me uncomfortable. It will stretch me. If it were up to me, I like to play it safe. You roll the dice, you move the mice, nobody gets hurt. But Jesus calls us to cross over to the other side. Jesus never promised that we would avoid storms. He just promised to take us through them.
I think its perfectly normal to freak out from time to time as a follower of Jesus.
That leads us to the last kind of fear.
Look what Jesus does. The disciples have just woken him up from a nap and accused him of not caring about them. He stands up and looks at the wind and the waves. Now, remember, this is the ancient world. The people then considered the wind and the waves to not be just non-personal forces of nature. These were spiritual beings. These were gods.
Jesus looks at the wind first and rebukes it. This is the exact same word used when he would drive out evil spirits. He rebuked them and they stopped.
And then he speaks to the sea and says—this is the literal translation of the Greek—“Silence! Put a muzzle on it!” Don’t you just love that? Jesus yells at the sea god and says, “Put a muzzle on it wave boy!”
And then it says that the wind calmed down. It didn’t just lay off, it says that it came to a great calm. The sea god snapped to attention and stopped everything.
If you were a disciple and had seen this, what would you do in that moment?
I think I would be freaking out. The text literally says that they feared a great fear. They weren’t just afraid. It’s like how Pastor Mark described it when we looked at Isaiah 6 two weeks ago. They were undone.
This third kind of fear is the holy fear that seizes us when we realize that we are in the presence of the Almighty God. Jesus isn’t just a good teacher and a moral leader. Jesus is the Word of God that created the wind and the waves. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And he does care about us, deeply.
This might seem kind of backward, but one of the greatest ways to overcome fear is to realize that the Almighty God who has the power to create and destroy has feely given us love and forgiveness.
1 John 4:18 reminds us that “There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.”
Too often I think we are tempted to take God’s grace for granted and we can slip into a mindset that it is really about us and how we deal with life’s storms. When we get into that mindset it is easy to get overwhelmed by the fear. We can think that God has fallen asleep and doesn’t care about us. We can yell up at the sky, “Teacher, don’t you care?”
But when we allow ourselves to be reminded that the God of the universe loves us so much that He gave his own life for us. This God who can tell the sea to put a muzzle on it is the same God that loves me. Then that should send a shiver down our spine and give us the courage to face any kind of fear.
What do you fear today? What is your phobia? Give it to Jesus and let him put a muzzle on it.