Benediction Online

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Why are you afraid?"

 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

In recent weeks as we have been listening to Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry, Mark has shown us Jesus’ power over demons and the forces of darkness, his ability to heal illness, his teaching about the kingdom of God and today, his power over the forces of nature. Jesus was not the only person in first century Palestine who could cast out demons, he probably wasn’t the only one who had gifts of healing, and he surely wasn’t the only itinerant preacher. But this is something quite different. "Who then is this,” his disciples asked, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?" In stilling the storm, Jesus shows that he is one with the Creator who made the heavens and the earth, including the winds and the atmosphere, the heating and the cooling which create storms.

But Jesus doesn’t dwell on this. It seems as though his decision to calm the storm was purely pragmatic. He was exhausted and asleep. His disciples woke him because they were afraid. He solved the problem. And then, before going back to sleep he rather grumpily said, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"

What would have been different if the disciples had had the faith that Jesus expected?

Would there have been no storm? Would there have been a storm but the boat would not have taken on water? Would they have been able to calm the storm?

I don’t think so.

We have a tendency to think that if something goes badly in our lives, God must be punishing us, or we must have done something wrong. “Why did God let this happen to me?” we ask. The psalms tell us that God rewards the faithful and punishes the wicked, so when things go wrong we think we must have been put in the “wicked” category.

That simply is not true. Life happens. The apostle Paul, who was surely in the category of good and faithful people, writes of suffering “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” Suffering is part of being human. Accidents happen. Illness happens. Mortality happens.

"Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"

Fear happens too.

But we have no need to be afraid. Since Jesus has conquered death, the ultimate experience of separation from the source of all life, we need not fear. I think this was the secret of the early church, their ability to take huge risks despite persecution, their tremendous sense of joy and freedom. Their knowledge of Jesus’ power and their trust in his resurrection life made them fearless.

But fear is very present in our lives and it is rampant in our culture. Even though we live in the most affluent civilization the world has ever known, we are fearful. Fear comes from the sin matrix. It is one of the most persuasive and insidious ways that sin continues in our lives. Fear causes us not to be truthful. Fear makes us greedy. Fear leads to pre-emptive strikes so we attack others before they attack us. Fear makes us think there isn’t enough to go round.

If we could learn to be as fearless as the early Christians, we would have an astonishing effect on our society.

Fear is exploited by marketers and politicians. We can’t think rationally about the best way to provide health care for all when we’re afraid that the quality of our own health care will be compromised. We can’t think rationally about peaceful was to resolve conflict when we are afraid of terrorist attacks. We can’t think rationally about building ways to protect our environment and still dispose of our wastewater when we are afraid we’re being ripped off.

Competition can be healthy when it pushes us forward to new heights of personal achievement, but it turns deadly when it is based in fear. We need to be cooperating. We need to cooperate to prevent our children and grandchildren living in a world of famine and extreme weather patterns. But we can’t do it when we are afraid of each other.

"Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"

How do we deal with our fear? The writer of the first letter of John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:18) Remember that perfection in the New Testament most often means “that which it was made to do”. So those of us who still fear have not yet allowed ourselves to fully receive and accept the abundant and incredible love of God.

We are still allowing the myths of the sin matrix to tell us that we are bad, that we aren’t good enough, that we need to do more, to be more. Whoever you are and whatever is going on for you, God’s unconditional love surrounds and holds you, always. When the storm is raging and everything is dark, God’s love is holding you. When your boat begins to take on water and you are afraid you will sink, God’s love is holding you. When your boat goes down and you are drowning, even then God’s love is holding you. As Paul said in Romans 8 “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38,39)

God’s extravagant love is holding you even now, in this very moment. But so often we are unaware of it, and allow fear to fester. It is up to us to open up our receptors to God’s love. We can turn fear into a gift.

Whenever you experience fear, or one of the feelings that comes from it – greed, anger, judgment – take this as an opportunity to stop and ask that you may experience the fullness of God’s love. Let your shoulders drop, don’t focus on the fear but focus instead on God’s incredible and undeniable love for you, right here, right now, exactly as you are.


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