Fear, Faith, Freedom

When I was a little girl, many years ago, my mother was terribly afraid of storms, a fear that was, no doubt, brought on by her having been in a house that was completely destroyed by a tornado in her early adulthood. This fear was inadvertently taught to my sisters and me by our witnessing mother’s near panic whenever a thunderstorm arose. We spent many a night huddled in dank, smelly cellars because of mother’s fear.

Today we experience storms of many kinds in our everyday lives. And we huddle in our fear when these storms come upon us. They come in many shapes:

  • storms of relationships
  • storms of uncertainty about jobs or family
  • storms in the political sphere
  • storms of responsibilities
  • storms of health concerns
  • storms in church dynamics
  • storms brought by pseudo-religious fanatics Hell-bent to destroy us

These storms trigger all kinds of emotional reactions in us:

  • awe at the awesome power of the storm
  • fear for safety
  • anxiety because we are not in control
  • worry about what happens in the aftermath of the storm

The gospel story in Mark relates the account of the disciples’ reaction on the sea of Galilee when they were in a small, all-too-sinkable boat in the middle of a sudden, vicious storm at night. They were panicked. And can you blame them? We do what the disciples did on the sea of Galilee; we panic. We, too, ask our Lord, “Don’t you even care if we perish?” And that’s a very human resonse in the face of fear.

If you read the first four chapters of the Gospel of Mark, you’ll see that Jesus had been a blur of activity. He’d been healing, casting out demons, confronting the religious establishment, teaching by parable after parable, (and then been a good teacher and explained the details to his disciples), and performing miracle after miracle. They had been first-hand witnesses.

So when Jesus finished up on this particular day, he said, “Let’s go across to the other side of the lake.” The disciples and Jesus got in the boat to cross the eight mile wide Sea of Galilee. Jesus was tired after having been on the go for so long. He did what most of us do at the end of a hard day. He took a nap.

They say storms can come up quite suddenly on the Sea of Galilee, not unlike the suddeness of storms in our lives. The hardest kinds of storms to weather are those that take us by surprise because they catch us with our guard down. This one on the Sea of Galilee surprised and frightened even the most seasoned of the former fishermen in this disciple crew. The waves were enormous, it seemed, spilling into the boat and making it look as if they were going to die. Our storms, too, seem to overwhelm us, making it appear that there is no hope for us.

Can’t you just hear the disciples?

“You know, this wasn’t a very good idea, going across tonight.”

“All right! Whose idea was this anyway?”

“How can Jesus just sleep though this?”

“Don’t cha think we outta wake Him up?”

And then the question they ask him when they do wake Him:

“Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?”

Their panic and fear had short-circuited their brains. It blinded them to what they had witnessed in the very recent past. It kept them from remembering the miracles this very Lord who was in the boat with them had performed. In their fear, they saw only the danger they were in.

Let me tell on myself here to illustrate how fear can make us do irrational things, and believe things we wouldn’t ordinarily believe.

I have a terrible fear of snakes, and that means all snakes, from 6″ to 6′ long. Intellectually I know that there are harmless, beneficial snakes, but anytime I have the misfortune to encounter a snake, I do really stupid things.

Several summers ago I was moving my lawn and glanced down to see that just between me and the mower, just where I was about to step was a little green garter snake, probably not much longer than 10-12 inches long. Somehow this little critter had managed to survive the mower blades and was just lying there, stunned by having had such an exciting experience of survival. I had some split second options. I could step over him and go on and let him slither away, or I could scream and quit mowing (not my style) or I could reach down, pick him up and put him in a safe place (hardly an option for me), or I could back up the mower and pulverize the poor little critter. I reacted out of my fear. I pulverized the poor little critter.

Fear makes us react irrationally at time, it shuts down our brain and it blinds us to the possibilities in the boat, situation, crisis, whatever we have on our hands.

It’s normal to be afraid when threathening circumstances happen. And it only makes good sense to use cautionary concern. But it is fear that makes us cry out, “Lord, don’t you care?” as did the disciples.

And so Jesus awoke, saw their fear and immediately took care of the situation that was causing their fear. He calmed the wind and the sea with His word: “BE STILL.”

The Lord looks at our storms and speaks to our fear as well. He says, “Be still.” The situation may not change as radically and dramatically as it did on the Sea of Galilee. But in the stillness we can hear God’s voice and know that the Lord is in control.

Then He turned to his disciples and said, “Why are you so afraid, where’s your faith?” FAITH? I have trouble with this very basic Christian tenet at times. I want to know what’s going to happen. I want to be in charge. I want to dictate how things are going to be. And so to turn over a situation to God and say, “guide me, help me to know what is best, help my faith” — that’s tough. I let my worrying drownd out the voice of God and I exhaust myself with fear.

Faith, I believe, is something developed though patience. Frequently, just as we get out of shape physically, we get out of shape in our faith because we haven’t practiced it enough. Developing a faith is a moment by moment exercise. Important to this process is remembering the miracles of Grace we’ve witnessed in our lives so far. Miracles of concerned friends who have been placed in our paths at times of crisis. Miracles of realized redemption even in a community condemned by the fundamentalists. Miracles of hope and answered prayer all around us.

Yet we haven’t remembered them because the waves are too high and the wind drowns out the voice of God. Why didn’t the disciples recall the miracles they had witnessed? Same reason. Yet God is in our midst and will perform the miracles of recovery, of comfort, of guidance, of love, of healing.

Did you notice the disciples reaction? The scripture says they said among themselves, “Who is this man that even the wind and sea obey him?” In the vernacular, I hear the disciples saying, “Whoa!” “Awesome!” “Who IS this guy?” Did they even know the Lord? Are we sometimes just as astounded at what God does in our lives? Where is our faith? We are in intimate contact with the most astounding force in the universe, the power of the Almighty, and we forget and panic because of our fear.

We can have freedom from fear through faith. And in this freedom from the paralyzing power of fear, we can find the faith to believe God is working in our behalf, hearing and answering our prayers.

And in faith we can then be respondents to God’s call, with freedom to serve, And find ourselves a channel of blessing and being blessed.

We will always have storms of conflict in our lives, but the good news is that God is in this storm, and all storms, with us. Then we can be free from fear to be all God has created us to be not only enclosed in this holy place, but out in the world, in our workplace, in our relationships, in our lives, because God does, indeed, care.