First Congregational Church
June 21, 2015
7th Sunday after Pentecost, Fathers Day
“The Real Fear”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Last summer, down on Lake Wobegone, Ole and Sven, who were new to boating, were having a problem. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn't get their brand new 22 foot boat going. It was very sluggish in almost every maneuver, no matter how much power they applied. After about an hour of trying to make it go, they putted into a nearby marina, thinking someone there may be able to tell them what was wrong. A thorough topside check revealed everything in perfect working condition. The engine ran fine, the out-drive went up and down, and the propeller was the correct size and pitch. So, one of the marina guys jumped in the water to check underneath. He came up choking on water, he was laughing so hard. Under the boat, still strapped securely in place, was the trailer!
Not long after that, Ole comes across a magical staircase that’s 100 steps high. At the top of the stairs are untold riches, but in order to get to the top, you have to hear a joke from each individual stair and not laugh. If you laugh at any joke, you can’t go any higher. The jokes start off somewhat lame, but get progressively funnier.
The first joke comes and Ole is stoic. Second. Third. Not even a smile. He get’s to the 99th step and before the step even tells the joke he bursts out laughing. “Why are you laughing, I haven’t even told the joke!” “Ole wiped away tears of laughter and replied, “I just got the first one.”
Our scripture passage for this morning may be obvious, but the longer we think about it, the more sense it might make. Before we get to it, tho, it will make for a better hearing if we understand that the verses for today follow immediately after those from last week, which were built on the previous chapters: John’s and Jesus’ baptisms, calling of disciples, healings, teachings, sabbath-breaking and other questionable behavior, including a couple parables about seeds and growing.
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Thank you, Peyton. I don’t know about anyone else, but this passage is so familiar to me, that I almost lost out on some good stuff. Probably the biggest point that I almost missed was the fact that some of these disciples, that is, former fishermen - guys who were at home on water as much as one land, were afraid in the storm.
Except that Scott Hoezee of Calvin Seminary reminded me - and so all of us - that a small boat doesn’t need much to pitchpole - which is to go end over end if a boat heads into a wave this is higher than the boat is long. Or, if a wave hits a boat from the side and if that wave is higher than the boat is wide, the boat will capsize, flipping upside down.
So it comes “home,” when you remember the time, driving that 12 foot Lund boat across Kapascasing Lake in Canada, across the big shallow section, where the waves roll up on each other, and you had to navigate between going sideways to the waves - and with the waves - because your destination is diagonal to the waves. And you remember the waves that came up over the back end to add to the water that was raining, blowing and splashing into the boat, and you are sure you are not going to make it without losing all the rods, reels and gear, along with getting a good dunking and a bit of a swim. When you remember - finally making the bend around the corner into the wind protected bay - you are more forgiving of these disciples - realizing how scared you were that you start crying - hypothetically speaking.
And although I’ve thought about it before, the familiarity of this passage almost made me miss the fact that the disciples, who had God riding with them, right next to them, sleeping right there - became afraid. How often are we reminded in church that God is always with us - that Jesus gave us the power of the Holy Spirit - that we live “in” the kingdom of God, and we fail to remember that power and place “of being” when we walk out the door? And it’s not that we do this forgetting on purpose, it’s just that we aren’t God, that we are human, and so we forget.
I know I had to look back about three times to really catch “the real fear” in this passage, coming “after” Jesus calmed the storm - at least as the author of Mark wrote it. If anything, wouldn’t they have been more apt to be relieved, like the main character in a very recent sermon illustration? If they were terrified then, then maybe their fear wasn’t so much about the water and boat situation. Maybe it was something else.
President of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, David Lose, made the point that perhaps the real fear was the miracle: the immediate calming of the winds and waves at Jesus’ command. In Mark’s gospel, up until this point, Jesus had been doing rather human sorts of things: baptizing, healing, eating, arguing with the family, teaching, stuff like that. But in this situation, even the elements of nature obey their teacher, and after all that was once terrifying had been banished, the disciples experienced another kind of fear altogether: the fear of being witness to a miracle and people fear miracles because they fear being changed.
Those in the boat that day were changing - from being fishermen - and accountants and regular, everyday guys - to becoming disciples. Good thing that they didn’t know what they were in for, because I don’t think any of them would have signed up as a follower of Jesus if they knew how they were to die. And yet, we all will die, so death shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us. And since Jesus calls all of us to follow him, we are then all becoming disciples, and like the original twelve, we will get caught off-guard sometimes. So what is “our” real fear?
Perhaps it is that miracles present us with opportunities to change - either in recognizing them or ignoring them. (In ignoring the miracles that surround us, it’s like we cut the Achilles heal of our faith. Our faith may still be functional to a degree, but will it be able to take us to the places where we “could” go - vistas and valleys of serenity and utter peace - via paths that could be sometimes a little rocky?)
I wonder how many of us have put this question of the real fear - up next to the murders in Charleston this week. As I thought about that tragedy, I’ve wondered what my real fear was, and yes, some of it is very close to home. What if someone came in and shot some of us and killed some of us? Would you - or I - be able to say to the shooter, “I forgive you,” as did some of the folks in their statements to young Dylann Roof. I think that would be my real fear in that situation, the fear of knowing that I needed to forgive, but not completely sure if my heart would really meant it - if God could really make me or help me forgive. Would my faith be big enough to really believe that God - not just could - but would - forgive such a person if he asked for forgiveness from God - that such forgiveness would be “fair?”
Rick Brand, from Ministry Matters, reminds us that the realization of the fear that keeps us from living to our fullest is not only about our personal lives, but about our corporate life - as a church family - because we are here in the nave of this church. Google defines a nave as “the central part of a church building, intended to accommodate most of the congregation. In traditional Western churches it is rectangular, separated from the chancel by a step or rail, and from adjacent aisles by pillars.”
Mr. Brand said, “Nave is the Latin word for ship. The Christian community has always used - as the symbol of its life - the ship on storm-tossed waves with the cross on top of the ship.” And the symbol for our particular brand of Congregationalism? A remnant from our Pilgrim forefathers and mothers - who probably didn’t have issues with boat trailers being unknowingly attached.
Maybe the real fear for the disciples - and us - is that having such a God of the land, sea and our own lives - means that we have to take Jesus’ words more seriously and be open to changes we aren’t anticipating - as we continue to evolve into disciples. Maybe the real fear is trusting that God is right here - with us - in this boat in the windy and wavy sea of uncertainty, unrest, and mistrust of life - and that means changing into the belief that we really are - already - in the nave of God’s love and mercy.
I don’t know that any person in this entire world is completely, wholly free of fear. So whatever your real fear, whatever my real fear, we have the life jackets and assurance of prayer. So shall we?
Great God of earth and sky, invisible and visible, great and small, we are grateful for the miracles with which you surround us, even if we aren’t always as grateful as we know we could be. Help all of us realize not just our real fear, but our real safety - in you. Grant us all - the good sleep of Jesus in a rocking boat in a storm - because sometimes, we can even be afraid of the goodness of rest and trust. Regardless of our age or experiences or station in life, help us to see that we really are in this boat together, and that we do far better when we trust your steering as we paddle our prayers. For all the miracles - realized or not - and all that you give us to increase our faith, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.