First Congregational Church
March 26, 2017
4th Sunday in Lent
”Fear of the Unexplainable”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
To start this morning’s message, I thought we might engage in a little mental crossword puzzling. So, 1 across: fear of balloons popping: globophobia. 3 down: fear of rain. ombrophobia. 10 across: fear of the number 13: triskaidekaphobia. 4 across: the fear of holes: trypophobia, and 6 down is fear of being out of mobile phone service: nomophobia.
Last week, the break from our Lenten sermon series was brought to you by the cantata, The Song Everlasting. The first message in the series was “The Fear of Inadequacy” and the second was “Fear of Circumstances.” The “inadequacy” message was based on the fishing trip taken by Jesus and a couple disciples, after a long night of fishing, resulting in a huge mess of fish. The “circumstance” message was also based on a water event, but the one when Jesus calmed the wind and waves.
This morning’s message takes place on a mountain, not so long after another trip to a mountainside: the one that fed 4,000 men, plus women and children, after numerous healings had taken place. After the Big Banquet, over the next six days or so, the Pharisees and Sadducees did a little cage-rattling with Jesus, Jesus did a little teaching about said Pharisees and Sadducees and Peter blurted out that Jesus is the Messiah. And Jesus had predicted his death, you know, just like any normal day for any of us.
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Thank you, Betty. Imagine; all the crazy things that had been happening before that day, and then Jesus says, “Field trip!” Imagine what might have been running through your mind. Where are we going? What’s going to happen? Are we supposed to bring anything? Did everyone remember to use the bathroom before we left?
Maybe you might have been a little uneasy, given that business about the Pharisees and Sadducees and miraculous meals and prophetic prediction of the Master’s own death. In our own lives, who of us would have possibly conceived what was going to happen on the mountain that day? In hindsight, Peter’s suggestion to build shelters for Moses, Elijah and Jesus may have come from that uncomfortable place of not knowing how to respond to something that is bigger than you even realize. Even so, think about it. Who will believe such a thing if you were to tell anyone about it afterwards? (Maybe that’s why Jesus told them not to say anything.)
Maybe, more than anything else, it’s the fear of the unexplainable that underlies this passage. Our human tendency may be to wave it off to the great writers of history - regardless of gospel or record. But still. It’s in the book we deem to be holy. And Jesus must have had some inclination that it was going to happen, or why make the trip up the mountain, away from the crazy crowds?
Peter, James and John were minding their own business, caring for their families and friends, doing what adult men did at the time. And then one day, when Jesus passes by, their worlds changed forever. The whole world changes for ever - in ways that seem even more unexplainable. A face shining like the sun, clothes of dazzling white, a voice from a cloud. It happened to me last Thursday. How about you?
More than eighty times in the Bible, God tells someone "Don't be afraid," usually translated as "Fear not.” God said it to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob. God said it four times to Joshua in God’s first speech to him after the death of Moses. God said it to each of the prophets, and told them to tell others the same thing. Don’t be afraid. It was the angel’s first words to Jesus’ mother, Mary and over and over, Jesus said that same thing to the disciples.
Don’t be afraid. They are great words that most often produce really lousy results. Don’t be afraid, this needle that I’m sticking into your gums will only feel like a pinch. Okay, but let me pinch your gums, first. Don’t be afraid, I’m sure you will do just fine driving on that really shiny black ice. “It’s probably nothing.” says the doctor on a Friday, beginning an incredibly long weekend waiting for a biopsy report. But all those items have a direct object in fear. Whether it’s pain, a risk or a test, those are real, subjects that can elicit fear, and we can understand the need for those fears, as well as for our need to endure them.
As Marcus Roskamp says, creator of this idea of a sermon series on fear, “We like explanations for what happens in our lives. Explanations give us a sense of control, a sense that we are directing the events of our days. When confronted with things that have no explanation, we get scared! We make up explanations, we try to fit them into categories so we don’t have to simply live with the mystery.” Roskamp says, “Jesus frees us from having to explain and understand everything we experience. He invites us to not always have to explain life, but sometimes to just simply experience it.”
How he ends that section is equally good: “We don’t have time to marvel at a baby’s birth, a child’s laugh, a photo of a far off galaxy, a bird in flight, a whale breaching, or a couple walking hand in hand. We become objects to ourselves – we are what we tweet – and not beloved children, mysterious, wonderful, and a little wild. “
But fear is such a good thief: distorting our ability to think clearly and evaluate risks. Fear shrinks our souls, making us more selfish, less charitable, less idealistic. Being afraid diminishes our humanity. With the dentist, it’s a momentary, concrete fear. Driving on icy roads is generally a speed issue, so it’s an exercise in patience, as is waiting on a medical report. But when an addict gets behind the wheel of a car or a scammer has no regard for others and honest work, or any other unexplainable thing occurs, we tend not to err on the joy side of life as much as the fear side - and most often, rightfully so.
Bruce Epperly, Pastor and Teacher at South Congregational Church in Centerville, Massachusetts, suggests that “the problem of our times is ecstasy deficit. We have become so busy about our own affairs that we have lost the vision of beauty. We have tamped down 1. wonder to consume, 2. prophesy to profit, 3. beauty to buy, and 4. awe to acquire. We focus on the literal word of scripture and deny its wonder.”
A face shining like the sun, clothes of dazzling white, a voice from a cloud? Mind-blowing! Astounding! Seriously? Of all the people available that day, Jesus chose Peter, James and John to witness - that day - rather than the day before or the day after. It’s sort of how I think about moments - often certainly when I’ve been there as a person breathed their last breath. Of all the people in the world, God picked me to be there that day, not the day before or the day after, but that day, and it changed my life forever. How about you - what things have you witnessed that were miraculous events? I wonder just how often God does that for us, and fear robs us of such miraculous living?
Fear of the unexplainable. If you boil it down, I think it is mostly a fear of death. We can explain the physics and the natural order of life, using chemistry and even embrace the idea of the luck of the draw. But we can still feel that discomfort, that awkwardness, so maybe it is a fear of death - or a kind of death? We will all die, but how will I die? Will it be with honor and dignity? Will it be peaceful or pain-racked? Will it be long and drawn-out or the blink of an eye? And what about those I love? I won’t be able to comfort them or do for them the things I know would bring them comfort. And what will it really be like - after this life thing here?
But maybe we cut our vision too short. Maybe - if it is a fear of death thing - we are focused only on the life of here-and-now. Tuesday night I attended the Buckley boys basketball game in Cadillac, and it isn’t a huge gymnasium by any stretch of the imagination. Someone said it holds somewhere around 2,000 people. But at the end of the game, when Bucklely won, the Buckley fans swarmed from their seats to the floor to engulf the players. And I mean swarm! It was like a big, massive hug - jumping up and down. And the thought occured to me - that’s what heaven will be like. Or a version thereof, at any rate. And if that’s where we cast our vision, then all this stuff in the here-and-now is so very different.
Physical pain can wear on us, and be inconvenient and limiting, but it’s just a little part of our eternal lives. All the “what-ifs, wouldas, couldas and shouldas” won’t make any more difference. All the waiting and fearing and projecting and anxiety will be dissolved into simply “being” - in God’s presence like no way we’ve been able to on this earth.
When you walk out of here today, the hip may not simply stop hurting, fears will not cease, worry will continue. But in this moment, we can remind ourselves to stop every-so-often, to put our head back, and to feel the wind on our face and to see the expanse of sky above us to remind us of the even greater expanse of eternity our life there when we go back home. We need not be encumbered with fears, especially of the unexplained, or even of the fear of death, because what is waiting for us is so much greater than we can even contemplate.
Most of you know that there are four photos on my office wall, of where I go fishing in Canada. They are there for ‘those days.’ But they are also there to remind me, to ‘travel’ to those places, to remember that they are there, regardless of how good or tough the day here is. So is it one of the reasons for coming to church; besides phenomenal sermons, of course. When we are together, and Jesus is present in our togetherness, and the Holy Spirit reminds us of the ecstasy of this life we get to live with each other, our strength is renewed, so we can mount up on wings like eagles; so we can run and not grow weary - even if it is figurative running, and we can walk and not be faint - even if it’s with a cane or walker.
Our world is so different from those who lived in Jesus’ day, what with technology and modernity and the like. But our innermost needs are still the same: to be loved and known and to know what will happen to us in the end. And the truth is that God is/has the answer to all of those questions/needs. All the rest - our loved ones, our families and friends, our lives and even this little place we think of as paradise - is bonus. The beauty and joy of this life is ours for the relishing and pleasure as gifts from the One who created us. So let give thanks.
Dazzling, Life-Giver and Sustainer, we thank you for the gifts that you give us - both in this life and in the one yet to come. We sometimes forget those gifts, and even turn away from them. So forgive us when our vision becomes so narrow that it excludes you. Forgive us when our lives seem to be so hard that we forget that you have all things in your hands - even if we don’t understand how that can be. Redeem us when our humanity outweighs our spirits and our footsteps become heavy. For the gifts that you give us in others - to remind us of you and our lives with you, we are grateful. For the times when our faith has been enough, we are glad. Help us through the valleys of fear and death and darkness, that we not stay too long in those places and that they enhance our mountaintop experiences of light. For these and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
March 12, 2017
Second Sunday in Lent
“Freedom of Fear: Fear of Circumstances”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Anthony Burgess, English writer and composer, once said, ”Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.” In her book, Bossypants, Tina Fey wrote, "Sleep when your baby sleeps. Everyone knows this classic tip, but I say why stop there? Scream when your baby screams. Take Benadryl when your baby takes Benadryl. And walk around pantless when your baby walks around pantless.” One can almost hear her voice, when Phyllis Diller said, ”Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.”
The gospel book of Mark starts out with John the Baptist’s baptisms and prophecy of Jesus’ coming. And quick as a wink, Jesus gathers the first disciples and gets on with his work: teaching, retreating, forgiving and eating with a tax collector of all things. The writer of Mark wastes no time in giving us a picture of a Jesus on the move, “harvesting” grain and healing on the Sabbath and other kinds of behavior that called for his own family and the teachers of the law to question his lucidity. Our passage this morning is preceded by Jesus telling parables about the sower, the growing seed and the mustard seed.
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, Luann. “Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was” - so much can be read into that. ‘Well, we might as well bring him along. Where else is he going to go?’ It also made me remember back to my high school days when I would do things like plan a kidnap breakfast for my friends. I always let the parents know I was coming, because I didn’t want to walk in on any a la natural sleepers - ‘just as they were’ - if you catch my drift.
“Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was.” So they didn’t trust him to be with the crowd? Was he too “depleated” to make his own decisions so they dragged him away for some shut-eye? As there were other boats, one might surmise that it was not going to be a quiet little float on the lake. Or was “just as he was” suggestive of a bad hair day or need of some personal care?
Our pew version says it was a “furious squall.” The New Living Translation called it a fierce storm. The New American Standard Bible said, “there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat.” For those who were here this week and went to the turn-around, you get a new appreciation of the wind from our passage - crashing over the break walls. And wouldn’t you just love to see what the Looney Tunes artists would have done with such a descriptions?
Perhaps it is a sign of the aging process, that in all the times I’ve read and heard this passage, the point of Jesus’ sleeping so deeply has never been “a thing.” Ask most anyone over the age of, say, 40, about how they slept last night, and I’d bet you’d get a lot of eye-rolling and groans. Granted, Jesus was not yet 35 when this event took place, but even if there wasn’t lightening and thunder, surely a “furious” squall would at least rouse him a little with a few droplets of water if not the rocking of the boat itself! When we have those hard-to-sleep nights, what wouldn’t we give to sleep like Jesus that day?
None of the fishing disciples would have read Sebastian Junger’s best-selling book or seen the movie “The Perfect Storm.” But experienced sailors of most any era know that on any body of water, there comes a point where physics takes over and sailors are helpless to do anything about it. If a boat heads into a wave that is higher than the boat is long, the boat will almost certainly “pitchpole,” which means go end over end to its doom. 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. Without being physicists, the disciples had to have understood that there are situations in which one cannot keep a boat afloat in certain conditions, and this sounds like one of those situations.
I wondered if perhaps it was as a warning - as much as for fear - that the disciples roused Jesus. If the boat was going to capsize, at least he could get a good breath of air before it rolled. The disciples’ remark, however, doesn’t leave much room for doubt, tho. In fact, if nothing else, their words indicate that they understood Jesus had a power that was far beyond their expertise. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” implies that they understood that Jesus had the ability to stop the storm if he wanted to.
Even so, having this person in the boat, who could stop the storm if he wanted, still didn’t alleviate the disciples’ fears. I think most all of us, regardless of any training we might have, in a similar situation, might do exactly as the disciples did - because we’re human and life happens. We don’t necessarily become overwhelmed and intimidated looking at a mountain. But if we’re on the mountain, and we lose a foothold or drive too close to the edge or ignore the bear scat signs or any of the mirade of other danger signs, we can easily become overwhelmed, intimidated, and dare I say, scared.
Even if we try to be wise and practical and reasonable and all the other good ways mature adults are supposed to be or do, sometimes things happen, circumstances happen, and we find we’ve gotten ourselves in a fine mess - as Laurel Hardy was apt to say.
Speaking of, Woody Allen once said, "The lion and the calf shall lie down together, but the calf won't get much sleep.” And Ray Romano, from ‘Everyone Loves Raymond,” said, "Everyone should have kids. They are the greatest joy in the world. But they are also terrorists. You'll realize this as soon as they are born and they start using sleep deprivation to break you.”
Whether it’s a child’s illness or accident, our own or someone we love and care about, when circumstances get ugly, it is a natural reaction for fear to creep in. But is it just a simple case of fear? Is there a deeper fear under whatever circumstance comes on us? Is there more to simple fear?
When the disciples said “don’t you care if we drown,” I wonder if it was ultimately the cry of doubt and abandonment. Such cries are all over the Psalms. “Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.” (Ps. 4)
After hundreds and hundreds of years, and despite example after example of “God with us” in the Bible, going back to before the creation of human beings, it is still a cry repeated in so many ways in the midst of the terrors and distresses of our world today. If you distill those fears down a little further, you get at an even bigger question - I think “the BIG question. “If God is so great and powerful a creator, if God really cares about this world, then why do events in the world and in my life go so badly.” The trite and ready response is either God has no power, or God does not care for us or the creation.
We might not label it as such, but “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown” is a form of prayer. Not the kind that starts off as Dear God, and ends with Love, Me, but it’s still prayer. And it was answered.
Like it or not, despite their similarities, there is a difference between fear and faith. In fear, there can be chaos and possibly the feeling of being orphaned; without the power of God. In faith, it may still seem like chaos, sadness or that which is raining down on us and whipping up the waves of distress around us. In faith, regardless of how we might feel or what we might be thinking, we are not alone, so we are not orphans, and the One who created us loves us too much to interfere with our free will.
Whether it’s the weight of the world, or the wart on our big toe, for whatever reason, too often we ride around in the boat of faith with our heads down, oblivious to one degree or another, of God’s presence. And even when we realize the fear and the simultaneous presence of God, do we ask what the disciples ask at the end of today’s passage. After Jesus stopped the storm, “They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” which is I think a different sort of fear than that of abandonment. Even after a miracle has been performed right in front of them, the disciples are still afraid.
David Lose, from davidlose.net, wondered about “how often we tend to domesticate miracles, using the word to describe all manner of things that merit our attention and appreciation but that are not, finally, truly miraculous. Citing Leif Enger’s book, Peace Like a River, Rev. Lose went on to press that distinction: Real miracles bother people, like strange sudden pains unknown in medical literature. It’s true: They rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in. Lazarus obeying orders and climbing up out of the grave — now there’s a miracle, and you can bet it upset a lot of folks who were standing around at the time” because if that happened to Lazarus, what would happen to me and all the extrapolations of one miracle becoming usual?
If you have occasion to realize that you’ve been hanging around with God all along, then what else does that mean? If God’s been in your boat all along, then maybe God has been able to read your mind and know your thoughts, to see those things we’d rather God not see.
I wish we could have some indication of the way Jesus replied to the disciples: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Because it could be taken as Jesus being angry with the disciples. Or it could be taken compassionately or invitingly. And maybe, in the end, the way he said it doesn’t really matter, because what really does matter is how often we tap into the power of God, the Holy Spirit of God, that is not only in our boats, but in our immediate areas, in our storms and in our smooth sailing and in our breath.
When Jesus sent the Holy Spirit that day of Pentecost, it wasn’t just to the disciples, or to the house where they were meeting that day. The Spirit wasn’t just sent to those folks back then, but to all of us, throughout time, for tapping into and embracing. There is no moment in our lives when God’s presence is withheld from us. We may not always remember it so quickly, so completely, but it’s always there/here. Regardless of our human temptations and default settings, God never goes away or puts us off at arms length. God may, like any good parent, shake God’s head and perhaps shrug God’s shoulders, but God never stops loving us, regardless of our humanity, our struggles and our predispositions. For such a presence, let us take a moment to pray.
Loving and Honorable God, we thank you for loving us, regardless of our default settings. Thank you for calming our storms, even when it may not look like it, and for your presence, even when we may forget it is right next to us, in our very breath. Help all of us to walk more attentively this week, recognizing your presence and power that is always at the ready. Help each of us to be able to look at our lives, for what is real and not be afraid of our humanity. And help each of us honor that part of you that is each of those we meet. For all your love and mercy and presence and care, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
March 5, 2017
First Sunday after Lent, New Member Sunday
“The Fear of Inadequacy”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Because of the famine of jokes that deal with today’s topic, you’ll have to put up with a plain, funny offering that has little, if anything, to do with the morning message.
The famous Olympic skier Picabo Street (that is her real name, pronounced Pee-Ka-Boo) is not just an athlete...she is now a nurse, currently working at an Intensive Care Unit of a large metropolitan hospital. She is not permitted to answer the hospital telephones any longer. It caused too much confusion when she would answer the phone and say, Picabo, I.C.U.
I think that a sermon series is a good thing to do during the season of Lent, because A. it can allow for more time on a particular topic that might not otherwise happen, and B. if it’s a bad series, it makes the Easter resurrection all the better. So the theme for this year’s series came from a journal called “Reformed Worship,” a publication that tends to have some really creative ideas.
The theme is that of freedom from fear. There are so many fears in the world: from alligators and monsters under the bed - to all the phobias - to all those fears we don’t even know we harbor. Many of us were raised to ignore or discount fears, so the topic of such may seem a little removed. Except that I think you may “find yourself” more often than you think in the weeks and passages and messages ahead. At least, I hope that’s where God will lead all of us.
Our scripture passage for this morning is one that was written by a Gentile to a Gentile audience, who tended to focus on Jesus’ humanity, while other gospel writers focused on other audiences and foci. When listening to and creating the mental scene of this passage, it is easy to see how it was rumored that the apostle Luke was a painter. At any rate, up to this chapter, Luke has shared the prophetic birth announcements of John the Baptist and Jesus, Mary’s and Zechariah’s songs, Jesus’ baptism, his temptation in the wilderness, his inaugural sermon and rejection at Nazareth, and a series of healings.
To guide your listening, there will be a question that will follow the reading of this morning’s passage, and the question is, “what fears to you see in this passage?”
1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Thank you, Jim. So, what fears do you see in this passage? **** Thank you all for your contributions.
Arland J. Hultgren, from workingpreacher.org, suggests that “The story of the church is reflected to some degree in this story itself. When Jesus calls, Peter is hesitant and thinks that what Jesus asks of him is both unnecessary and too demanding.” Which begs another question, “What, in your mind, does the church/God call us to do that is too demanding?” That may be a little too tender of a question to ask for answers from this - or any - gathering. But I suspect there are answers to that question that we’d just as soon avoid.
Interestingly, by doing what Jesus asked him to do, Peter experiences an epiphany of God. Not only does God sometimes fill our nets to overflowing when it seems least likely, but as it is so often, God is manifest in the ordinary, even seemingly unnecessary events of our lives. On top of that, despite the whinings and reluctances of individuals and the church at large, God’s purpose carries on.
The Rt. Rev. Robert Wright of day1.org grew up as a city boy not knowing much about fishing, which is sad for him. But he had his own interesting epiphany. He said, “Some people don’t catch fish because they refuse to go into deep water.”
While that is a good principle in general, I can tell you that sometimes, when you’re in the boat, on vacation, on a Sunday morning in Canada, and it’s just about time for the guest preacher to do his or her thing, and you are hanging out near the shore - in say, 18 inches of water - to get weeds off the motor - or whatever - an 18 inch walleye can be caught.
And sometimes there are 28 foot holes, just before you get to the perch pond, and there are always huge fish marking down there. But no matter what you throw down into that hole, no matter the time of day, you will not catch a thing. Just saying.
By-and-large, Rev. Wright is right; sometimes you have to trust - when you’re tired, when it seems ridiculous, when you’ve done all you thought you could do. And besides, fishing is only the metaphor for grasping the deeper points of life.
Rev. Wright pointed out that “Deep water is where the increase is. Deep water takes faith. Deep water is a risk. Focus of mind and heart are needed. The visibility in deep black water is next to nothing. You've got to trust the words and directions of others who have passed through deep water to make it there. Jesus is always inviting people to the deeper end of things. Shallow water is pleasant. It tickles our ankles when we walk in it. The minnows and the half-grown fish gather there. You can see all the way to the bottom in shallow water.”
Too often we think we don’t have what it takes to do that sort of fishing, faithing, risking. Sometimes we feel inadequate in our night vision, in our trust, and ability to “see” in the dark. Sometimes it feels good, after we’ve been on a fishing trip of faith, to sit on the couch of complacency, liking our solitude and the safety of shallow water living - even catching our breath. And yes, even Jesus went away once-in-awhile to rejuvenate from a particular time.
I wonder if it “counts,” giving a sermon without fishing stories? Anyway, so when we were in the boat “going out” to fish for the day across the big lake, who knew that it would be blowing like a banshee on the trip home? Even if we could have received a weather forecast, would we have changed our plans? Even though we were swimmers, if the boat turned over, and fell down the 6-8 feet, the shallowness causing for greater waves, we’d still have to figure out a way to get the gear back, and the boat and motor back, and that may have been days away, if we couldn’t do it ourselves. So then one has to add those costs to the trip. Even if the seats were swapped, so that the more experience boater would drive, Murphy’s Law says that the temptation of fate and flipping the boat is increased by 1,000 percent.
But once you get across all the waves and pounding and bouncing and spraying of water, and you go around the bend that narrows the lake into a river, and the water is calm, you may need a moment to let the motor idle, to breath and to cry the tears of pent-up anxiety. But you aren’t home. And by golly, now that you’ve made it this far, you’re going to finish the trip or else….
The creator of this series, “Freedom from Fear,” is a gentleman named Marcus Roskamp, pastor of Faith Reformed Church in Lynden, Washington. (If you look him up, he’s the one that looks like he’s all of 16 years old!) Anyway, he saw the fear of inadequacy in this passage from Luke. The more I thought about it, and perhaps as you think about it, you may see how much his insight makes sense.
Because isn’t it a perceived inadequacy that plagued the “greats” from the Bible? Abraham’s perceived inadequacy was that he was too old to be of use to God. Elijah was suicidal, Joseph was abused and Job went bankrupt. Moses had a speech problem, Samson was a womanizer and Rahab was a harlot. The Samaritan Woman was divorced, Noah got drunk, Jeremiah was young and Jacob was a cheater. David was a murderer of all things, Jonah ran from God and Peter denied Christ - not once, not twice but three times. And God still had plans for him. Martha was a worry wart, Zaccheaus was small and was money hungry, all the disciples fell asleep in the garden, and Paul - even the great Paul - persecuted Christians before becoming one.
Even with all those examples of God overcoming an individual’s perceived inadequacies, we still fall to our own special ones. So added to those perceptions, we have guilt for past failures and pain and despair about the future, which is created and sustained by perceived past failures, and the circle goes on.
So many of our fears feed off of other fears, especially fears of inadequacy. People can be afraid of their child’s well-being, but behind that fear is the fear of wondering if they were raised well enough. Economic fears can trigger the fear of inadequacy in worry over wise saving, purchasing and investment. Hidden pasts can feed inadequacy, because what if people find out, will they think me to still be good enough to be my friend. Will I still be of enough value that they would “keep” me?
There is, ironically, a value in feelings of inadequacy - if you want to fish for it. It can drive us to God. When we figure out the feeling - of trying to do God’s will in our own strength - we can rely more on God’s Spirit to hold us up and to reflect strength and adequacy back to us. Even way back in the book of Genesis, Joseph - of the many colored coat fame - had a stroke of wisdom, which basically says that whatever we humans may do or think, God intends good to “accompany what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” On top of all that, when God’s adequacy shines through, God can get the glory - so we don’t have to carry the burden of holding that glory rightly or correctly or regally or whateverly, and so it allows us to live in contentment.
A boy and his father were walking through the woods together. They came across a large log, blocking their path. The boy turned to his father and said, “Do you think I can lift this log, Dad?” The father replied, “If you use all your strength, absolutely you can.” The boy rolled up his sleeves, bent his knees, and got his hands under the log. He locked his arms and heaved with every ounce of strength he had. But the log wouldn’t budge. He tried over and over again until at last, exhausted and breathless, he gave up.
He looked at his dad with disappointment and frustration and said, “You told me I could lift it!” His dad smiled and said gently, “I told you you could lift it if you used all your strength. You didn’t ask me for help.” So the boy asked his dad to help him and together, they lifted the log out of their path.
Your strength isn’t held by you alone, but also from God and by the people who walk alongside you. When you feel unequal to the task in front of you, perhaps it is simply because you aren’t using all your strength.
Maybe Peter’s great fear was that he would be inadequate to whatever Jesus was calling him to do. But he hadn’t had time to really understand and experience the adequacy of Jesus’ words, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you have a purpose.” And maybe we are all in the “still learning” place of what it means when Jesus tells us, “Don’t be afraid. I have a purpose for you, and you are more than adequate for that purpose. Trust me.” So for this first week of Lent, let us pray for our belief in what God has promised us, that it may fuel our inadequacies with adequacy and contentment.
Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our fears, especially fears of inadequacy, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.