Trinity 3 Fear and Faith
A sermon preached by Clare Heard at St George's Church on Sunday 21 June , 10am
Trinity 3 Year B – Fear and Faith
I’ve never been to the sea of Galilee – but I’m told it’s more of a big lake, 13 miles long, 8 miles wide, it’s surrounded by mountains and hills, it’s very beautiful and, when calm, very peaceful.
But then there can be sudden changes, because of the surrounding mountains storms can suddenly erupt without much warning. One moment it’s beautiful and peaceful, the next stormy and terrifying.
In today’s gospel reading we find Jesus in a boat with disciples… and a big storm blows up. What would you have done if you’d been in that boat? I don’t know how many of you are keen sailors – frankly I’m fairly terrified of open waters, being out of sight of land, in the middle of enormous waves. If it had been me in the boat, I’d have panicked!
And this is a good illustration of life for many of us. We go happily along relatively smoothly and then something comes out of nowhere and knocks us sideways, and I’m guessing, if you are anything like me, the first reaction is panic.
I love the readings today because they link together so beautifully to address questions of fear and faith.
Firstly in Job, we get a message of God clearly telling us that we cannot possibly conceive or understand his glory. He is so beyond our understanding that we are foolish to even try.
Now this doesn’t mean that all scientific activity should cease. But it does mean we need to allow space in our understanding of the universe for something else – something that we can’t explain, something that doesn’t come down to facts, evidence and proof. This clearly goes against the culture of enlightenment, progress and rationale argument.
Sociologist Max Weber describes the ‘iron cage of rationality’ that we have constructed which expects all our decisions and beliefs about truth to be based on rational argument and scientific evidence.
But what do we really understand by truth, what has culture taught us, how often do we remember that God is the truth and the light as this poem by Godfrey Rust captures….
Four truths (Godrey Rust)
The poorest truth is logical.
Picks its way through stumbling blocks.
When it meets a paradox
bangs its head against a wall.
The second is poetical.
Steps aside where logic sticks
Swaps around the building bricks.
Has no plan at all.
The third is metaphorical,
the most that we can understand,
snapshots of the promised land.
Jesus spoke in parable.
The last truth is the best of all;
purpose yet to be revealed,
paradox to be unsealed.
This will take the curtain call.
God is truth and we do not understand it.
We need to hold on to the mystical, the otherness of God. We need to retain the awe of a creator that is so beyond our comprehension that we can only wonder.
We need to remember that in the Bible, most people who come into contact with God fall on their faces before him. God is awesome and he is terrifying – If you’ve ever read CS Lewis’s the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe you may remember Mr and Mrs Beaver telling the children that Aslan is a Lion, at which point they become nervous and question whether he is safe….
At which point Mrs Beaver says – “anyone who can appear before [him] without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly”. And to quote Mr Beaver – “of course he isn’t safe, but he’s good”.
So this is what we need to remember, in spite of being awesome and terrifying, God is also gracious and loving – he is good.
And this brings us onto our second reading – we are reminded that God listens and helps us.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we avoid hardships – Paul makes it quite clear that we will endure all sorts of afflictions and hardships. But we will endure. And we will endure by holding onto the fruits of the spirit of love, truthfulness, patience, kindness – and most importantly, the power of God. Because God is with us and he is listening.
However, going back to Job, we may not necessarily understand what God is doing or how he is working in any particular difficult situation.
Sometimes when we look back, we can see where God was…but not always – sometimes we just won’t understand.
Paul finishes by extolling us to open our hearts. And this is necessary because when we are suffering, we can often turn in on ourselves and put up the shutters. We hide away, withdraw and close ourselves off from the love of God and neighbour. We panic…which brings us on to our gospel reading.
The disciples are happily following Jesus across the lake on a peaceful sea when a storm hits and terrifies them. They fear for their lives, and Jesus is asleep. So they panic.
I wonder how often God might seem asleep to us when we are going through hard times or when we look at the sufferings of the world.
I wonder whether, like the disciples, we call out to him – but maybe for us, he appears to stay asleep – nothing seems to happen.
In the gospel reading Jesus wakes up and calms the storm – but even once he has done this, the disciples are still scared – who is this person who can calm storms? This isn’t normal!
So the disciples were firstly scared of the storm, and then they were scared because Jesus calmed the storm, and Jesus asks them…why are you afraid? I think this question is worth asking of ourselves. Why are we afraid?
Some things are simply frightening, and it is only human for us to respond to them with fear. But it’s one thing for us to feel fear, and it’s another thing for us to live in fear. Too often, we don’t just feel fear, we turn it into something that occupies our whole lives.
We let it move in and take up residence. We turn it into a giant, category-five storm that sends us running for cover and cowering in bunkers.
When fear has too much power over our lives it causes us to behave in anyway we can to cling on. We can become incredibly selfish, childish, and even angry and bitter when things don’t go the way we hoped they would. I see this within myself and within my children – fear causes us to behave in sometimes quite appalling ways! In panicking, we can forget all about God, or alternatively cease to have any faith in him and try and take on the problem ourselves.
We are all afraid, and in many cases rightly so – we should fear or at least have a deep sense of reverence/ awe before God, it is reasonable to fear the loss of loved ones, but we need to make sure that fear does not take control of our lives.
What seems to matter is what we do in spite of that fear. Can we hold onto our faith in Jesus when faced with the storms of life?
And I think this is why Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith. His response is not to tell them all will be well, but to lay into them for not having enough faith.
This is a tough message – it is not saying that Jesus will always be there to calm the storms – it is saying – we need faith, even in the midst of the storms.
Jesus asks us to hold onto a basic trust in God no matter what. We may believe in a God of love, but the real challenge is to entrust our lives into the care of this loving God—especially when we’re afraid.
The only way to do this is to let go whatever it is we’re afraid to lose—whether our health, our financial security, our relationships, our even our very life. If the essence of fear is trying to control, the essence of faith is letting go.
Yesterday I was at a conference looking at Ageing and the lecturer mentioned a time when he had interviewed Gerard Hughes about his experience of ministering to the elderly. Gerard Hughes had said that he had experienced two kinds of people. Those who, as they age, become full of fear of the unknown and infinite God and so close in on the finite, on themselves and their own experience. Whilst others, open themselves up to the infinite and mystery and so move beyond the fear of the finite.
And I think this is what Paul is getting at. Because when we can do that—when we can let go and accept the mysterious and the infinite, we find the fruits of the spirit, peace, and contentment, and even joy taking the place of fear—regardless of our circumstances.
This is clearly not easy. The challenge is to look beneath the fear and see the sustaining hand of the God of grace and mercy, even when life’s twists and turns are frightening. That’s something that we have to do day by day, hour by hour, sometimes even moment by moment.
Faith is not a magic charm that somehow protects us from loss or hardship or catastrophe. Faith is basic trust—trust in the God who says, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). [Footsteps poem]
Leaving the crowd behind and following Jesus does not guarantee us, as individuals or as a church, a storm-free life, and we, like the disciples and the Psalmists, may sometimes find ourselves crying out, "Wake up! Do you not care?"
Even for us, who have been told the end of the story, which the disciples in their storms do not, holding onto our faith is a challenge. But doing so can put us in a position to experience the stilling of our storms, the restoration of the broken and the marginalized, and the transformation of death to life.
If we can hold onto the mysterious otherness of God, if we can let go of our fears and have faith in the God who is so much more than we can ever comprehend, then we may experience something of the joy and peace that Jesus gives.
So today I pray that we would all have the courage to start letting go of our fears, and to look beyond ourselves to the God whose very nature is to create, sustain and redeem. Let us open ourselves up and have faith.
Ref Meda Stamper, Alan Brehm