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June 22, 2018, 12:00 AM

Fear Factor


by Sandy Bach

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  (Mark 4:35-41 NRSV)

"Teacher, don't you care...?"

We ask that question all too often.

"I'm sick of being sick.  Don't you care?"

"Life holds no meaning for me. Don't you care?"

"I can't face another day of trying to make ends meet.  Don't you care?"

"I'm dying.  Don't you care?"

Life's issues have the potential of leaving us breathless with fear and anxiety.  "Jesus, don't you care?  Why are you asleep?"

Fear is the operative word here.  There's plenty to fear in our life journey: illness, loneliness, job-related issues, rejection, money issues, failure, death.  Storms come and go just as they did on the Sea of Galilee.  They come up quickly, disturbing and frightening and agitating, only to pass on to some sort of peace and quiet.  Until the next big storm brews.

Fear is a much talked about subject in the Bible.  The phrase, "do not fear," appears 58 times in the Bible.  There are no phrases that say, "nothing to be afraid of."  That's because there's plenty to be afraid of.

Jesus knows all about fear.  He walked with us for a time, watching us cower from storms and lashing waves.  Jesus didn't fear, though.  Notice he's asleep in the stern.  It's an almost comical scene: Jesus asleep on a cushion, smiling a bit as he rests up from a tiring day. The scene switches to the outside where the boat is being tossed about, the wind is howling, water is coming in the boat faster than the disciples can bail it out.  They shout instructions to each other and can't be heard for the noise of the wind.

Finally, they get Jesus.  They could use another hand bailing out water.  And there they find him, sound asleep with not a worry in the world.  "Don't you care?! We're drowning out there!"

Jesus awakens and in a quick moment quiets the storm and hushes the wind.  Just like that.  As quickly as the storm arrived, it's gone and peace settles on the motley boats.  Wet and dripping, the disciples' mouths hang open and they stare at Jesus as if they've just met him for the first time.  And perhaps they have.  This man has power to heal sickness; he preaches and teaches with authority and eloquence.  There are others who can do that.  But, this particular man has power over creation.

"Who is this man?"

We can ask that question, as well.  Who is this man who came to earth as a fragile, baby?  Who is this man who defied Caesar and his minions?  Who is this man who brought common sense to God's word?  Who is this man who preached the good news of God's reign where there is no longer illness, death, lack of food, poverty or Caesars?  Who is this man who has power over storms?

The tree stood 55 to 60 feet tall.  It was way too tall for the yard and was showing signs of dying.  It was time to have it cut down before it came down on the houses nearby.  The only way to cut it down was with ropes and chain saws.  One man climbed the tree and three others were on the ground using ropes to guide the branches and limbs to safety.  Finally, the trunk was ready to cut.

They wrapped their ropes around it, the chain saws went to work and the trunk was ready to be laid down on the ground.  Suddenly a rope began to give.  One of the men yelled, "RUN!" and the foreman ran.  The tree missed him by inches.  On the ground lay a six-foot trunk some 36" in diameter, weighing not 100's but 1,000's of pounds.  It lay across the fire pit and a hedge, both utterly destroyed.  It missed the house by inches.

The men, so used to trees and the unpredictability of cutting them down, simply stared.  They couldn't move for a long time.  Fear set in at what could have happened.  The foreman missed injury and possible death; the workers also remained uninjured; the house was in tact.  The owner sent them home for the day, telling them not to return for a few days.  They needed time and some simple jobs to get through this experience.

That moment of fear was palpable.  It was real.  Someone could have died.  They will dream about it for a long time.  This isn't a time to say, "There's nothing to be afraid of."  Because there is plenty to fear.

Our faith speaks to fear.  It acknowledges that there's plenty to fear, but it doesn't have the final word.  We don't have to succumb to fear's power.

When the angels met the shepherds with news of the Messiah's birth, they said, "Fear not."  Emmanuel, "God with Us" had come to earth.  When the women were met at the empty tomb, the message wasn't, "There's nothing to be afraid of."  Fearsome issues weren't going to disappear.  But, Emmanuel, "God with Us" had conquered death.

The storms are out there and some of them have your name on them.  "Do not be afraid."  The sea will get rough and toss us about.  "Do not be afraid."  God is with us.

I'm reminded of Job who complained to God for many long chapters.  Finally, God spoke.  Out of a whirlwind, no less.  "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" (Job 38:2) And I'm put in my place as a human speaking with the all powerful God and I'm ready to listen.

I listen to Isaiah's message from God:

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.  (Isaiah 43:1-2a)

Isaiah clearly acknowledges that we pass through high waters and rivers and baptisms by fire.  The message is: "I am with you, a calming and peace-filled presence.  I will not dessert you."

I listen to Paul's words from his Letter to the Romans, one of his last as he faced execution:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.  (Romans 5:1-5  Italics mine)

"...suffering produces endurance...produces character...produces hope..."

Be not afraid, for Jesus has your back.

No matter what.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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