Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why are you fearful?

Proper 7B                                                                                                    
Mark 4:35-41, Charleston Massacre

“A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already swamped.”

Here on the coast you probably know quite a bit about windstorms. I imagine there have been plenty of nor’easters that have slammed through here. To be out on the sea in the middle of one… Have you seen the movie “The Perfect Storm”? Terrifying. A friend told me I’m not allowed to say I saw it because I spent over half of it with my eyes covered.

In our reading from Mark’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee when the storm hits. Now these wouldn’t have been small boats. A little wind isn’t going to bother them.  Storms on the Sea of Galilee, though, tend to be sudden and ferocious. Caught in the middle of it - at night, yet - they are understandably afraid. If professional fishermen are frightened, there’s good reason.

This week we’ve been having a storm in this country. Wednesday night’s massacre in the church in Charleston sent us all reeling. It is staggering to think about the depth of hatred that would permit someone to sit for an hour in a Bible study and then shoot the participants. This is EVIL. Not tragedy. Not mental illness. Evil. We don’t talk a lot about evil, but if ever it needed to be named, it’s now. Racism is evil. Hatred is evil. Most of the time it’s better hidden, but the end game is still death. Even in subtle forms, it destroys us all, wears us down. Over time, drops of water created the Grand Canyon. As a friend of mine put it, events like these are more like squalls that are part of a much larger storm system.*

Events like this induce fear. 

But there is fear, and then there is fear. 

In our reading, when the storm hits, Jesus is sound asleep, no doubt exhausted from the crowd they’ve just left behind. And he just keeps on sleeping. Along with exhaustion, he must have had a sense of deep trust – trust in his friends’ abilities with their boats, and trust in God.  So after they wake him and he calms the storm, he asks them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

To which my initial reaction is, “Seriously, Jesus?”

What you can’t tell from our translation is the exact shade of fear Jesus is referring to here. He’s not talking about that gut-level reaction we have, a physical fight-or-flight reaction or the sense of danger that tells us something is really wrong. That’s a protective mechanism God gave us, a signal. If we were never afraid, we’d all go do really stupid things.

When Jesus asks them why they’re afraid, he’s using a word more like our word “fearful,” a word that refers to the kind of fear that makes us timid, causes us anxiety, makes us avoid problems. It’s a lack of courage, a state of fearfulness, not simply an instinctive response to danger. It’s like my hiding behind my hands during the movie, only in real life.

When Jesus says, “Have you still no faith?” he’s not implying that they should have sat calmly and assumed God would tow the boat to the other side without incident. One commentary on this passage states, “From the rebuke (“fearful”) it is clear that faith in Mark (which is the proper response to the gospel…) is not simply intellectual conviction, but also trust in God along with bold action when faced with serious threats to life and well-being.”[i]

And this is where the rubber hits the road–or the oar hits the water, as the case may be.
We are called to a faith that leads to action. This can be difficult. Frightening, in fact.

Responding in faith to the storm of evil we’ve seen this week will take courage.  What this looks like in each of us will depend in part on our personality and our history.
For some of us, it will be the courage not to give up after a long struggle, while for others of us it will be the courage seriously to consider the issue of racism for the first time.

For some of us, it will be the courage to speak up, especially when we hear racist remarks or denials of the problem from a friend. Those of us who are accustomed to speaking up, on the other hand, may need courage to keep quiet and learn instead of taking charge.

Some will need courage in order to risk expressing anger, while others will need it simply to face anger and listen to it. 

Standing up for what is right takes courage. So does admitting we are wrong and need to repent. 

Only faith brings this kind of courage. Whether we experience the vulnerability of speaking up or the vulnerability of opening our hearts along with our ears, we need the kind of faith that will allow us to move forward. We need to trust God enough to risk opening conversations about racism that will make most of us wildly uncomfortable. We’re not going to do it perfectly. We might not even do it well, but it beats not doing it at all. This violence is smacking us in the face – and some people in their very sanctuaries – and we can’t pretend it’s someone else’s problem. On Father’s Day especially we would do well to remember that we are all children of one Father. We are all permanently, intrinsically connected.

I’m not going to pretend I know what to do. Here’s what I do know:  Evil doesn’t go away on its own. I might like to cover my eyes as I did while watching “The Perfect Storm,” but hiding or denying its existence just gives evil more room to work. Jesus asks the disciples why they are so fearful.  If we’re disciples of Jesus, he’s asking us, too.

Let’s remember, then, that the story doesn’t stop here – not the story we read this morning – not the story we’re living now.  Jesus does shout down the storm – Peace! Be Still! And Mark says, “They were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” When we realize who, in fact, Jesus is, we remember that more is possible than we can imagine.  Who ever would have thought that South African apartheid could be dismantled without civil war? It’s still far from perfect, but what has happened seemed at one time far beyond the bounds of possibility. Archbishop Desmond Tutu knew otherwise. THAT is what I call faith.

And so this morning I’d like us all to ask God for the grace of trust, the trust that brings courage to take the boat out into deep waters.  There are storms, but Jesus is in our boat with us. With him, together, we can weather anything.

[i] Donohue & Harrington, Mark, Sacra Pagina, p. 159
* wish I could remember who posted this so I could give proper credit... 

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