A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Responses to Fear: Fight, Flight, Fear and Faith? August 7, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on August 9, 2020 in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel “Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were 107: 1-3, 23-32
Matthew 8: 23-27

Fear is a powerful emotion. Psychologists suggest that we have three reactions to fear: fight, flight or freeze. I can tell you at some point in my life I have reacted in each of those ways at different times when I’ve been afraid but my “go to” is fight. That can sound aggressive and I suppose it can be, but my instinct is to tackle something that I fear head on. For me, I want to take care of it, get to a solution and move on. But that isn’t always the most helpful response. Sometimes, I should walk away, flight. There is nothing wrong with walking away from a situation that is dangerous for some reason. And there are times for pause, freeze. While that one might have some risk of being stuck in a constant state of uncertainty, pausing to think through a situation isn’t all bad either. Fear is a such a powerful emotion that it can cloud our judgment and cause us not see a situation clearly or from different perspectives. Fear can also convince us to worry only about ourselves.

It seems that there is plenty of fear to go around right now and much of it is justified. If you are feeling fearful, you’re in good company. And perhaps as the saying goes, if you’re not even a little afraid, you’re not paying attention. Fear indeed has quite a bit of power in our lives and community right now. And we’ve all witnessed one another’s responses to this fear and that variety can lead to more fear and anxiety. We are being swamped, whether on a community level: the coronavirus, racial tensions, the beginning of the school year, the rise in unemployment, homelessness, or food insecurity. Or on the individual level, it’s many of the above, plus fragile relationships, personal health, mental health, and more. We are afraid of sinking. We’re afraid that we will perish and we wonder why it seems that Jesus is asleep.

The disciples had risked quite a bit to follow Jesus. Leaving their families, livelihoods, security behind to support this itinerant preacher, teacher and healer who said that he was the Son of God, required bold courage. They mostly believed that Jesus was who he said he was, but at the same time they couldn’t quite wrap their heads around it. If it’s true who Jesus is, that’s frightening on a whole different level. And now here they are in a boat, on the sea of Galilee, a place notorious for fast moving, strong storms. When that does indeed occur, it doesn’t take much for the waves to take over their vessel, and drowning in these storms was common. Fear gripped them. Had they risked everything only to die in the sea? We don’t know how the disciples reacted, who froze, fought, or tried to flee. But I would think flight wouldn’t have been much of an option. But what we do know is after it was clear that their responses weren’t working, they called out to the sleeping Jesus, who was ostensibly completely oblivious to the situation.

Jesus response to the disciples’ fear is telling. He doesn’t tell them to not be afraid but asks them why they are afraid. He doesn’t dismiss their fear but acknowledges it. Jesus knows that human fear is real, for Jesus is human after all. But then Jesus offers them another response to fear besides fight, flight, or freeze…that is faith. He says that they have little faith, but perhaps that is all the disciples, and we, need in times of fear. Jesus then speaks a word of rebuke to the storm and the winds and the sea become dead calm, we read.

What does it mean to have faith in the midst of our fear? That might be different for each of us, just as we each have an innate response to fear. Throughout the gospels Jesus talks about faith: praising people for faith, telling parables of faith, admonishing those with no faith. As Lutherans, we acknowledge that faith is not of our own doing or striving but is a gift from God. Jesus exemplifies this as God’s gift of God’s presence with humanity. Faith is a relationship with God, faith is our life vest in the midst of storms, its what we cling to when we don’t know what else to do. Faith is clinging to God and God clinging to us.

Jesus knows the power that fear can have over us. Jesus wants us to know the power of God’s faith that God desires for us. God’s gift of faith is more powerful than our fear. God’s gift of faith buoys us and helps us to respond in fearful situations by not curving in on ourselves and becoming insular. God’s gift of faith frees us to use our fight, flight, or freeze response to care for our neighbor and their well-being and not only ourselves. God’s gift of faith frees us to see how we might weather the storm and frees us to see God’s power at work in the world. God’s gift of faith lifts our eyes above the waves to see that this storm too shall pass. God’s gift of faith reveals to us who Jesus is, God’s love and power in our lives and in the world that never leaves us alone and is always in our boat no matter how vicious the storm.

Fear is a powerful emotion and we give thanks that Jesus proclaims that God’s gift of faith is even more powerful and holds us forever. Amen.

 

“Let us go to the other side” Mark 4: 35-41 Year B, Pentecost, June 21, 2015 June 19, 2015

*I am posting my sermon early as this is also what is ricocheting around in my soul after hearing about the senseless act committed in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Wednesday June 17th. May God have mercy on us all.  

“Let us go across to the other side.” These words of Jesus are ones that the disciples will never forget. With these words, their lives, perspectives, worldviews, and what they thought was foundational truth would be shattered. These disciples knew the Sea of Galilee, knew it quite well, I mean some of these disciples were fishermen. Boats, water and sailing, this they had down! Seemed simple enough in that moment; get it in the boat, like they had hundreds or maybe even thousands of times before. But this time was different, they were going all the way to the other side. The other side where the Gentiles lived, the people whom the disciples had heard their whole lives were unclean, not part of God’s chosen people, weird, different, excluded or maybe even scary. The disciples had no idea that on the other side would be a man possessed by a spirit named Legion because there many demons inside this man. The very kind of person their mothers had warned them about.

Jesus did not ask them to go to the other side, it wasn’t a question or an invitation; it was a command, a statement of what was happening. The disciples were going to the other side whether they liked it or not. This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus, going where there is uncertainty, uncomfortableness, confrontation of their biases and the possibility of being changed forever.

“Let us go to the other side.” How many of us can resonate with that statement of fact in our lives? How many of us have gone to the other side in our lives whether we liked it or not; pushed through a door that we did not want to walk through because we knew that it would be hard? Maybe it was a cancer diagnosis, a job loss, a revelation of a secret from a family member or friend, an unexpected or untimely death of a loved one, or the sacred in your life being shattered. Or maybe “going to the other side” means that as a community you have not had a permanent pastor longer than you wanted, as much money as you wanted, as many members, or had to figure out how to live together in the midst of diversity of thought and opinion?  Going to the other side in our lives is inevitable. It usually encompasses being caught in a storm and wondering if Jesus cares at all that we feel scared, alone, hurting, grieving and struggling, perishing and trying to figure out what is going on.

“Let us go to the other side.” Going to the other side is often stormy. The waves crash and threaten to drown us in fear. This going to the other side hardly seems worth it or meaningful, why is Jesus sending us where we don’t want to go? This week in our nation we learned the consequences of not going to the other side when Jesus commands it. Out of fear of who could be on the other side of the sea, a young man (whom we also pray for as a beloved child of God) walked into a Bible study, sat with other brothers and sisters of Christ and heard about God’s love for all for an hour and then decided that fear overruled that love of God for everyone and nine children of our loving God were killed for no other reason than fear from the color of their skin. This young man was raised in the ELCA church. Two of the pastors studied at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. This young man’s sin is our sin.

We have to recognize as a predominately white denomination that we have to do better. We have to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of different races and genders, who are LBGTQI, who socio-economically do not have a voice, and all who are on the margins of our society and culture. We must truly welcome everyone into the body of Christ, for ALL of us have fallen short because Jesus’ grace, love and mercy are for ALL people, in all times and in all places, no matter what, no conditions or qualifications.  I don’t think that it’s just an aside that Mark adds the sentence, “Other boats were with him. (Jesus)” We are the body of Christ, we are all gathered on the sea to go to the other side with this Jesus who radically proclaims:  “Let us go to the other side where people who are different than us and people whom we don’t understand live. For I am coming to the other side for all people, for God comes to all of you no matter what.” Jesus brings all of us with him in his boat and on the same sea to be the voice for the voiceless, to bring healing to those who are possessed by fear, to say no more violence toward any of God’s children anywhere in the world, and to love no matter how afraid or uncomfortable we ourselves might be. I want to be clear, this isn’t about being a liberal or a conservative or whatever labels we like to give ourselves and define ourselves with. This is about all of us living in our primary “label” as a child of God. That is the only label that matters because Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter.

I stand before you a white person, a white preacher in a predominately white and upper class church and I admit my sin and guilt in all the ways that I have not acknowledged my privilege and leveraged it for the lifting up of my brothers and sisters. I confess that I don’t even fully understand all of the privilege I possess as a white, middle class, heterosexual, well-educated woman. I confess that I have looked at other people through eyes of fear and not through the eyes of God. I confess that I have shied away from proclaiming this before now out of fear of offending someone or losing status. The events of this week make it very clear to me that I, that we, must get in the boat and go to the other side with Jesus no matter how uncomfortable or scared we are. We lament, which is a call to action, with our brothers and sisters. We hold them in prayer, but we alsolook for ways to change the system of hate with the love of Jesus; we know it’s not just enough to go to church because we are called through our baptisms to BE the church-the people of God revealing and PARTICIPATING in the reconciling work of Jesus in the world. God, who is faithful and just, forgives us our sin and declares all is being made new! Live in that newness with one another!

“Let us go across to the other side.” Jesus didn’t say that it would be easy, without storms or without fear. But Jesus does promise to be with us, to speak the words “Peace! Be Still!” not just to the stormy sea around us, but will speak those words TO US and to all of humanity as well.  I believe that Jesus was with the people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Wednesday night. I don’t like it, but I believe that Jesus is with Dylann Roof.  We don’t always like getting in the boat with Jesus and everyone whom Jesus loves and go to the other side. But in the crossing is transformation. The transforming unconditional love, grace and mercy that Jesus has for all people brings us to the other side. When we reach that shore, we recognize that God is already there at work, loving, healing and drawing all people into God’s arms to be one people on the sea, even a stormy sea, with Jesus. We can’t grasp this amazing love but the good news is that it grasps us because Jesus cares very much that we are perishing in our own hate, fear and self-protection.

We, like the disciples, will always wrestle with the question, “Who then is this?” This Jesus defies our labels, our personal agendas and opinions, moves us from fear into love, stills our storms, is in our boat, is in the boat with those different from us, is with those who are being killed and killing, is weeping with those who grieve, is sending us to the other side with God’s love and mercy and promises to be with us always. So may these words, “Let us go to the other side with Jesus” be words that we, too like the disciples, never forget. Amen.

We pray for the families of Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Ethel Lance, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Myra Thompson, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Daniel Simmons, and Susie Jackson.

We also pray for the family of Dylann Roof.

We pray for us all.