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.