Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why are you afraid? Mark 4:35-41

35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But 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?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” I can hear the disciples thinking, “Well hello. Giant storm. We could die. And how exactly were we supposed to know you could make it stop?” Really, what had Jesus done so far that would make the disciples think he could stop a storm?

According to Mark, up to this time, Jesus had shown himself to be an exceptionally talented healer and preacher. After his baptism and temptation he began to select his disciples, and those men had seen him cast out an unclean demon, heal Peter’s mother-in-law and lots of other sick and demon infested people at Peter’s house, cleanse a leper, heal a paralytic, heal a man’s withered hand. So many were coming to him with unclean spirits that he finally gave the Twelve authority to cast out demons. After establishing his bona fides with all this healing, he began to preach God’s healing forgiveness, telling many parables. He was undoubtedly a great preacher and a powerful healer.
In the history of Israel there had been many healers, many who had the God given power to cast out demons and lay healing hands on the sick. But this - power over the wind and the sea – this was way beyond the expectations of even those who followed him most closely. Moses and Elijah could do these things, but the disciples really didn’t know yet just who they were dealing with.

So when Jesus asked, “Why are you afraid?” the Disciples really had no reason to understand why he was asking this. And they were, I think, justified in their fear of the storm. Many of them were fishermen, and knew what the Sea of Galilee was capable of. These were brave men, accustomed to risking their lives as part of their daily work. I suspect the fishermen among them felt a bit superior to the landsmen – the ones who never risked themselves to the storms on the sea, but rather crawled around the edges where it was “safe.” Their fear in the storm was justified and really to be expected. Has anyone here ever been on a fishing boat on a really big body of water? Or been on a deep sea fishing trip and had the weather turn suddenly? Then you’ll know what I mean.

Friday night we went to see the new Star Trek movie. It is supposed to be the story of how James Kirk, Spock, Bones and all the other characters we know so well from the original TV series started out serving on the Enterprise. It’s an exciting movie, and as I watched I began to see some parallels between a well known Star Fleet Academy training exercise and this storm on the sea of Galilee.

In this training exercise, a civilian freighter named the Kobayashi Maru, is badly damaged and has sent out a Mayday. Unfortunately it is sitting in the middle of the Neutral Zone (No Mans Land) and any ship attempting to rescue it will immediately be surrounded by many enemy vessels with significantly greater firepower than the rescuer. To pass the test, the captain must get past the enemy without damage to his/her own vessel and complete the rescue. It was designed to be un-winnable. Its purpose was to cause the cadets to "experience fear in the face of certain death", and to learn to remain in control of themselves and their ship despite that fear.

No one had ever passed this test until Cadet James T. Kirk. He took the test three times, failing as he was intended to by the inflexible rules governing the encounter until he finally changed the rules. He reprogrammed the computer. Simply put, he cheated. Mind you, Kirk agreed that learning to continue despite one’s fear was an admirable and necessary lesson. He simply didn’t believe that there was such a thing as a no-win scenario. So the third time he took the test he sat in the captain’s chair calmly eating an apple while all around him the crew was watching as the danger continued to increase. They knew how the test had to turn out and couldn’t understand his disregard of the danger. But he knew the rules were different this time and was simply waiting for the right time to make his move. When that time came he calmly gave his commands.

Jesus calmly slept in the fishing boat while his disciples became more and more convinced this storm would be the end of them. When the moment was right he awoke and commanded the storm to be still. He was able ask his disciples, "Why are you afraid?" because he knew that the storm was no danger. The rules had changed. Indeed, the usual rules didn't even apply to him. With Jesus in the boat there was no danger.

With Jesus in the boat/our lives we don't have to let fear paralyze us because we know that the rules we are used to don't bind God. Whatever happens, we know we will be ok. As long as we have faith, we can get through whatever danger or turmoil or fears we have in our lives. 

There may be those who think that if God will take care of everything as long as we have faith, then we don’t have to do anything to help ourselves. We can just wait until God rescues us, calms the storm, changes the rules for us. After all, the rules don’t really apply to God, do they?

I should point out here that believing “as long as we have faith, whatever happens we will be ok”, is not exactly the same thing as believing that “if we wait, God will step in and make everything turn out the way we want it to be.” Returning to Star Trek imagery for a moment, at one point in the movie Kirk is marooned on an ice planet. His escape pod tells him there is a Federation outpost some 14 kilometers away but that it is dangerous to walk there and he should stay in the escape waiting to be rescued. Those who know the Star Trek stores will be aware that James Kirk is not very good at waiting to be rescued. He got out of the escape pod, climbed up out of the big hole in the ice it had created, and headed across the ice and snow in the right direction. On the way he was chased by a big animal which was then eaten by another big animal, and was finally saved by a much older Spock who had just returned to his past through a black hole. Kirk and Older Spock made their way safely to the outpost, Kirk returned to the Enterprise and the universe was saved – naturally. It would not have turned out that way, however, if Kirk had simply waited in his escape pod. He wouldn’t have had to face all the danger and fear and difficulty if he’d just waited in his nice safe escape pod for rescue to come, but the outcome would have been very different.

Being a Christian is not about staying safe. It’s not about simply showing up once a week to worship and sing pray and donate money to important causes and have some fellowship time. Being a Christian is much more than being able to recite a list of things we believe about God. Being a Christian is a way of life. It’s a decision made daily to do the right things. To follow Jesus instructions to help the helpless, comfort the comfortless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and visit the prisoner. To step forward on the side of God’s justice and mercy so that the last may be first, even in the face of danger. It’s a decision to do what is right, even if that means we might face ridicule or outright persecution. Being a Christian is a refusal to stay in that nice safe escape pod and walk across snow and ice, through wild animals if need be, so that we can do what is necessary to save the universe.

I know. It sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it? June’s over there asking herself, “How am I going to save the universe? I have trouble just getting around the house.” We save the universe by doing what the Lord requires of us, doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God. We don’t go all James Kirk on the world, running roughshod over rules, regulations and people. We act in love. And sometimes acting in love will send us out to participate in demonstrations or to do ministry in gang territories. It will send some of us out to do dangerous things. But mostly it will be in doing things we can do – writing notes, supporting just causes, speaking out against injustice among our friends, teaching our children how to be loving and caring global citizens. God’s love will also send us on interior journeys, seeking out the places in our hearts and souls that are not so loving – pride, greed, ego, fear, anger, hatred and a whole array of other defects in our characters – and rooting them out so God’s love has a bigger place to grow. And that might be the most frightening place of all that God’s love can send us. But if we have faith that whatever happens, we will be ok if we are with Jesus, why then would we be afraid?

When we go from this place today, Let us go out to live as Christians, to live in Christ Jesus, to live without fear, for we know that we belong to God.

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