Today’s gospel lesson is about fear, but more specifically, it is about two very distinct kinds of fear. The first kind of fear is the one with which we are all too familiar. People often liken this kind of fear to a storm.
Death, divorce, disease, disappointment, defeat, demonic evil, mass murder—in a thousand different ways the storms of life come. They even come to church. And when the dark, sinister clouds come, we wonder and we question whether or not we will ever live to feel the warmth of the sunshine again.
There was a great pianist, composer and church musician studying in Chicago who was known throughout the Midwest as Georgia Tom. He was scheduled to help with a revival at a large church in St. Louis about a month before his wife was due to have their first child.
He was afraid to leave her so close to the due date, but was committed to fulfill the promise he made to the church over a year earlier. As soon as he got off the train in St. Louis, someone handed him a telegram which read: “Congratulations, you are the father of a new baby boy. However, it is with deep regret that we inform you that you wife died during childbirth.
He boarded the next train back to Chicago. Overcome with grief, he arrived at the hospital to hold his new born baby in his arms; however, shortly after he arrived, this little boy, the only part of his wife that he would ever be able to hold again, passed away in his sleep.
Georgia Tom took a leave of absence from his studies, and his ministry. He moved to South Carolina where he did little but grieve. It was sixth months before he sat was able to sit down at the piano and compose a song. When he did, the first thing that he wrote and set to music were the following words:
“Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, help me stand. I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Thro’ the storm, thro’ the night, Lead me on to the light. Take my hand, precious Lord; lead me on.”
Georgia Tom, or Thomas Dorsey, as evidenced by this wonderful hymn and a long-life lived in dedication to God, knew what the disciples knew about Jesus. That Jesus is the one who ministers to our fears, overcomes our fears, and enables us to live with hope and confidence despite our fears. Jesus is the one who is always there to help us get through the storms of life, get through the night time of our fear into a peace that is beyond all understanding.
In today’s lesson, Jesus and the disciples are in a boat. It is night, a dangerous time to be on the sea. And sure enough, “a great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” It’s dark. It’s dangerous. They’re in the middle of a violent storm with no one but Jesus to protect them.
The disciples cry out to Jesus who is sound asleep on a cushion in the stern: “Teacher! Don’t you care that we’re sinking?” Jesus wakes up and rebukes the wind and the waves. And a miraculous calm settles on the sea.
This is what Jesus does. When we call on Jesus in the stormy nighttime of our fear, it may take time, but if we allow him to take our hand, if we grab a hold of his hand, a miraculous calm will settle over us.
Jesus tells us that no matter what, it’s going to be all right. We might not be able to go back to the good old days, but, if we put our trust in him, we can go forward with him into good new days. Jesus assures us that he is there to work all things out for the good. That there is nothing in all of creation, no storm in this universe, not even death itself, that can ever separate us from the love of God.
Yes, when we face the fears of this world, Jesus comes and calms us, fills us with peace and gives us hope.
But there’s a rather curious thing about this morning’s lesson. After rebuking the wind and the waves, after bringing a miraculous calm, the disciples are still afraid. But perhaps now, it’s a different kind of fear.
The NRSV’s translation is not quite strong enough here in verse 41. Mark says, literally in the Greek, that the disciples not only feared, but they “feared a great fear.” Now that’s being afraid!
Isn’t it rather curious that after the storm blows over, in the miraculous calm of the night, the disciples are now “fearing a great fear?” And notice that Jesus doesn’t ask, as we might expect, “Why were you afraid?” Instead, he asks, “Why are you afraid? I’ve stilled the storm. I’ve calmed the waves. Why are you, even now, afraid?” And then in their fear the disciples begin ask one another, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him?”
The disciples were afraid, but now for a very different reason. I believe it’s a different kind of fear. First, there’s the fear of the death-dealing storm. I have called it a Good Friday sort of fear. Your telephone rings in the middle of the night. You get a bad report from your doctor following an exam. A friend betrays you. A child dies. A racist with a gun enters a black church during a prayer meeting. Winds are howling. Water and waves are everywhere crashing over our heads. And we cry out to Jesus, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”
But then Jesus rises, rebukes the wind and the waves, and all is calm. And that brings the second kind of fear—it’s an Easter sort of fear.
There’s a reason why, as the gospels tell it, that the predominate emotion on the first Easter Sunday morning was not joy. It was fear. Remember how Mark’s gospel ends about a dozen chapters after this one? The women come out to the cemetery. The angel announces “He is risen from the dead! Go tell!” And the women do what? They tell no one. Why? Because they were afraid.
People ask me all the time, how are things going at the church? And each time I respond the same. Things are great! Church is awesome. I bet I get asked this question at least a half a dozen times a week.
I believe that one of the greatest ways I can respond to this question is this: “How are things going at the church? Well, to tell you the truth, things are so good, its beginning to get a little scary. The truth is, it is so good, that being a member of the First Christian Church is downright frightening. And being the pastor of such a church, well, it’s like fearing a great fear!”
However, it is not what you think. It is not so much because people are sick or people are dying. It has nothing to do with Good Friday fear.
For you see, First Christian Church is a church full of people with an Easter faith. We believe Jesus is on the loose. Jesus is raising up. Jesus is rebuking and calming the storm. But at the same time Jesus is shaking things up. He stills the waters, but he is also rocking the boat! He’s making all things new. He’s creating a brand new world: a world of everyone is treated equally and justice rolls down like waters. He leads us out of one kind storm only to lead us into a storm of another kind.
And the reality is, there a lot of things that’s happening here at our church that is rather frightening. Just ask anyone who attended Vacation Bible School this past week! This building was literally rocking with over fifty children, full of energy and play, who humbled themselves to minister to the poor in our community, to sick children in the hospital, and to the elderly in the nursing home.
Over fifty kids were taught that they possessed gifts that they have been given by the Holy Spirit to do ministry. There’s no doubt about it, lives were changed. Our kids are not the same. The leaders of Vacation Bible School are not the same. Our church might not be the same. Things could get pretty scary around here.
Last week, we talked during worship and during the ministry team meetings about the need to improve and expand our ministry to children. If we work hard, if we truly commit ourselves, next year, we could have over fifty kids rocking our world every week. That will mean more work. More volunteers. More risk. It could get scary.
Yesterday, clergy and leaders of this community met at Mt. Moriah Community Church to graciously pray for the victims of the Charleston massacre and to audaciously pray for the shooter. They met to stand agaisnt to racism and pray for racial unity.
And yesterday afternoon, our church partnered with another predominantly white church to build a handicap ramp for an African American family. We gathered in their living room, held one another’s hands and prayed together in love.
What is going to happen to this town if we keep praying together for social justice and unity? What is going to happen if we all begin working together, white churches and black churches, working side by side, hand in hand, to truly love our neighbors as ourselves? What is going to happen if we unite our voices to speak truth to power?
In a couple of months for our stewardship emphasis, every member is going to be asked to serve on a ministry team. What’s going to happen to our church if every member begins using his or her gifts partnering with others on a ministry team? And what if those ministry teams begin to partner with the predominately African-American churches in town? What’s going to happen to our community? What is going to happen to our town?
I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. It’s going to get scary.