God, Be in our heads, Be in our hearts, Be in our understanding, Be in the words heard and the words spoken. Amen.
I have a guilty habit to share: I enjoy reading adventure novels: Jason Bourne, Dirk Pitt, Jack Ryan — I buy them in paperback and usually read them in a couple of days. They are brain candy, empty calories, but I still am addicted to them.
The heroes in these books share at least one thing in common: they have learned to manage their fears. Over and over again, when faced with situations that would paralyze most of us, they can consider their options, make a plan, and execute that plan. And, of course, they ultimately come out on top. (Hard to have a series if you kill off the hero.) They have faith in themselves, their abilities, and those around them.
In today’s gospel, we heard Jesus ask the disciples:
“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? (Mark 4:40)
Take a minute and think about how many times you have heard this, or maybe heard:
“O ye of little faith” (Matthew 8:26)
I ask, what is this faith that we are supposed to have?
So, I went to the Webster’s Dictionary, where faith is defined as “confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea or thing.” But there was also this explanation of faith: “Belief not based on logical proof or material evidence.”
“Belief not based on logical proof or material evidence”
We find the disciples in a boat, on a rough sea, afraid of capsizing, and Jesus is sleeping! They were afraid – their faith that everything will be okay is lacking. They cry to Jesus:
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38)
Jesus calmed the storm, and turns to the disciples and asks:
“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40)
At issue is faith (Mark 4:40) . . . and fear (Mark 4:41).
Jesus called out their fear, not because being afraid in that situation was wrong, but because the way they handled their fear showed a lack of faith.
We are not called to be fearless. We are called to face our fears by knowing that someone greater than our fears is always present and that someone cares and can act.
Jesus didn’t rebuke His disciples for waking Him up. He didn’t give them a lecture about their lack of trust in His ability. Instead, He recognized the desperate state they were in. He knew they couldn’t control the storm; when they were at their wit’s, they called out to him.
We must never feel that anything should stop us from taking our needs to Jesus, no matter how small they may seem. If something concerns us, it concerns Jesus as well; if we have fear, we can take it to Jesus.
This weekend America is celebrating Juneteenth, commemorating the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas were finally officially informed that they were free
– two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed,
and two months after the Civil War ended.
Its name is derived from a combination of the words “June” and “nineteenth” This celebration represents granting of freedom for African Americans since 1619, when they were first brought over to America.
Slaves had lived in constant fear:
- of murder and lynching,
- of cruel punishment or maiming,
- of separation of families,
- of being sold like cattle to a white person.
Although the slaves were legally freed, in actuality, the Emancipation Proclamation did not liberate many of the slaves; the promise of freedom and land was replaced by the Jim Crow laws, creating a different type of fear – one of domination, and persecution, and murder. To the government, they were still three-fifths of a human being.
But no matter, our Black brothers and sisters had faith in Jesus, and the love of God kept them going, knowing deep in their hearts that they would someday be free.
This week President Joe Biden established Juneteenth as a national holiday! It is fitting that we mark this holiday in our struggle to remove white supremacy from this nation. Now we all need to work harder to prevent voter suppression and other archaic laws still aimed at minimizing the worth of people of color.
We also celebrate LGBTQA Pride this weekend. For many years, gay men and women were illegal in the United States, and in most states. On June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Union bar in New York City, police attacked those patrons of the bar. Gay and lesbian men and women then took to the streets and began the fight for gay civil rights; this was the origin of Gay Pride. Even today, LGBTQA persons constantly live under the fear
- of beatings and death (often by law enforcement or mobs),
- At least two transgenders are murdered each week,
- being fired from jobs,
- denied housing (most homeless youth are gays who have been kicked out of their homes by their parents)
- not being allowed to enjoy the civil rights granted to other Americans.
On a personal note, when my parents found out I was gay, they disowned me and swore to shame me to the rest of my family. After visiting my place of employment and raising a ruckus about how I would never amount to anything, I was fired for being gay.
There are fast-food restaurants and hobby stores that actively support legislation to rescind equal rights to our gay and transgender brothers and sisters. And many churches will not accept us and actively seek to demonize and alienate us from the love of God. Recent Ohio legislation, if passed, will allow healthcare professionals to refuse treatment of gays based on their personal religious beliefs.
But, just like people of color, gays have faith in Jesus and know that we are all beloved children of God, that “all people are created” in God’s eyes.
No matter our skin color, or sexual orientation, or gender identity, everyone of us is often afraid!
Like the disciples, we fear many things. Our small boats seem shaky as we are tossed about on life’s sea. Storms of hate and pain, war and poverty, discrimination and alienation shake us and threaten to swamp our very beings.
Ultimately, fear is something that all of us experience and have to learn to conquer. Indeed, life is full of things that can make us afraid.
Though the storms of life will still come, though we may face the next day with apprehension and anguish, we do not need to fear. We can meet the chaos with courage and find the peace of Christ.
Mark Twain said, in his novel Pudd’nhead Wilson,
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not the absence of fear. We will still be afraid, and sometimes rightly so—but our faith will sustain us and give us mastery of fear.”
Jesus calmed the storm, saying, as he had said many other times:
“Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39)
The peace of Jesus does not come from the absence of storms. As long as we walk upon this earth, there will be storms that come our way. The peace comes from the knowledge that Jesus is with us in the storm!
We must realize that we are in the boat with Jesus, that Jesus is with us and that we are never alone; no matter the storm, no matter the struggle, no matter the circumstances. We are in the boat with Jesus. This should give us great comfort, relief, strength, and faith.
But instead of realizing that we are in the boat with Jesus, we only see the waves and the wind and the water coming into the boat. And, like Peter when he tried to walk on water (Matthew 14:29-30), when we take our eyes off Jesus, we end up faltering.
Keep your eyes on Jesus!
Our genuine faith comes out in a crisis. When we have a crisis, we have three options:
- If we choose to worry, all of us know deep down that nothing will change
- We can try harder and work until there is nothing else we can do and we realize we have no control.
- Or we can ask for his help and put our complete trust in Him.
Here is the reality. We are either headed into a storm, in the middle of a storm or coming out of one. We need to learn from our storms. God is teaching us something about Himself, about us, and the storms of life. See the storms of life as an opportunity for God to display who He is and for us to increase our faith.
When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person that walked in. That’s what the storm is all about. You will see Jesus differently, and you will see yourself differently.
Not all storms come to disrupt our lives; some come to clear a path. Some storms help us to see some things more clearly.
Think about these questions:
- Has a trial you’ve gone through made you stronger spiritually?
- When was your faith most tested?
- Whom have you turned to in fear and found faith?
Are we living in fear or faith?
Let us pray:
Dear loving Lord, we are feeling stress. We are worried. Too many things occupy our minds. Please show us your order; let us trust in your will alone. Your Word tells us where there is love; there is no fear. Your perfect love drives out all fear. Let us be filled with your love, the faith that tells us we can do all things through you. In Jesus’s name. Amen.
 Mark Twain, The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Comedy Those Extraordinary Twins, The Century Magazine, 1894,
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 20 June 2021