* a sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church on August 13, 2017 *
Since sermons are primarily intended to be heard, you can listen along here.
Texts for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost:
Romans 10:5-15 + Matthew 14:22-33
Pray with me this morning, church:
Speak to us this morning, God.
By your Spirit, speak to us, in spite of me.
Let your Gospel take root in our hearts,
And may it begin to completely transform our lives.
As my plane landed in Houston on Thursday, as we were taxing to our gate, the fight attendant came on overhead as they often do. And she thanked us for, “Choosing Southwest Airlines to hurtle us through the air at 600 miles per hour tens of thousands of feet above the surface of the earth in a 75-ton aluminum tube………oh, and by the way, welcome to Houston.”
I let that sit with me for a minute… She was right, of course. What the heck was I thinking?
People aren’t made for flying, at least without some help. And yet we do. Every day over 2 million people take to the skies.
We put a lot of trust in those 75-ton tubes of aluminum.
In the same way, we put a lot of trust in the hunks of steel and aluminum that we go floating in, cruising over the depths of the world’s oceans. People aren’t made for floating on top of water, at least without some help.
Hurtling thousands of feet above the earth… Perilously perched atop the depths of the sea… Pretty frightening stuff.
There’s a lot in our world that we should rationally be afraid of. Natural phenomena and weather patterns, in my opinion, are chief among them. They’re just so unpredictable.
So it’s no wonder the disciples were terrified when a storm popped up while they were out to sea. By the way, the Greek there translates as about half a mile out to sea, so not exactly close to safety.
And then Jesus has the audacity to tell them, “Do not be afraid.”
Yeah, right. Easy for Jesus to say, he gets to walk on top of the water.
Fear is paralyzing. Fear prevents us from engaging and interacting in certain ways and with certain people. Fear causes us to behave irrationally.
Fear…is the root of hatred and evil.
We’re suspicious of things that we’re afraid of. We might not understand them. We treat things and people as less than when we’re afraid of them.
Fear, in and of itself, isn’t sinful. But it’s a short walk from being fearful to acting with hatred, bigotry, violence, and evil.
Because when you’re suspicious of someone and you treat them as less than, you begin to believe, internalize, and display all sorts of sinful and evil things…like you’re the better race, the better gender, the better sexuality, the better religious belief, the better nationality, the better political party…insert any other determining and dividing factor here… And more than just believing that you’re better, when that sin starts to grow, you start to believe that there’s a preferred gender, race, sexuality, nationality, religion, political party…and that all others are wrong.
Yes, it is true that we have a long way to go to heal some of the deep wounds between us, and there are inroads to be made on all sides, but let’s be absolutely clear, there was only one group of people in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend who were telling people who didn’t look like them that they didn’t belong, beating them, hurling slurs and objects at them, and driving cars at them. There was only one group of people in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend using torches, slogans, and insignia, that many of us may have thought were buried to the dark pits of history, from decades ago, using them to incite fear into the hearts and minds of anyone who doesn’t think like them.
Sometimes fear is rational. For example, when someone believes that your life, that who you are as a beloved child of God, exactly who God created you to be, is any less valuable than any other life.
Sometimes fear is quite irrational. For example, fear that comes from suspicion of someone because they’re different. The irrational fear that manifests itself as hatred, racism, white supremacy, bigotry, and violence.
The irrational fear that causes some to feel more upset that I just said “white supremacy,” rather than because a 32-year old woman was murdered.
That fear is sinful. And it is evil.
So, what to do, church?
What are we, called as followers and disciples of the one who rejects violence…who rejects the oppression and marginalization of people…who consistently aligns his ministry with the poor, the outcast, the despised, the hated, the afflicted, the racial minority, the gender minority, the orphaned, the widowed, the sick, the hungry, the imprisoned—the less-thans…the one in whom, as St. Paul tells us in Romans this morning, there is no distinction, no Jewish believer or Gentile believer, no male or female, no superior race, no preferred sexuality, no better-than, no distinction, no hierarchy…what are we supposed to do in a time such as this?
You know, I had a great sermon planned out about trusting in the midst of rough waves and where we place our trust…but sometimes certain events demand a rewrite.
But maybe all is not lost.
Maybe we can still begin to learn to trust in the midst of fear.
I had a great line about Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid” earlier this year. Maybe you remember it from the beginning of February.
It goes like this: God does not say don’t be afraid because there’s nothing to be afraid of. God says do not fear, but rather trust that in all things God is with you. That God is with you in the midst of your fears and worries.
God says do not fear, because in the death and resurrection of Christ, God has taken away and freed you from the power of sin and death. God has overcome death and is actively at work redeeming the world, and does so through you, so you are free to live out your identity as children of God. To speak God’s peace and God’s justice to a world that desperately needs to hear it.
In that way, then, I think “Do not be afraid” are some of the most comforting words I could hear.
They’re also some of the most challenging. Because they mean that rather than living a life of fear, I actually have to trust—I have to have faith—that God’s going to do what God says God’s going to do. That God does work for the good of God’s people. That God is at work actively redeeming the world and making it holy. That God is working to bring about God’s kingdom—God’s vision for the world—the reign of God where righteousness, justice, equity, and peace are the laws we live by, the slogans we chant, and the causes we march for.
“Do not be afraid” is a challenge and a comfort because while it calls me to live in spite of my fears, it also gives me hope and helps me to trust…to have faith…that I can live beyond those fears.
In our Gospel this morning Jesus calls Peter out of the boat into the raging storm and perilous waves, and Jesus is there to catch Peter, and to hold him when his fears overtake him. And then while Jesus does calm the waves in our Gospel this morning, first he climbs in the boat with his disciples.
Church, Jesus is with us in our fears; God is with us, in our fears and calling us beyond our fears, calling us to live in spite of our fears.
Jesus is calling us out of our places of relative safety, out into a world where storms and waves rage, to confront some things that are absolutely tough, but so necessary.
And Jesus is there to hold us in the midst of those storms, getting into the boat with us, and calming those storms.
And that is indeed good news, because when we trust that that’s true, we can live boldly into the future God is calling us into, daring greatly to embrace those things that might have felt out of reach or impossible or far too idealistic.
When we have faith, however much or little, that God is with us in the midst of our fears, we can begin to live beyond our fears, into lives full of possibility and promise.