Do Not Fear!

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, June 24, 2012.  The text for the sermon is Mark 4:35-41.


Dear Friends in Christ,


Pastor Carol and I often go boating on Lake Anna.  That lake is 18 miles long and at some places about 1 mile wide  and can be 60 to 70 feet deep at the dam.  When the weather is nice the water is calm and we can glide along the surface.  I just have to adjust the trim tab on the outboard and the hull in front lifts up enough so that you aren’t hitting the feeling the waves.  When the weather turns and there is wind and possibly rain, it is not very pleasant to be out on the lake.  That 16-foot deck boat seems to get smaller and smaller.  When there is any chance of lightning, you won’t find us on the lake at all.


I understand the fear of the disciples that day on the Sea of Galilee.  That lake is about 14 miles long and about 8 miles wide.  The cool winds from the Mediterranean blow through the mountain passes and collide with the warm waters of the Sea of Galilee and you can get strong winds and high waves without warning.  Undoubtedly that is what was happening when the disciples were out in the middle of the lake and Jesus was asleep.  They did just what you and I would do; they woke up Jesus.  “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” was their exclamation.  And Mark tells us that Jesus said to the sea, “Peace!  Be still!”  Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.  And we learn a truth: Jesus has power over the forces of nature.


Why do you think that story is included in Mark’s gospel?  It’s also in Matthew and Luke.  Why in Mark?  The answer is part of the main focus of Mark’s gospel.  He begins the gospel this way: “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  So we hear immediately how important Mark sees Jesus.  Jesus is the promised Messiah (Christ) and he is “the Son of God.”  Mark ends his gospel this way: “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them (the disciples), he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.”


The boat has become a symbol for the church.  In ancient days the sea was perceived as a place of chaos, even evil.  The Old Testament prophets speak of Leviathans and creatures of the deep that can do harm.  The boat symbol presents the invitation to trust God amid life’s turbulence.  Architecturally the main part of the church is the “nave,” which comes from the Latin “navis” or boat.  So today you and I are in this boat called Resurrection, hopefully trusting in Jesus to guide us and help us, in calm waters and turbulent waters alike.


Today we have our mid-year Congregational Meeting.  We could treat this just as a business meeting.  I would rather see it as a chance to re-examine the boat and remind ourselves that we are still safe and secure in the grip of Jesus.  We’ve been through some extreme turbulence and we’ve cried out to Jesus and he has heard our cry.  We haven’t perished.  We’re now in calmer waters, at least for now. 


Some folks would like this boat to return to shore and stay tied up and secure.  Risking the sometimes dangerous and stormy sea is very frightening.  Unfortunately that scenario of staying tied up on shore is true of many churches today – peaceful, restful club houses on the shore rather than a boat following Jesus’ command to take the fearful risk of crossing the lake.  It seems that many Christians are more willing to be safe than to answer Jesus’ call to go to the other side. 


Today we are called to believe in the power of God.  As we set out in mission together as Christ’s church, we will experience storms.  What will we do with our fears?  Will we give in to fear and become paralyzed or will we trust in God, who in the beginning brought order out of chaos and now in Christ brings peace to the storms of our lives.  The Christ who sleeps in the boat and who hangs on the cross seems helpless, but actually he is the one who holds all the power.  Do we believe this?


I hope you still have your sense of humor.  There’s the story about a flight between New York and Chicago, and this announcement came over the plane’s intercom: “Our number four engine has just been shut off because of mechanical trouble.  There is nothing to worry about however.  We can still finish the flight with 3 engines, and besides, you will be reassured to know that we have 4 bishops on board.  An 86-year-old woman called a flight attendant and said, “Would you please tell the captain that I would rather have 4 engines and 3 bishops!”


The June issue of the Lutheran magazine has a timely article entitled “Don’t Panic!”  Katherine Harms tells us that there are 4 principles that enable us to thrive in any situation.  Please listen to these 4 principles with an ear to you personally and to us as a congregation…


Trust in God alone.  One of the powerful promises that God has made to us is this: “I am with you always (Matthew 28:20).”  A literal translation of the angel’s response to the Virgin Mary in Luke 1:37 reads, “Every word God speaks is possible.”


Change your worldview.  Instead of seeing things just from your limited human point of view, dare to look at events from God’s eternal and infinite perspective.


Build Relationships.  When things seemed the most dire to believers in the Bible, they took comfort from the important relationships of family and fellow believers, and most importantly with God.


Refuse to be a victim.  The Old Testament character Joseph could have been so bitter because his brothers sold him into slavery.  Years later he was able to say to his brothers, “Even though you intended to harm to me, God intended it for God (Genesis 50:20.”  The article ends with this wonderful thought: “Only people who forgive again and again as Christ taught us will overcome life’ negative experiences and thrive.


So, what have we learned today about boats and fear and faith?   I hope that we are reminded that we are in this boat together.  Jesus is also in this boat, called the church.  He has a plan and purpose for this church and he will make sure that it happens.  It will happen not because of us, but because of him.  It may happen in spite of us.  So when we get fearful either as an individual or as a church, let’s do everything we can to hold on to Jesus, the one who has all divine power we need.


Thanks be to God.  Amen!