By Dr. Heather Entrekin No matter how bad it gets, God is with us. Why are you afraid? God is with us!!
When I was a kid, I was terrified of spiders. Even Daddy Long Legs, which I now understand are not, technically, spiders but have a very spiderly look about them, scared me to death. Once, almost literally, when one leapt out of a half bushel of peaches we had just bought by a road side stand, I leapt out of the car into the road. Fear can do that.
My sisters and brother didn’t help. They enjoyed picking Daddy Long Legs up by a long leg and chasing me around the yard!
Since then, my fears have grown up a little. Now I fear things that really can hurt me like the national debt and global warming. Yesterday, the headlines named another fear, terrorists, this time, U.S. citizens, independent, guided by some 5,000 do-it-yourself terrorist self-help websites.
On top of these overwhelming world fears, each of us carries personal fears – a deadline, a pink slip, a visa bill, a doctor’s appointment. We all have spiders – some fear that gets us in the gut.
These are fearful times, but then – they always have been. You would think, if ever there were a time and people who would be fearless it would be the disciples, walking and living in the very presence of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, Light of the World, 2000 years ago. But as Mark tells it, they could panic right along with the best of us.
That night they piled into a boat after a long day of teaching and preaching, big crowds, lots of questions, the most dangerous time to be on the water, a windstorm hits. Waves beat into the boat; they’ve got water up to their ankles. Not only a literal storm, but darkness and the sea and chaos also represent forces of evil. This is serious. At least four of the disciples are professional fishermen and even they are scared. They have phobos. This is phobeo. Our word phobia comes from this root – anxiety, panic, dread. Fear of what we do know and fear of what we do not know.
The disciples do what we do when we find ourselves overwhelmed – They yell, “God, for heaven’s sake, wake up!” They do what we do when bad things happen to good people. They ask, “Are you really there God?”
They discover that God is really there. Right in the boat, in scariest place, God is there. After they’ve tried everything they turn to Jesus and he is there and he is able. Jesus can sleep through the wind and yawn at the waves because God is there and he knows that this boat will float. You don’t have to go it alone.
Last week, Public TV had a program on children with terminal cancer. Timothy, a teenager, was dying, treatments were no longer helping. One day he shared his greatest fear with one of the doctors. It wasn’t pain; it wasn’t even death. It was being alone. It made all the difference when the disciples remembered that Jesus was in the boat with them.
But when the storm is over, their knees are knocking. That is when Jesus wants to know, “Why are you afraid?” Not, “Why were you afraid?” but, floating on that calm, smooth sea, “Why are you afraid?” Scripture says, After the storm stops, “they feared a great fear” (v. 41), or, in Tom Wright’s translation, “A great fear stole over them.”
I had a boat ride once that helps me understand. I have never been particularly comfortable in boats on deep water. One time, when Peter and I were teaching in China, we took a winter vacation on a little island off the coast of Thailand. We had to take a ferry. It looked like one of those ferries that you read about that capsizes on a clear day and everybody drowns.
It was old, it was ugly and it was already full when our bus pulled up. People sat on people’s laps, on the steps, on the roof. We threw our luggage on a pile and found a spot against a railing. As we waited, another bus pulled up and all those people got on the overloaded ferry, somehow. Then another bus, and another.
I was terrified just sitting at the dock, but then the ferry headed out to sea, and the sea was not completely calm. It was not a windstorm and the waves did not exactly beat into the boat, but it was not calm either. I kept my eye on one of the few life preservers overhead, and I wondered about sharks how far I could swim and thought about how I was too young to die. Phobeo. I was terrified.
There was only thing that could have scared me more. And that would have been if someone on that boat had stood up and held up his arms and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” and the sea suddenly went still. The storm and the ferry were terrifying but that I could understand. But a human being who could stop a storm — that would be incomprehensible. What else could such a person do?
The fact is, whenever Jesus heals, walks on water, teaches, feeds, feasts, rebukes, when he is born, is resurrected…it scares the wits out of people. They run, many of them. They freeze. They hang on to the old ways. They attack, some of them. God’s power revealed is an awesome thing. But there’s more to fear than phobeo — panic and dread and hanging on so tight you drown. There is also life-giving fear. The Hebrew word for this kind of fear means reverence, awe. — Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. It comes from faith and it leads to faith. You could call it — Easter fear.
This is the assurance that if we lose it all, we lose it all, and we shall then be as we are now, in the hands of the living God. It is this assurance that lets Jesus sleep through the storm.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “This is just a short thank you for all the ‘sparks’ that you have showered my way this year. Many of them have ‘caught alight’ in my imagination and helped me to compose meaningful sermons for our different congregations. I have particularly appreciated the exegesis each week to supplement my own bible study.”
Resources to inspire you — and your congregation!
In C.S. Lewis’ fairy tale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, four children find themselves in a strange world. A talking beaver welcomes them into his home and explains that the land is held captive by an evil sorceress, but hope is beginning to blossom. The true king, Aslan, is returning. When Mr. Beaver explains that Aslan is a lion, Susan asks,
Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.
That you will, Dearie, and no mistake, said Mrs. Beaver, if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.
Then he isn’t safe? said Lucy.
Safe? said Mr. Beaver. Don ‘t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? `Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.
There’s a reason why the predominant response to Easter is not joy, but fear. Mark’s gospel ends that way, with the women going out to the tomb and meeting an angel who says, “He is risen! Go and tell,” but they don’t because they are afraid.
Afraid of what? Afraid that Easter just might be true. That waves and wind and death itself will bow down before this one who sits in the boat with us and who will not go away.
It could scare you to death. It could scare you to life.