Stilling the storm of fear

This is the sermon I preached last week, though perhaps I should say, “This is more or less the sermon I preached last week,” because I preach from the aisle without a manuscript or notes.  You can find the lectionary here.

There is a lot in the Scriptures about worry and fear, often from the perspective of “don’t worry, have faith.”  We hear these words from all sorts of characters, from angels and prophets to God.  In today’s Gospel, though it sounds like a question: “Why are you afraid?”, I don’t think it is really.  Jesus says, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  This sounds to me like the equivalent of, “Why are there still toys on the floor.  Didn’t you hear me when I said, ‘put them away’?” In context, “Why are you afraid?” sounds less like a question than a statement of frustration or disbelief.

Jesus and the disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when a storm comes up. The disciples are terrified, no doubt imagining the boat capsizing and being thrown into the raging sea.  But Jesus?  He’s not at all worried.  In fact, he’s not worried to the point that he asleep in the stern.  Asleep!  The storm is raging, the disciples are terrified, and Jesus is asleep.  They wake him up, he calms the winds and the sea, and then he questions their faith.  Inherent in the question is, “Don’t you trust me?  Don’t you know who I am?”

By this point, the disciples, maybe more than anyone else, should know who Jesus is.  They’ve been traveling the countryside with him, witnessing to his life, including some miracles.  Some of them have even been given the authority to cast out demons. How can they act as if they don’t trust that Jesus will protect them?

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about this – about the way our human fear colors our attitudes and perspectives, shapes our choices, and drives our behavior.  I’ve been thinking and praying about the decision to separate children and parents at the border, a decision that is devastating to children, to parents, to families.  It is a decision I believe is driven in part by fear.

Now, before I go any further, I want to say up front and clearly: This is not about partisan politics. It’s not about Republican and Democrats. It’s not about being anti-Trump or Sessions v. pro-Trump or Sessions.  It is political only to the extent the Gospel is political.  it is political only to the extent that Jesus’ life and example are political.  This is about how people of faith live their faith. It’s about how people of faith behave and make decisions consistent with their faith.  It is about how we, followers and disciples of Jesus, participants in the Jesus Movement, allow fear and anxiety, or anything for that matter, to create a gap between our faith and the teachings of Jesus, specifically the Great Commandment.

What is it about our fear and anxiety that takes us so far from “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment, and the second is like unto it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

How is that people, that our country, has come to the place in which the life-altering decision to separate children and parents even begins to make sense?  Again, I think a large part of the answer is fear.  We’re afraid. Afraid of what we think we might lose if we let other people in.  Afraid of how our lives might change.  Afraid of what might happen to our sense of community, to our sense of shared identity. Afraid of losing jobs or power or authority. Afraid of confronting our privilege in whatever form it takes. Or maybe it’s more general than that.  Maybe we’re just plain afraid of people who don’t look like us or talk like us.  However, you cut it, it comes down to fear.  And it is a fear that leads us to make decisions that are contrary to our faith, that are belied by our sacred texts, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, with all of the admonitions to love one another, to welcome the stranger, to liberate captives, and to care for the poor, the sick, the needy.

How do people of faith, especially those of us who claim Christian identity, reconcile these attitudes, these behaviors, these decisions?  Even if we are not among those who make the decisions, how do we reconcile our support of them or our failure to speak out against them.  How do we reconcile what we say we believe about God, about Jesus, with the power of our fear?  What in the decision to separate children and their parents even remotely sounds like “love your neighbor”?

On some level I get it.  In big ways and small we let our fear take the place of our faith, kind of like your reaction when your child darts into the middle of the parking lot and, rather than hug the child out of gratitude that she is safe, you yell at her for running off. Fear is strong.  Fear is powerful.  It gets the better of us.

But as people of faith, as followers of Jesus, we have to do better, we have to do our very best to rise about the tide of fear that is flooding our nation.  We have to seek the way of life-giving, life-affirming decisions and behaviors to show that we understand the Great Commandment and do actively love our neighbors.  Someone (I can’t remember who) once said, “Faith is everything I do after I say I believe.”  True faith is not a noun, but a verb. It is active, it accepts responsibility, it extends beyond belief.

So how do we do it?  How do we move to a place in which our fear no longer has the power to overwhelm us, to overpower our faith?  Imagine how the lives of these children would be different,  Imagine how we would be different if let faith in God be our perspective and then sought choices and made decisions consistent with that faith.    Imagine the outcome if we trusted Jesus to still the storm of fear within us and in it’s place invited the Holy Spirit to do God’s work in and through us, coloring our attitudes, shaping our choices, and driving our behavior.  Amen.