Crossing Over from Fear to Faith
Mark 4:35-41 6/21/2015
Two weeks ago, Jerry Hancock spoke after Sunday Assembly about the correctional system in Wisconsin. He told us that it is the politics of fear that drives the push to build more prisons in the state. The politics of fear also gets people elected these days. Twenty-four hour news shows convince us that we live in a dangerous world. Politicians promise to do whatever it takes to keep us safe like building more prisons.
Fear can be a major driving force in our lives. Whether or not we have been at sea in a storm, we know the kind of gripping fear the disciples felt. It comes with a sudden accident, a devastating tornado or a cancer diagnosis. We feel it when we lose a job or a loved one dies. People living in war zones or even in our inner cities know this fear every time they leave their house. Fear also gets its claws into us when we lie awake at night imagining all sorts of things that could possibly happen to us: financial ruin, abandonment by a loved one, an incurable disease lurking underneath that new pain we feel. Fear can paralyze us and keep us trapped in ourselves.
When panic rises in us, often it seems as if Jesus is asleep. We lie on our beds in a cold sweat with our hearts and minds racing from one bad thing to the next. In our panic, we cannot perceive Jesus’ anywhere. If we could find him, we would grab him by the shoulders and shake him. “Don’t you care that we’re about to die?”
Of course, Jesus cares. He’s in the boat with us. He cares about our well-being but he does not share our overwhelming panic. Either he is so heavenly that he is out of touch with reality or his peace is so deep that even the threat of death cannot shake it. I’d like that peace, wouldn’t you?
Scripture scholar Justo Gonzalez suggests that Jesus is demonstrating what he has been teaching. At the beginning of the reading last week Jesus said “The reign of God was as if someone would scatter seed on the ground and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, one does not know how.” (Mk. 4:26-27). Jesus has planted the seed of faith in the disciples through his teaching. He has explained everything privately to them. Then he rests in peace trusting the seed to grow in them.
Jesus believes it is time for the disciples to cross to the other side of the sea. John Shea suggests that this journey symbolizes the crossing from fear to faith. The disciples’ reaction to the storm shows that they have not yet integrated Jesus’ message into their lives. In fact, after Jesus stills the storm they are more afraid than before. The text says: “They feared a great fear.” In Mark’s gospel the disciples never do cross to the other side of fear. The gospel ends with the disciples fleeing the tomb in terror not saying anything to anyone because they are afraid.
It seems fear is always with the disciples. Perhaps that is good news for us fearful disciples as well. Though the disciples are afraid, all is not lost. Eventually someone must have said something because we have before us this gospel of Jesus. So let’s see what can help us make the crossing from fear to faith.
First, it would help us to take Jesus’ question seriously. “Why are you afraid?” Rather than hearing it as a judgment, we can hear Jesus inviting us to examine our fears head on. Once I have some measure of calm again, I can ask myself: Why am I afraid? Have I let my mind race into the future to convince me of all sorts of catastrophes rather than staying in the present moment? I can take my fears to Jesus in prayer and acknowledge that they are overriding my faith. I can ask Jesus to breath his peace into me with every breath I take.
Scripture takes our fear seriously. Three hundred and sixty-five times the Bible says, “Do not be afraid.” It’s as if we need to hear that message every day of our lives. Scripture is also filled with accounts of God’s presence and work in people’s lives. The Psalms offer us songs of trust in God’s mighty work. They invite us to reflect on God’s deeds in our own lives. Psalm 107 that we heard today includes several refrains worth meditating on. “They cried to God in their trouble who saved them from their distress.” And “Let them thank God for God’s steadfast love, for God’s wonderful works to humankind.” God does not always snatch us from danger, but Jesus is always present as an anchor, a point of calm in the midst of our fear.
Prayer, meditation on Scripture, coming together for the Eucharist, sharing with each other God’s work in our lives can help us internalize Jesus’ teaching and offer of peace. Little by little, with Jesus’ help, we can back off from our fearful mindset and cross over to faith.
The world constantly sows the seeds of fear in us. But Jesus has planted his word of peace in our hearts. As we let this peace grow, we can continue to cooperate with God’s bringing to fruition the reign of God in our midst. We can refuse to be driven by the politics of fear and instead witness to a God of peace present in the life boat with us.