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Sermon for Sunday 20 June 2021

First Reading: Job 38:1-11

1The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: 2“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 4Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5Who determined its measurements — surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, 7when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? 8Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, 9when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, 10and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, 11and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?”

Psalm 124

1If the Lord had not been on our side, let Israel now say; 2If the Lord had not been on our side, when enemies rose up against us; 3Then would they have swallowed us up alive in their fierce anger toward us; 4Then would the waters have overwhelmed us and the torrent gone over us; 5Then would the raging waters have gone right over us. 6Blessed be the Lord! he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth. 7We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we have escaped. 8Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

1Working together with {Christ}, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 3We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. 11We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.

Gospel: Mark 4:35-41

35On that day, when evening had come, {Jesus} said to {the disciples}, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Why are You Afraid?

The statement, we have nothing to fear but fear itself, is most often credited to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Of course, the sentiment has much deeper roots that go back to the 16th century French writer Michel de Montaigne.  In his 1933 inauguration address, President Roosevelt said, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” 

The context of Roosevelt’s speech was the Great Depression while US was recovering from the Wall Street crash of 1929, and the gist of this statement is that a ‘positive mental attitude’, as it were, will help to prevent the worst possible outcomes from materializing.  The question I have, has this statement or revelation alone, ever helped to calm our fears?

For the last 16 months, out of fear, we’ve taken extraordinary measures because of the Covid-19 virus.  Media spin-doctors have driven fear into our lives over elections, racial tensions, gas shortages, rising crime, economic uncertainty and the list goes on and on.  And just when we think we can calm down and have a moment of peace, there are cyber-attacks and threats from foreign enemies.  Fear has caused people to amass large quantities of consumable goods and food, try to horde gasoline, even going so far as to use plastic bags as storage containers, all out of desperation and fear over shortages.  Some I know have purchase personal protective equipment out of fear of governmental overreach and societal collapse.  

Fear can divide us; it can cause us to mistrust others for irrational reasons and can cause people to act out against their neighbors simply because they’re different than we are.  Fear is at the root of oppression, discrimination, and persecution.  Fear causes us to lock our doors, place fences around our communities and put up cameras to monitor our property.  Fear it seems is a formidable foe.  

Now to be fair, a certain level of concern borne from wisdom can be good.  It can keep us from doing risky things, taking unnecessary chances or keep us from going to places where we have no business going.  I tease people all the time.  I have no fear of heights.  However, what I am afraid of is the sudden stop at the other end of a fall!  Fear does however have another side; it can keep us from fulfilling our potential, from standing up for what’s right or from sharing the gospel with others. 

When we allow fear to drive our thoughts and actions it can overwhelm us, and when this happens, reason, knowledge, and trust can go right out the window.  In those moments, all we feel is mind-numbing, anxiety-producing, paralyzing terror.  Fear indeed, will rob us of inner peace and it’s hard to have faith when our trust-meter has pegged at the wrong end of the scale.  So, what is the answer to the many things that threaten us today?  How do we deal with the situations that drives us to act in inappropriate ways?

First and foremost, we need to place our trust and faith in God’s provision.  There are so many things with which we have no control.  For example, I have no control over the weather.  This is why we do things to prepare when we know that a storm is coming.  I have no control over how another person operates their motor vehicle.  However, I can remain alert when driving and pay attention to the signs of someone paying more attention to their phone than to the road.  I have no control over the economy or what the economic future might be.  However, I can plan ahead and save, not overspend, and make wise purchases. 

God has given us weather people, traffic laws and law enforcement, financial advisors and the wisdom we need to make good decisions, and for those things that are genuinely out of our control, He gives us His promise to care and watch over us.  Consider Paul’s words in our second lesson for today.  Paul is admonishing the Corinthian people to work together with Christ for the sake of the kingdom.  He was telling them to not use the grace God has extended to them as an excuse for living for themselves.  Rather, they are to commit their lives to God and the work of His kingdom.  Paul of all people knew what it was like to live with the fear that came from being threatened for his ministry. 

Paul had been beaten at least 3 times, 39 lashes each time.  The Bible tells us that he had been shipwrecked at least twice.  He experienced imprisonment, slandered and poverty and more, all for the sake of the gospel.  Paul was under constant peril from the Jewish religious leaders with threats on his life.  If anyone had reason to be afraid, Paul did.  But stop and imagine what the early church would have looked like if Paul had allowed fear to rule his decisions. 

During his 3 missionary trips, Paul planted churches all over Asia Minor.  From the book of Acts and Paul’s letters to the various churches, we know he planted congregations in Rome, Ephesus, Corinth, Galatia, and Philippi just to name a few.  And in every one of those locations, he endured threats and hardships.  Paul could have avoided all the adversities and lived in safety and security, but he instead chose to trust that God to take care of him.

We can be sure that anytime Paul was facing trouble and hostile situations, he would assure himself with the words of the Psalmist; “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1).  I’m sure there were times when Paul struggled with doubt and fear, but Paul chose to entrust his future into God’s hands and because he did, God worked mightily through him, and the early church spread and grew and became establish everywhere from Rome to Egypt.  Of course one could argue, that trusting God with his life and future was easy for Paul, he came face to face with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.

We can all recall the story of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.  In Acts chapter 9 Luke tells us that with authorization to arrest and return the early Christians in hand, Saul set out to round up the members of the early church.  However, as he traveled to Damascus, the risen Jesus confronted him on the road and blinded him.  Jesus then instructed him to continue to the city and after 3 days, God sent Ananias to pray for Saul and God removed the scales from his eyes.  One could argue that if any of us were to have a similar experience, we too would find it much easier to place our faith in God and serve no matter what might come.  Well I’m not so sure that’s always the case.  Consider the disciples in our gospel lesson for today.

If you were to read the opening three chapters of Mark, starting at verse 12 of chapter 1 where Jesus calls His disciples, you’ll find that the disciple have already personally witnessed many of Jesus’ miraculous acts.  Soon after calling His disciples, Jesus demonstrated His divine authority by casting out the demon of a possessed man in the Synagogue.  Of note here is the way in which Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit.  Jesus commands the demon to “Be silent.”  I call this to your attention because this will become important in a few moments.  After leaving the Synagogue, Jesus then heals a good many people in and around Capernaum. 

Then after preaching in other Synagogues in the surrounding area, Jesus is approached by a leper who implores Him to heal him.  Jesus, “moved with pity, reached out and toughed him and said, “I will; be clean.”  And the former social outcast was immediately made whole.  Then a few days later, as we read in chapter 2, Jesus, while in a crowded house comes face to face with a paralytic man who has been lowered through the roof by his friends.  Seeing their faith, Jesus declares to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Then after a contentious discussion with the religious leaders, Jesus then tells the scribes, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He tells the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”  And as the disciples watch, the man did just that.

Then starting at verse 1 of chapter 3, Jesus once again is in the Synagogue, and He encounters a man with a withered hand.  Even though the religious leaders are begging for opportunities to entrap Jesus, despite the fact that healing was considered working on the Sabbath, Jesus asks the man to stretch out his hand, and when he does, Jesus heals the man.  After reading these first few chapters of Mark, one could easily argue that the disciples knew who Jesus was, and that they had nothing to fear because of the power and authority that Jesus had demonstrated.  But that argument would fall flat when you read our gospel lesson for today.

As we read last week, Jesus left the Synagogue and went up on a mountain to teach the crowd.  And at the conclusion of this teaching time, Jesus dismisses the crowd and directs the disciple to get into a boat and take Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  Because He was tired, Jesus lays down and goes to sleep in the back of the boat.  During the trip, a storm arose and becomes so strong that the disciple begun to be afraid of the wind and waves.  In fear they awaken Jesus.  Remember a few minutes ago, I called to your attention to the fact that Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man in Synagogue by telling the demon to be silent?

Well Jesus, uses a synonym of the same word to command the storm to cease.  In verse 35 we read, Jesus “awoke and rebuked the wind and said, Peace (or be silent)!  Be still.”  It’s here that we find something very important for us to remember.  How did Jesus react to the disciples’ fear?  Did He immediately berate them for their lack of faith?  No, and Jesus’ response in this situation is important.  First, Jesus took care of the problem, He took care of the disciples’ concerns.

We serve a good and loving God who is right there in the boat, in the midst of the storms that we encounter.  And when we turn to Jesus and ask for His help, His first response is to take action to alleviate the fears we have.  No God may not remove you from the situation as He did with the disciples on that occasion, but as He did with Paul, He will give us the strength we need to endure the challenges we face. 

You see the problem with the disciples was, that even though they had time and time again witnessed the power and authority of Jesus, they failed to see Him for who He really is.  Jesus is the One through whom all things were created.  He is the One who has authority over sickness, He can and does heal.  Jesus has ultimate authority over the unclean spirits and casts them out.  And Jesus isn’t limited to the physical and spiritual realm, He also proved He has authority over nature. 

He can and does calm the storms in this life.  When we come to Jesus in prayer and place our faith in an all-powerful God who has absolute authority over all He created, we can trust Him that He will take care of us.  No, He may not remove us from the situation, but we can take comfort in the fact that He is right there in the boat with us.  In His departing words to the disciples before He ascended Jesus promised, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).  If fear is a killer, faith in God is a lifesaver.  

Faith in God gives us a steady hand in the midst of turbulent times.  It allows our spirit to feel secure even when the boat we’re in is rocking and pitching in the choppy sea of culture around us.  Faith is our chill pill.  Today is Father’s Day and many of us will celebrate fathers who have made us feel strong and secure, given us confidence in ourself and our world, who was a strong presence in our life, someone who was always there for us.  And for those who believe, we recognize that we also have a heavenly Father who cares for us even more than our earthly fathers.

God cares for us so much He sent Jesus to take on our flesh, to experience what we experience and to show us the Father’s love and authority.  When we turn to God and place our faith and lives in His hands, He doesn’t just calm the storms of life that surround us, He also calms the storm within us–that fight and flight, terror in the moment, panic button kind of insecurity that obliterates our inner calm and makes of us a turbulent, irrational mess.  Jesus has the power and authority to calm both the storms around us and the turmoil within.

Jesus commands the evil spirits and the storms of life to “Be silent.” “Peace!  Be still!”  [And] “the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.”  Can you imagine how amazing that must have felt for the disciples?  No matter what’s happening around us, no matter what challenges we face or what new horizons look threatening, Jesus is in our corner.  Jesus is in our boat.  And He will calm the storms of life that are without and the fears that are within.  So we can stand up.  We can face the winds.  We can enjoy the ride.  We can walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil all because God is with us.

Let me leave you with one very powerful and comforting thought this morning.  It comes from Job.  Probably the biggest fear that people have is death.  The good news is, as believers we have no need to fear that either.  In the 19th chapter of Job we read, “Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!  For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (vs. 24-27). 

God has promised His children that when we wake from the sleep of death, the first thing we will behold is the face of God.  Think about that!  Even when we close our eyes for the final time in this life, we have nothing to fear.  Our eyes will open again, and we will behold the face of Jesus.  What comfort, what peace, what promise!  When we place of trust in God, we too can confidently say with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? (27:1).            


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