Sunday, August 13, 2017

1 Kings 19:9-18; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

To fear or to dare …

The other day, I stopped to put gas in my car. The sky was cloudy, but I wasn’t expecting anything serious. Suddenly, there was a flash of light and a huge clap of thunder. I quickly pulled by hands away from the car, the gas pump – in fact I stood with my hands in the air, touching nothing, as the thunder and lightning came again and again.

I was afraid I might be hit by lightning, so close to so much metal and potential fire. But, nothing happened, and I finished filling the car and went straight home.

We are all afraid of something. What is your biggest fear? …

Sometimes it is smart to be afraid; sometimes our fears are less rational. Our fears are always real, even if they don’t make sense to anyone else.

Our Bible texts today all include a sense of fear. They also include a sense of daring to do something, despite being afraid.

… Elijah is afraid of Queen Jezebel, so he ran away. Now, he yells at God for getting him into such a predicament that he fears for his life. Hiding in a cave he dares God to speak hear him and speak to him. “I am all alone, he says. No one else in the world still believes in you.”

In response, God sends wind, earthquake, and fire. But God was not heard in those events. Instead, God’s presence was known in the silence and stillness of Elijah listening intently for God. Then, he can hear God say, “Not true. You are not alone. Don’t be afraid. There is a remnant of believers, and I am sending you to them. To make sure they know me, I want you to crown new kings in Israel and in Syria. So, head back down the mountain, and be assured that I am with you.” With God’s promises ringing in his ears and heart, Elijah defies his fears and dares to head back to the people.

… After days of preaching and healing, and then feeding thousands of people, Jesus insists on getting his time away from everyone and everything. So, he sends the twelve disciples away in the fishing boat.

Just as suddenly as the storm came up the day I was getting gas, a storm arose on the Sea of Galilee. In 2010 Mike and I were on the Sea of Galilee, now called Lake Gennesaret, in the middle of a similar storm. With a powered boat big enough to easily accommodate our group of 50 people, it still took us 3 times as long to get from north to south as it should have. We were tossed back and forth, off course time and time again. I can’t imagine feeling safe in a wooden fishing boat in such a storm.

Of course the disciples are terrified. Some of them are seasoned fishermen and used to such storms, but some of them are not. For example, Matthew the tax collector, most likely had very limited exposure to the water. In the middle of the night, when they were certain they were going to die, they saw something walking on the water. It was natural to be fearful, and to suspect that what they saw was a ghost, since they assumed they were so close to death.

But then Jesus’ voice is heard calling out over the storm. His voice must have been quite powerful to be heard over such a storm! “Don’t be afraid. I am here with you.”

For a reason we’ll never know, Peter decides that if Jesus can walk on water, he can too. “Jesus, I want to come to you.” Jesus says, “C’mon.” So, Peter dares to get out of the boat and starts walking. Then, suddenly, he goes from having no fear, and trusting Jesus, to terrified, and falling into the raging sea. Jesus reaches out to save him.

It is easy to shake our heads at Peter, wondering why he suddenly looked around and became afraid. It is easy to criticize him for taking his eyes off Jesus. But, of all the guys in the boat, he is the only one who dared to try walking on the water. He is the only one who trusted enough in Jesus to believe he could do it.

… In the reading from Romans, Paul seeks to reassure the believers that God loves them, no matter who they are. In Galatians, Paul has written, “there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female.” No one person or class of persons has more value, or less value, than another in God’s eyes.

There is no need for the Roman believers to be afraid that God doesn’t love them.  There is no reason for us to be afraid that God doesn’t love us. Because of God’s promise to love us, no matter what, we dare to trust in Jesus to love us and forgive us.

… The thing that usually stops us from doing something is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of failure, fear of being embarrassed. Even though we wish we could dare to do something new or different, we are afraid to try it.

Sometimes we are forced to overcome our fear just to survive. Kechi Okwuchi is now 27. When she was 16, she was in a plane crash and was burned over 2/3 of her body. Now, she is a strong competitor on America’s Got Talent. Here is her story in a video. …

Kechi dared to not just survive but thrive after her accident. She did it with music and prayer, and the belief that Jesus is always with her.
Yes, bad things happen in our lives. Yes, we can respond by being afraid.
Or, we can trust that Jesus is present with us and dare to do amazing things. We may not choose to walk on water, but we can do a lot of other things.
We can dare to read the scripture and the prayers and carry the cross during worship, even though we are afraid we will embarrass ourselves.
We can dare to invite our friends to worship or another event at St John, even though we are afraid they will say no.
We can promise to give school supplies and Christmas gifts to poor children, even though our home budget is tight.
We can do these things and many more if we choose to conquer our fears by remembering Jesus is always with us. Jesus can take a little bread and a little fish and turn it into a banquet for 5,000. Jesus can walk on water. And he can help us do the things we dare to do, if we remember he is with us, helping us to do them.

Please pray with me. God of grace and promise. Help us to remember you are with us all the time. Help us dare to do those things that seem too hard or even impossible. We trust in your amazing power and grace. Amen