Saturday, June 23, 2018

Year B, Pentecost 5, Mark 4.35-41, Peace! Be Still!

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“Peace!  Be Still!”  “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
In the Gospel of Mark there are two storms that the disciples encounter as they attempt to cross the Sea of Galilee.
Dr. Don Juel, the seminary professor under whom I studied the Gospel of Mark made the observation for us that these storms represent much more than just the arbitrary weather patterns of the day.  The storms that the disciples encounter are highly significant in Mark’s telling of the Gospel story, and they reflect the inner turmoil the disciples experienced, not merely a weather phenomenon.
Specifically, it is when the disciples cross over the Sea to the other side that they encounter these storms and come face to face with their fears.
The Other Side.
The region beyond the Sea of Galilee, to the east and north, was a Gentile territory.  Not Jewish.  Foreign ground.
These words were especially relevant to the Church at the time the Gospel was written because Christians were struggling with the question of their mission to the Gentiles.
The message of the Gospel had largely been rejected by those in Israel, and the early Christian believers, following Paul, had to make the journey into the Gentile world of the greater Roman Empire.
They became sojourners in a foreign land.
And this journey, away from their home into the unknown, caused great fear.
“Peace!  Be Still!”  “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Fear is a theme throughout the Gospels.
From the angel’s greeting to Mary, to the disciple’s hiding behind the locked door on Easter evening, fear was their constant companion.
Fear is one of the most basic emotions of the human experience.  It produces within us either the desire to flee, or to fight.  It is part of our survival instinct. 
On the one hand it is our fears that keep us alive. 
But on the other hand, our fears can enslave us.
“Peace!  Be Still!”  “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Fear overcomes us when we feel threatened, when we leave our comfort zone, when we face the unknown, and especially when we are out of control.
We all have our fears, and sometimes those fears come to the surface and get the best of us.
One of our primary fears is of our own deaths.  Actually, I had one person tell me that it wasn’t death that made him afraid, it was dying.  There’s a difference. 
This fear of dying, not death, is most evident in one simple fact:  No one, I repeat, no one, wants to end up in a nursing home for the remainder of their life.  Maybe in senior housing.  If need be, perhaps even in assisted living.  But absolutely no one wants to end up spending their last years in a nursing home unable to care for themselves.
It is one of our greatest fears.
There is another type of fear that grips us.
This is like the fear that gripped the disciples as they crossed over the Sea to the other side, to the Gentile world.  It’s the fear of being a minority.
I’ve experienced that fear.
I grew up in South Dakota.  South Dakota is in fact two very separate and different states.  The first is in the East and is entirely white, and I mean entirely.  That’s where I grew up.
The other is primarily in the West, and it comprises 7 major Indian Reservations.  When, as a white boy, you find yourself on a Reservation where everyone else is native, fear is one response.
I felt the same fear when I first experienced an all black neighborhood.
It’s a fear of feeling displaced, of being the minority, of being out of control.
Such fears grip our nation.  They are causing storms to rage all around us.  They unsettle us. 
That’s at the root of many of our fears that are front and center in our nation’s life.
That is the year according to the United States census bureau that White people will cease to be the majority in our country.  At that point there will be more people of color, be it black, Hispanic, oriental, native, and other groups such as Arabs, or mixed race, than there are White people.  White people will remain for a time the largest ethnic and racial block, but no longer the majority.
2043, just twenty five years from now.
That produces fear within many in our country.  Real, palpable fear.
2043 looms on the horizon for two reasons:  First, because the bulk of immigration to our country is no longer from Europe, and second, because the minorities in our country are having far more children that white people.  This is especially true of Hispanic people who, in part because of their Roman Catholic background, have more babies than any other ethnic group in the United States.  And blacks are not far behind.
The birth rate is significant because even if we sealed the borders of our nation, built a wall, and kept all minorities from immigrating, we would only delay the day when whites become a minority.
This is what is driving the white supremacy movement in our country.
If you want to understand why the issue of immigration has become such a major storm in American politics, specifically along our southern border, you need look no further than 2043.
Last week I mentioned the immigration crisis we are facing as a country, and specifically how troubled I have been about the policy of separating children from their parents as their status is reviewed.
This week I’m deeply grateful that President Trump has taken action to stop this practice.
One of the other things that happened is that when I posted my sermon on-line it generated more responses than any other sermon I’ve posted, by far.
One response in particular struck me:
“Never does He call us to welcome rapists, murderers, pedophiles, hate filled blood worshipping monsters into our homes.”
“hate filled blood worshipping monsters”
Can you hear the fear implicit in those words?

There are also other signs of fear in our country.
I’ve shared with you before that one of the troubling things I deal with at my other job is that a number of my co-workers come to work with loaded weapons.  They refuse to drive without a pistol loaded and ready to fire.
It goes beyond simply floundering in a boat amid a storm at sea. 
One of the things about fear is that it often breeds hate.
Fear is why we have ‘hate crimes’ in our country.
“Peace!  Be Still!”  “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
“Then in their trouble they cried to the LORD, and you delivered them from their distress. You stilled the storm to a whisper and silenced the waves of the sea. Then were they glad when it grew calm, when you guided them to the harbor they desired.
Let them give thanks to you, LORD, for your steadfast love and your wonderful works for all people.”
These are the words from our Psalm today.
I encourage you to go home and read the entire Psalm 107 as it deals so beautifully with the fears we face.
Faced with all sorts of fear, time after time the Psalmist declares:
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress;
Faith casts out fear.
That’s the first thing to bear in mind. 
“Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”
Jesus is in control.
If we really believe that, there is no need to fear.  That’s why we hear so often the phrase, “Fear not!” in the Bible.  Jesus is in control.
Trust in Jesus, and you need not fear, not death, nor people different from ourselves, nor the threats that surround us like a great storm at sea.
A second thing is to have courage.  Courage is different than faith. 
“In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!"
We will have fears, and because our faith is often not yet perfect, those fears remain with us.
Courage, though, is the ability to act even in the face of our fears.  “Good courage”, is the willingness to love, even when doing so makes us vulnerable.
One experience I’ve had as a pastor was helping a woman who was being abused by her husband.  This is very risky, and violence is all too common.
“Are you afraid?” a colleague asked me.
“Yes, I responded, but I still need to do it.”
In that moment God had given me the courage to act even though I was afraid. 
And sometimes that is what we need.
“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
How do we do that when we are afraid of our neighbor?  And, in some cases, for good reason.
It takes courage, and that is something God gives us, when we need it the most.
“Peace!  Be Still!”  “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Jesus is with us in the midst of the storm.  Take heart.  Have faith, and be of good courage.  Amen

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