St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for June 24, 2018

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
June 24, 2018
Proper 7 B
Mark 4:35-41
      Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them; take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     The story is told of a couple in their 30's who rushed to the emergency room after receiving news that their teenage daughter had been injured while playing on a tire swing. The girl arrived with a severe head injury sustained when the tree limb holding the swing fell on her. On his knees, her father prayed for God to heal his daughter from the crushing brain injury. A devout Christian, he asked, "Where are you God? Do you not care that our daughter is about to perish?"
     The doctors came in to say they had done everything within their power to help her but she was not going to survive. And now was their chance to say goodbye. With faith-filled strength, they let go of their expectation that God would "fix" their daughter, that God would spare them from the heartbreak of losing their daughter. Instead, they stepped into it and gathered her broken body in their arms, surrounded her with their love, and spoke the words she needed to hear: "Go to Jesus. He is waiting for you. Peace, be still."
     "Peace, be still." In our gospel lesson today, Jesus says this to the storm that is about to swamp the boat he and his disciples are in as they cross the Sea of Galilee. The disciples fear for their lives and Jesus is sleeping through it all. So they wake Jesus up and say to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" "Peace, be still," Jesus says, and the wind ceases and the waves are calmed.
     When chaos surrounds us and seems to upend our lives and we feel helpless, fear and anxiety can consume us. We wake up at 3:00 AM gripped by worry. Or we lie awake all night dwelling on our worst fears of what could happen or might happen, or we are overwhelmed by everything we need to get done. Underneath our worries are our everyday anxieties - am I good enough, am I strong enough, am I smart enough? Can I provide enough for myself and my family? Will I be able to handle what life throws my way?
     We all carry fears and anxieties deep within us. Sometimes they are near the surface, other times they hide deep inside. But at the heart of our anxieties is one basic question - "Can I make it through life and all that threatens me?"
     All of us face loss or tragedy or disappointment at some point in our lives - the death of a loved one, illness, broken relationships, unemployment, children going down the wrong path. At times like this, we are filled with fear and anxiety and we pray to God to "fix" it - restore our loved one to good health, take away the illness that invades our body, find us a job, heal our relationships, help us.
     But as we know, our prayers are not always answered in the way WE want them to be answered. Our loved one dies, our health is not restored, we don't get the job we want, our children won't listen to our advice, our spouse wants a divorce. At times like these, we wonder where God is. Is God even hearing my prayers?
     Jesus' answer is the same - Peace, be still. God is with us not JUST to fix the chaos and catastrophies of our lives, and make everything okay. Jesus asks us to have faith that whatever happens to us in our daily lives, or whatever it is that keeps us awake at night - even if our lives are threatened - nothing, NOTHING, can overcome the power of Jesus to bring us peace and strength. God can transform our fear into courage, and our anxieties into peace.
     Because we are human, it is reasonable for us to be afraid of whatever can cause us physical or emotional harm. Jesus knows that asking us to let go of loved ones, or to stand strong in the face of what threatens us, or to get rid of the anxiety that consumes us, is very hard. It may seem like more than we can manage. But Jesus asks us to step into faith, or take that leap of faith - faith in our loving God - even when we are afraid, even when we are consumed with anxiety, even when we can't see the way forward.
     Jesus is more powerful than the wind and the waves that threatened to overturn the disciples boat and drown everyone in it. And Jesus is more powerful than the winds and waves that threaten to throw us off course and upend our lives.
     Notice that Jesus did not say, "There is nothing to be afraid of." There was plenty for the disciples to be afraid of. Their boat, and their livelihood as fishermen could be destroyed and they could drown. Stormy seas are nothing to make light of. In our lives, there is a lot to be afraid of. But fear does not have the last word. Fear does not have to have power over us. Faith can overcome fear.
     "Do not be afraid" is very different from "There is nothing to be afraid of." Jesus can help us overcome the fear that we have. "Do not be afraid", not because there are not things that we fear but because God is with us. Don't be afraid because you are not alone. The disciples were not alone in the sea-tossed boat. Jesus was with them. And Jesus is with us as well, each and every minute of our lives.
     We now have access to the news 24 hours a day. We can know what is happening halfway around the world just minutes after an incident occurs. Unfortunately, most of the news that we hear is not good news - volcano eruptions in Hawaii and Guatemala, wild fires in the western US, people who are homeless, hungry and destitute, refugees from Syria and other war torn parts of the world trying to find a safe place raise their families, and the heartbreaking stories of children being separated from their families at our border with Mexico, children that might never be reunited with their families.
     There is a lot in this world that causes us fear and anxiety. But life's suffering and tragedies do not have the last word because our loving God is with us. Through God, everything is redeemed. With the love of God surrounding us and holding us up, we can face the storms of life. Even though there are terrible things that happen in this life, they do not need to paralyze us, they do not have to have dominion over us, they do not need to own us because we are not alone in the boat. Jesus is there with us, resting, calming us and our storms and calling for peace.
     It is the development of a faithful life over the long haul that can give us courage and peace to face the chaos that is in our lives and in our world. May God fill each of us this day with God's peace and courage. Amen.
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