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Posts Tagged ‘fear’

The Face of Calm

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  Mark 4:39-41

When we think about the faces of God shown by Jesus, we must consider the face of calm. Many times in the Gospels, Jesus tells his followers not to be afraid. This is consistent with the numerous Old Testament writings where those having an encounter with God or angels were told not to be afraid. When something well out of the ordinary occurs, one natural reaction is fear. If I were to come across a bush that was burning and not being consumed, I would be curious. If and when that bush began speaking to me, I would probably be afraid. In the passage from Mark, above, Jesus is crossing the sea with his disciples. Jesus falls asleep and a great windstorm hits, threatening to swamp their boat. The disciples are terrified and wake Jesus up, accusing him of not caring that they are about to drown. Jesus tells the wind and the sea to be still, and they obey. He then turns to his disciples and says, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Tying fear and a lack of faith together is profound and an often-overlooked connection. Did Jesus think it was not appropriate for the disciples to be afraid when the waves were crashing over the sides of their boat? Was he criticizing them for their lack of faith in his ability to keep them safe? Did he think they should not be afraid to die for his ministry? These questions are not answered in the Gospel story, but there are other ways to understand the story aside from a literal reading.

If we look at the chaos from the windstorm as a metaphor for the chaos sometimes caused by the circumstances in our lives, the story takes on a very personal meaning. When I work myself into a frenzied state over something that may or may not happen in the future, when I become frustrated with traffic, or when I feel shame over something I did or said in the past, I can almost hear Jesus whispering over my shoulder, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” The most obvious answer, whenever I succumb to these manifestations of fear, is that my faith is very small. I have lived far long enough to experience problems being solved – stormy seas being calmed – in ways I could never have imagined and that clearly were initiated by a power beyond anything I am capable of exerting.

There are several elements to this story. The first is that Jesus displayed power over the wind and sea. That, in itself, would cause both fear and wonder. Indeed, the disciples respond, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Perhaps they were still uncertain about the divine nature of Jesus, or even unaware of what a divine being might be capable of doing. I think one lesson of the story is that we cannot know or predict how God may intervene in our lives on our behalf.

A second element in the story is Jesus criticizing their fear of the situation, their lack of faith. One can make a good argument that we have nothing to fear, ever! If we truly believe God is lovingly present in our lives and that God can transform whatever is evil in our lives into something beautiful, what could we possibly be afraid of? Our fear, like that of the disciples in the boat, simply shows our lack of faith in God’s care.

Finally, and most instructive to me, is the need to become quiet enough to hear the voice saying, “Do not be afraid.” It is counterintuitive that we must silence the chaos in our own minds before we can hear and know the still small voice of God that has all situations well in hand. And yet, that is exactly what the calm face of God in Jesus encourages us to do.

Note: this is the 26th in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God. 

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Life Notes—February 7, 2013 

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’”  Matthew 6:31

“My life has been filled with calamities, some of which actually happened.”  Mark Twain

I was convinced this was the end.  I was going to die on a predawn flight to Chicago.  The dark sky had a subtle hint of a sunrise I was unlikely to see, and from that streak of pink it was clear our jet was headed down.  Not straight down, but clearly losing altitude at an alarming rate.  A petrified flight attendant buckled herself into a seat across from my co-worker and me so as not to die alone.  The kisses I gave my sleeping wife and children when I left home that morning would likely be my last.  Was my relationship with God sufficient? Would my children remember me as they grew up?  Would my wife find another man with even a fraction of my splendid qualities (J)? 

Clearly, I was choosing to spend my last moments on earth—like so many of my other moments on earth—worrying.  At some point the airplane leveled off and began to climb. After the flight we were told a cabin pressure gauge had failed and the pilot dove below 10,000 feet to prevent the oxygen masks from deploying, which would have created a two hour delay in Chicago, resulting in flight delays for the rest of his shift.  He had not wanted to make an announcement over the intercom, assuming we were all sleeping and wouldn’t notice the little detour towards the ground.

In his book Conscious Capitalism, John Mackey writes, “The most important insight about fear is that it seldom exists in the present moment.  It is almost always about the future, something we are afraid is going to happen.  When we direct our attention fully into the present moment, fear greatly lessens or disappears.”  Apparently, the University of Cincinnati did a study on worry and found that 85% of what we worry about never happens.  And 79% of us handle the 15% of our worries that do manifest much better than we imagined we would.  So what are we worried about?  Unfortunately, we worry about nearly everything, even though nearly everything we worry about does not happen.  We are obsessed with looking forward into the unknown of the future and projecting the worst, instead of living in the present moment and enjoying its blessings.  Of course, some moments contain problems to be addressed, but worry does nothing to help with those.  When we stay in the moment, where we belong, we find our blessings.

Tom will preach downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. His sermon title is “On the Job,” based on Luke 5:1-11.

Come home to church this Sunday.  What should you wear?  Wear a smile!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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