Tuesday, June 26, 2012

No Fear

June 24th, 2012               “No Fear”                    Rev. Heather Jepsen
1 Samuel 17:32-49 and Mark 4:35-41
          Fear.  Today we are talking about fear.  Knees knocking, palms sweating, eyes wide, quick breathing; fear.  We are talking about being really scared, scared out of your mind.  We are talking about that nervousness that seems to paralyze you.  Did you feel that way at all this week, real fear?  Perhaps not.  Webster’s gives the following synonyms for fear: bother, worry, fret, fuss, stew, and stress.  Did you feel that way at all this week?  Perhaps you did.  Fear.
          David appears to have no fear in our Old Testament reading.  Make no mistake, there is plenty of fear in the passage, it just doesn’t seem to come from David.  The Israelites are in battle with the Philistines.  King Saul is there as well as some of David’s brothers.  A large fellow, Goliath, appears out of the Philistine ranks and starts trash talking; a common prelude to battle.  Young David shows up bringing in some rations for the fighters and hears this trash talking Philistine.
          The rest of the Israelites are plagued by fear.  Just like those Webster synonyms I see them feeling bothered, worrying, fretting, fussing, stewing, and stressed.  They are paralyzed by their fear and all the guy is doing is talking.  David, the one without fear, decides that by the power of God he will be able to take down this enemy.
          Now King Saul seeks to outfit David with the latest battle field technology and so decorates him in his own armor.  It’s a comical scene really, as the Bible writer describes David putting on the giant helmet, coat of mail, and sheathed sword.  It’s all so big and heavy that David can’t even walk.  “I can’t wear these” he says, and takes the gear off.  He doesn’t need all that junk.  That is for people who are afraid, and David, he has no fear. 
          David just grabs his staff, his slingshot, and his bag of rocks.  Upon seeing him apparently unarmed, Goliath just laughs at David.  The trash talking resumes and we find David can dish it out as well as Goliath.  Finally the battle commences.  The two fighters run quickly toward each other and David takes out that sling shot.  With great skill, great accuracy, even greater faith, and no fear; David launches that little rock at Goliath’s head, and that’s it.  Goliath is felled with a crack to the skull and the battle is over, the Israelites have won.
          As kids we loved this story of David and Goliath.  At one point I think most kids take a rock and chuck it at the nearest tree imagining taking down the great enemy.  As adults, we give this story less credit.  It’s the stuff of children’s Bibles and not something that has any real say in our life.  As a pastor and a preacher, I can find lots of possible things to wonder about in this story.  From the role of oppressor and oppressed to the glorification of violence this tale is ripe for discussion.  But today, we are talking about fear.
          It is interesting in this story to find that so many people are afraid.  The warriors, full grown men who have seen battle before are terrified of Goliath.  Saul, the great king, clothed in the best armor on the battle field is paralyzed by fear.  The young David alone is the only one who is unafraid.  What is surprising about David is that though he is small of stature, and has the smallest portion of strength, he has the largest portion of faith.
          David has battled with the beasts of nature and always survived; a credit he gives to God rather than his own skill.  And so when trying to convince King Saul to let him fight David says, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.”  Great faith, no fear; it’s quite the story.
          Of course today’s gospel reading is also all about fear.  Jesus is dead tired after days and days of teaching and healing.  He needs a break from the crowds and the only way to get away is to literally get off the land and to a place where the people can’t get to him.  Into the boat he goes with the disciples.  Mark notes that other boats followed as well.  The poor Savior can never really get away. 
          Jesus is taking a much needed break, sleeping on a cushion in the back of the boat, when a storm comes up.  The storm grows and grows and before they know it the waves are bigger than the boat and the craft starts taking on water.  We must remember that several of Jesus’ disciples were experienced fisherman.  They must have known how to handle a boat in rough seas.  Yet, even they too begin to panic.  Before long fear sets in; bother, worry, fret, fuss, stew, and stress.  Something must be done, and so they wake Jesus.
          I love the way Mark writes his narrative here.  You can just see the disciples panicking.  Jesus has been asleep, he doesn’t know what’s going on, but they are swamped in fear and all worked up.  They don’t calmly tap his shoulder.  No, someone shakes him awake and yells in his face “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
          Now I was just telling the brown bag group this week that Mark is my favorite gospel.  The reason I love Mark so much is that Jesus is so human in Mark.  I imagine that he was a bit annoyed by this rude awakening.  And in our NRSV his reply to his disciples and to the storm is gently translated “Peace, be still.”  Another possible translation of the Greek here is “Be quiet!  Shut up!”  Jesus is often annoyed in Mark and personally I think this is no exception.
          Now the waters are eerily calm.  And this, more than the storm, is frightening to the fishermen.  Jesus turns and asks, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  And the NRSV does us a disservice here with their translation, “the disciples were filled with great awe.”  A literal translation of the Greek is they were “fearful with a great fear”.  Who Jesus is and what he has done is much scarier than any storm that threatens to take their lives.  And so they are fearful with a great fear.  Fear: bother, worry, fret, fuss, stew, stress.  And they ask one another, “Who is this guy?”
          We have a study in contrasts this morning: David, the young man who was without fear in the face of a large opponent on the battle field; and the disciples, first afraid of a storm and then even more afraid of the one they called teacher.  David sets the bar high, like the story books we often relegate him to, his is a mythical faith.  When we consider our own lives it is hard to imagine any of us going up against a giant of a problem and not being afraid.  David’s great faith is an ideal, a fairy tale if you will, something to dream about, even strive for, but not something many are likely to achieve.
          No, I think we much more likely to achieve the faith of the disciples; afraid of the storm, afraid of the calming of the storm, afraid of everything, including Jesus.  I think the disciples thought they were following any other prophet and miracle worker.  Sure they had seen healings and exorcisms but these were common practices among traveling healers at the time.  Jesus certainly wasn’t alone in these feats. 
And yet here suddenly things change.  No one controls chaos but God.  Here suddenly they realize that they have been walking around with God.  That God has been with them and God has seen all the stupid things they’ve done and God has heard all the awful things they’ve said and so they are afraid.  It’s much scarier than a storm or even Goliath.  It’s God, and God knows what you’ve been doing.
          Fear: bother, worry, fret, fuss, stew, and stress.  How many of those words describe your week?  I know they’ve been a part of mine.  Like us, the disciples are always misunderstanding Jesus.  He doesn’t want to scare them; he doesn’t want them to be afraid.  I am sure by this point he is hoping that they will know he comes in love, not judgment.  But still, there is fear.
          In our lives we face many things to be afraid of.  There are the problems that are as big as Goliath.  How will I ever get past this, how will I ever overcome, how will I ever beat this thing, it’s too big?  And there are dangers as scary as the storm.  Our boat’s taking on water and we just know we are going to sink, we are going to drown, and we are going under.  And then there’s the biggest fear of all, what if God is real and what if God really knows me.  What if God knows all the things I’ve done, all the things I’ve said?  Can there be any forgiveness for me?
          Fear.  It’s all too easy for us to become paralyzed by fear.  And in this moment, we need the gentle translation of Jesus “Peace!  Be still!”  God does not want our fear.  God wants our love.  Because God doesn’t come at us in judgment, God comes to us in love.
          It is my prayer today that we would be able to let go of even just a small part of our fear; that we could be more like David, ready to take down any challenge in the name of the Lord.  That though the storms may come, we might have faith that Jesus is with us in the boat, and we will be ok.  God has saved us from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear and even from the greatest of storms.  God will certainly save us from our fear.
       May we go forward from this place with great faith, and with no fear.  Amen.                  


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