Why Are You Afraid?
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 4:35–4:41
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 23-24, 2012
“Why Are You Afraid?”
In his book, Listening to Your Life, (San Francisco: Harper, 1992 – see p. 98), author and theologian, Frederick Buechner, writes of important questions that are asked in the Bible, and echo down through the ages into our lives today. Here are some of these questions from Scripture that Buechner points out: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9); “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9); “Where shall I go from your spirit?” (Psalm 139:7); “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26); “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25); “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29); “What is truth?” (John 18:38). These are all deep and profound questions about life, about God, about us. I think we could add a few more questions to Buechner’s list from today’s Gospel lesson: “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38), “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40), and “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). These questions begin with doubt and fear as the disciples are afraid that they’re going to drown out there on the Sea of Galilee, and end with awe and reverence as they see Jesus’ power to still the storm. Between our fearful doubt and holy awe is the question Jesus asks us, his disciples then and now: “Why are you afraid?” And it is this searching question of Jesus that forms the basis for today’s message. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
The Sea of Galilee is as dangerous as it is beautiful. Located 680 feet below sea level, it has a fertile climate that is almost tropical. The hills surrounding the lake are carved deep with ravines and gorges which act like gigantic funnels drawing the cold winds toward the sea. In a matter of seconds, the calm surface of the water can become a raging, churning cauldron. This was the experience of the disciples in today’s Gospel. The day had been a busy one, and Jesus had taught the crowds with parables: “The kingdom of God is like a man who scattered seed… The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…” (Mark 4:26, 30). The people listened, but few understood, and at the end of the day Jesus was exhausted. The disciples and their Teacher got into a boat and started across the Sea of Galilee. Through archaeological work, we know that “the boats of the Galilean fishermen were quite large… with one mast and one great triangular sail. At the stern of the boat, just in front of the helmsman, there was a little platform-like deck and on it a cushion, and it was the custom that distinguished guests sat there while the boat sailed” (And He Had Compassion, William Barclay). It was here that Jesus fell asleep, and that’s when the storm broke.
We’ve all been in storms that have made us fearful and afraid. It’s one thing to be on land under shelter when a storm hits, but it’s quite another to be caught out on open water when this happens. There are other storms in life that can come up quickly and threaten us: the phone call in the middle of the night, receiving the medical diagnosis we’ve been dreading, the crisis at home that threatens our marriage and family, being told that our services are no longer needed at work. We’re afraid that we’re going under; that we’ll perish. The disciples’ desperate cry to Jesus’ is our own cry: “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” “Jesus, don’t you care that my life is falling apart? Jesus, don’t you care that my family member is so sick? Jesus, don’t you care?” Like those disciples on the Sea of Galilee, our own little boat seems so flimsy and weak when the storms of life crash against us. In the midst of the storm, we’re tempted to focus on it rather than Jesus. All we can see and hear is the power of that raging storm. The same Lord Jesus who was with the first disciples is also with us. Even in the midst of the storm, we’re not alone.
Sometimes from our perspective, it may seem like Jesus is asleep on the cushion while the storm rages around us. The truth is, Jesus does not always calm the storm around us as he did on the Sea of Galilee. Sometimes, instead of calming the storm out there Jesus calms the storm within – the storm of fear in our heart that undermines faith and diverts our focus away from Jesus. Jesus asks us today as he asked his first disciples: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). In this life, we’re afraid of many things; our fears can be real or imagined. But the ultimate fear that we all have – what happens when I die? – has been taken care of by this Jesus who stilled the storm. Jesus who commanded the wind and sea, “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39), has defeated sin, death, and hell through his life-giving death upon the cross. Our future is secure no matter what! In place of fear that cripples, Jesus now gives to us divine peace: “Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Anxious, fearful and storm-tossed hearts can be calmed only with this peace of Christ – that peace which “surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). How blessed we are to have this foundation for our lives, but there are so many who do not. They have never heard of Jesus’ stilling the storm; they do not know that this same Jesus gave his life for them on the cross. How will they hear, how will they know, unless we tell them? This is our calling in Christ: to share this good news with others in word and deed.
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). Thanks be to God we know the answer to that question asked by those awestruck and dumbfounded disciples! By the grace of God, we know and trust in Jesus who commands the forces of nature, who gave his life on the cross to take away our sins and who rose in triumph over death and the grave, who loves us with an everlasting love, who promises to be with us always even to the end of the world – even when the storms of life rage around us. May this good news move our hearts from fear to faith so that the question, “Why are you so afraid?” is transformed into another question: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?... No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35, 37). Amen.