Sermon on Fear, Self-centeredness and the Storm at Sea

NBW sermon 6_24_2012 <——- Click here to listen along. Preaching is a spoken art form!

This might come as a shock to all of you, but I have not always gotten everything I’ve wanted.  And I’m sure unlike all of you…sometimes I blame God for that.  As a matter of fact, there are things in life that I prayed like hell to either get or to keep – because I knew if I could have them I would be happy and all would be well.  And yet, I did not get them.  Some of these were slightly more critical than others.  When I was 9 I wanted a ventriloquist’s dummy I saw in the Sears catalogue and didn’t get it, when I was 14 I wanted my disfiguring auto-immune disorder to go away and it didn’t, When I was 22 I wanted to be able to drink like a lady and I couldn’t.

I had reasons, good reasons for God to do these things for me. I had a certain way I wanted things in my life to work out and when God didn’t make these simple things happen, things I deserved, things that would make me happy, I wondered why God was not doing what I wanted God to do.  I wondered why God didn’t seem to care. And by the way, why has God abandoned me?

Here in this church in the last few months things have happened in your lives which you desired and things have happened in your lives for which you have suffered.  you’ve buried one of your own, gotten new jobs, endured the death of your parents, birthed your babies, lost your jobs and finalized your divorces and announced your engagements.  Some of these things you would choose and some you would not.  Some of these things made you happy and some made you miserable and yet ….God was still present in all of it. Not just the stuff that felt good but also the stuff that felt awful.  God’s presence with us and love for us simply cannot be judged on the basis of how things feel to us.

I think that’s one of the issues in our Gospel text today about the storm at sea.  The disciples assume Jesus doesn’t care that they are in peril.

But maybe that’s where feelings can get us into trouble. I feel close to God therefore God must be close.  I feel abandoned therefor God must be far off.

I’m more and more convinced, not that how we feel is unimportant, but that how we feel is not the gauge of reality we’ve been told it is.  A lot of time when I meet people for pastoral care and they are in the middle of a storm I end up saying to them “I think you’re actually doing better than you feel”

See, when our faith in God is directly correlated to how we feel about our life maybe it’s a bit askew.  Because we can so easily think God is indifferent because God isn’t doing what we think God should do if God really loved us and we totally mis that fact that at least God’s in the dang boat with us!  Jesus never left them, he just didn’t act the way they thought he should. And that made them feel bad.

God caring about us doesn’t always end up looking like God doing for us what we think God should. Because sometime the faithfulness of God actually looks like the fact that there is a better story than the way you want things to work out.

This week I started to wonder about the role fear plays in all of this.  Because in the end, it is my desire for the story of my life to unfold in a certain way with particular casting, props, setting and storyline that creates fear in me – since fear is usually about either not getting something I want or something I love being taken away.

And fear is what the disciples experienced in the boat that day when faced with a storm and a messiah who didn’t act like he cared.

In our Gospel reading we heard that after a day of teaching, Jesus and the disciples left with some other boats to go to the far side of the Galilean sea…there was a great storm and they were afraid and to top it all off Jesus was being useless.  So useless in fact that he was actually napping…on a cushion. (just parenthetically for you Bible nerds: this story appears in varying forms in all 4 of the gospels, but God bless him, Mark is the only one of his fellow gospel writers who mentions that there was a pillow involved) Anyhow, the disciples are freaking out thinking they are going to die.  They look at their situation and see that the cast isn’t acting how they are supposed to and the script isn’t unfolding the way they thought it should if Jesus really loved them.  So they wake Jesus up saying “don’t you care we are perishing?”.  Jesus then stilled the storm and said “why are you afraid?”

Why are you afraid? Is an eternally valid question.

Sometimes we are afraid because we think we are not going to get something we want and other times we are afraid because we think that something we have will be taken away.  And there are many things to explore about when fear is good and healthy and when it’s total bondage but the one thing I kept thinking about this week is how fear is almost always small and self-centered.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this storm at sea story from Mark but it’s a lot, and I’ve read tons of commentaries on it and I have never seen anything written about this one thing that that I now think might be important, and that is this: verse 26  And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. So here’s my question: What about the other boats? I mean, the text says that there were other boats with them, which means that the people in those boats were experiencing the storm too.  So maybe in their fear the disciples forgot about anyone but themselves.  They wanted Jesus to help them, to act toward them in a certain way.  But is God not the God of those in the other boats as well?

What I mean is this: sometimes when we get so wrapped up in how we think the story of our lives should look: the cast and setting and  plot, we forget about the other boats.  Maybe we think God’s faithfulness to us has to look a certain way when the fact is that sometimes God’s faithfulness looks like the fact that there is actually a better story than the way you want things to be.  And that better story is always a bigger story.  A story with a lot of boats other than ours.

We can easily forget about God’s ability to use our storms, our struggles, our disappointments to help others.  I know for myself that despite my fears and desires, that it is not my blessings and strengths and skills that have been of use to others nearly as much as my recovery from addiction and my difficult medical history and my failings. Yet if I had gotten what I wanted, if God had acted at the time in a way that I deemed to be loving and faithful toward me, so little of what I have to offer now as a person and a pastor would be available to others.

To be clear, this is not the same as saying that your fear and crises and loss are not real in a totally painful way.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t feel bad when there are storms in your life, it’s just that God’s redeeming action in the world involves a lot of other boats. I can’t imagine that the God of the universe is limited to our ideas of how God should act.  I can’t imagine that God doesn’t reveal God’s self in countless ways outside of my understanding of what is happening in my own life.  And even though it doesn’t feel like it in the moment, In a way that’s actually good news, because you need a God who is bigger, more nimble and mysterious than your ability to understand God.

We may want our own personal Jesus for our own little private boats, but God’s dream for the wholeness of all of creation is a dream that we are drawn into through the Gospel and through the Eucharist and through the water of baptism and it’s a story that includes a lot of boats and for sure it’s a bigger, better story than any of us could come up with on our own. So good people of God,  Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Amen.

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • http://www.mjarts.com Marty Jones

    >We can easily forget about God’s ability to use our storms, our struggles, our disappointments to help others. I know for myself that despite my fears and desires, that it is not my blessings and strengths and skills that have been of use to others nearly as much as my recovery from addiction and my difficult medical history and my failings. Yet if I had gotten what I wanted, if God had acted at the time in a way that I deemed to be loving and faithful toward me, so little of what I have to offer now as a person and a pastor would be available to others.
    Right between the eyes…
    Matthew West has a song, “Strong Enough.” I’ve listened to it dozens of times recently; the other day/week I heard a line about how the challenges cause us to reach up and REACH OUT. My last 3 years of neuropathy has caused me to reach out to others in more ways than I have for most of my life. It still sucks; but…
    Blessings, Marty

  • Susan Phillips Plese

    I was drawn to your sermon on fear. The only thing I fear is loss of my loved ones, either physical and emotional. When I was younger, I feared for myself; but no more. Instead, I pray for people who have lost what I had and treasured most: my son’s mental health; another son’s alienation and his wife’s cruelty witholding their babies from us; my daughter’s coolness toward my husband and me, all for reasons we don’t know. I speak quietly to women facing breast cancer surgery, as I did, telling them what to expect and what not to fear. I pray and talk to those with mental illness and the families who love them, even as I mourn my dear son’s inability to have a wife and family of his own; and mourn the sweet grandchildren who will never know my love for them. I encourage those who have a child, like mine, who will never be able to live independently, and for those who desperately want a child, any child, and cannot. I pray for others with chronic and painful illness. I advocate publicly for the homeless and unloved. I “preach” tolerance, though that word is not strong enough. To simply “put up with,” to “tolerate” someone who is disabled; of a different religion, culture or color; of a different social standing; of a different definition of marriage, is not enough. Tolerance is not love. Love has no limits. God is Love. God is with us. We may mourn, and help those who mourn, but we need not fear. It’s easy to be fearless for one’s self; terribly difficult to be fearless for those we love. I have yet to reach that goal.
    A child once said, “I don’t know why you’re sad, but I can sit on the curb and cry with you.”
    Thank you, Pastor, for your calming words in the midst of the storm, words for all of us in the other boats, and for those who don’t understand but can sit on the curb and help us cry.
    Susan

  • http://brainatthedoor.blogspot.com Hugh

    Spot on. You are so right about feelings not being a good guide, particularly for someone like myself who lives with depression. Recently, during a sudden downturn in my mood, I wrote this:

    Eli, Eli, lamasabachthani?

    My God, My God, why have You deserted Me?
    I cried in the dark of the night

    My God, My God, why have You deserted Me?
    As the thick veil of depression enshrouded me

    My God, My God, why have You deserted Me?
    As hope faded to nothing

    And then I was silent

    And in the silence a voice spoke
    “I thought you’d deserted me.

    In your pain and suffering I was always there
    Even when the fog descended
    But you let go of my hand when you lost sight of me.”

    My God, My God, why have I deserted You?

    However your point about the other boats takes me a bit further than this. Takes me away from how I feel into how and into how God feels; the God who loves all of creation and every person made in His image.

  • Pingback: Highlights of the Week – 6/27/12 | | Jericho Books

  • Monika

    This has given me so much think about, and some glimpses of clarity, just at a time when I’ve been pondering a bit too much and getting myself all confused. Thank you!


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