29 January 2011

A Homily upon Epiphany 4

“Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?”

Well, let’s see: the wind is howling, lightning is flashing, the waves are crashing over the boat, the boat is beginning to sink, we’re faced with death and drowning - and you happen to be asleep and oblivious to all this. How’s that for reasons to be fearful - no matter what size our faith is?

The astonishing thing is that Jesus just doesn’t "get" the life of fear that we understand so perfectly. Who here today has the least trouble identifying with the disciples and what they were going through? Who here today is puzzled by their behavior? Fear is something we understand all too well. We know what it is to be afraid. Afraid of losing a family a member, afraid of the uncertainties of the future, afraid of a relationship breaking up, afraid of losing friends, afraid of suffering, afraid of another’s anger, afraid of losing control, afraid of gaining control, afraid of responsibility, afraid of getting hurt again, afraid of disap- pointing those who depend on us, afraid of change, afraid that things will never change, afraid that we’ve done something too awful for God or others to forgive, afraid that people will hate us if they really knew the evil we hide inside.

And so, yes, to us Jesus asks the question - and asks it as the winds howl and the waves crash and beat against the boat and our life feels like its going down - why are you fearful, O you of little faith?

If we ponder together that seemingly ridiculous question, a whole new world opens up to us: the world in which our Lord lived and which He came to open up for us, so that we could live in it too. It would not be going too far to describe it as a life de- void of being afraid. Which is not quite the same as a life without fear.

For there is always the fear of Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. But the fear of the Lord is not the same thing as being afraid. The fear of the Lord is at the end of the Gospel reading today, not the beginning: The fear of the Lord leads them to marvel, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” And it is precisely the fear of the Lord which releases from being afraid. As a wise man once said (Apocrypha) : “Fear the Lord, and then you need fear nothing else.”

A life without being afraid? A life where there is no terror in the dark, where every circumstance and person is met with confi- dence and joy, where suffering is not feared and death is not dreaded and remorse does not paralyze and peace reigns over all? Such a life belongs to Jesus and He lived it out fully. He was never afraid, for He could out with the Psalmist: “The Lord is my Light and my Salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” He cried that prayer with every ounce of His being and so in Him there was no fear, and He summons us with our little faith to enter into that life with Him and live - really live.

For what is there to be afraid of when Jesus is with you in your boat? When He is with you in your life? Does death terrify you? But He is the Resurrection and the Life, He is the Death of death. He is death’s worst nightmare come into human flesh. Death cannot hold you when He who died and rose again calls you from the grave. Death will have to release you and you will arise in your body - He has made death like a little slumber, like the nap He took on the boat.

Do your sins terrify you? But He is the Pardon for all your sins, nailed to Calvary’s cross, wiping out the handwriting that was against you entirely. His angels have tossed from heaven the evil one who would accuse you, the baptized.

Do you fear the loss of friends and family? But any who are in Him are never lost, for those who die in Him still live! And He has promised a desired reunion in heaven.

Are you afraid that you won’t have enough, that you’ll suffer hunger or poverty? But He promises you daily bread and even better, He freely gives you a food that that supplies your deepest and enduring need: His body and His blood imparting to you the pardon of sin, the promise of your resurrection, and the gift of life with Him forever.

Are you afraid that He may have suffering in mind for you and your loved ones? Don’t worry. He does! He promises that suffer- ing awaits. How could it not? If we are walking the path of love with Him, this world which rejects that love will see that we suf- fer. But He also promises that through every hardship He will bring you nothing but blessing, because He works all things to- gether for the good of those who love Him.

You see, the One in the boat who asks: “Why are you fearful?” has literally taken away from us every reason to be afraid of anything in this creation. Anything at all. He manifests the entirety of life and creation itself as a gift of love from a heavenly Father, and the measure of that love is that He gave His Son into the flesh that you might never fear, ever again.

Ah, but in our weakness, we still do fear. The Church knows this. In her wisdom, she teaches us to pray. There is a prayer that has come down to us from the dark days when Viking raiders could show up at night to plunder house and home - stealing, raping, murdering, doing all kinds of evil. The Collect for Peace. In it, the Church asks God for a most precious gift: “and that we, be- ing defended by thee from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness.” Did you catch that? The Church does not ask God to deliver her from her earthly enemies, but from the fear of them. The problem was never the Vikings or any terrorist or terror ever since. The problem is always with our being afraid of them, as though they had some power over us to separate us from the love of God in Christ! No way.

To belong to Christ, to have the Crucified and Risen One present in your life, in the boat with you, means learning to live without fear - except for the joyful fear of bowing before Him and confessing Him to be the Almighty God in our flesh and blood. Indeed, “the wind and waves still know His voice who ruled them when on earth below.” Amen.

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