Sunday, August 07, 2005
Sermon - Pentecost 12 - Matthew 14:22-33
Pentecost 12, August 7th, 2005
“Fear or Faith?”
It’s a fearful story. Not really a ghost story, but the disciples thought it was a ghost. When Jesus came walking on the water toward their boat. They were afraid. They cried out in fear.
Jesus calmed the fears. “Don’t be afraid. It’s just me!”
Peter – for whatever reason we can only guess – decides he wants in on this water-walking. “If it’s really you Lord, tell me to come out there too!”
Pretty fearless of him, right?
Oh, it goes fine for a little while, but then Peter saw the wind, and he was… afraid… and began to sink. “Lord save me” he cries, and of course, the Lord does. And Peter’s fear is once again removed.
And when they step into the boat, all of a sudden the wind dies down, the waves smooth out,, everything is peaceful, and fear is gone.
Today’s Gospel puts fear in our face. And it reminds us of this problem with which we all struggle at various times, to varying degrees. Fear. But the story about Jesus walking on water is also a reminder of where and how and by whom fear is put away. Jesus calms our fears, and gives us courage. Let’s consider the contrast and the question today, “fear or faith?”
I. The Many Phobias of Man
We humans are well acquainted with fear. We all have fears from an early age. When you first go to school and are afraid of the unknown. When you lie in bed and are afraid of the dark. We have fears. But then we get older and we find new fears.
Take for instance, the following list of “phobias” I was able to find on the internet: (from over 530 known, documented phobias):
Acrophobia- Fear of heights.
Agoraphobia- Fear of open spaces or of being in crowded.
Claustrophobia- Fear of confined spaces.
Coulrophobia- Fear of clowns.
Glossophobia- Fear of speaking in public.
Logizomechanophobia- Fear of computers.
Porphyrophobia- Fear of the color purple.
Peladophobia- Fear of bald people.
Ephebiphobia- Fear of teenagers.
Phobophobia- Fear of phobias.
(and of course, ) Homilophobia- Fear of sermons.
Maybe your fears are of an illness. Maybe you fear for members of your family. Are you afraid about your financial security? Or do you simply find lots of little things to be afraid of – or worry about?
But what is our greatest fear? What should it be? The root of all fear is certainly a spiritual one, and it is connected with sin. In fact the first fear recorded was a direct result of Adam and Eve’s sin, “I heard you walking in the garden, and I hid, because I was afraid.”. Since then, all other fears lead back to the one great fear:
The ultimate fear is the dread of knowing we are NOT all right. That there is something very wrong, very wrong with us, as we stand before our God. The ultimate fear that should have every human quaking and shivering is the fear of the wrath of almighty God. For sinners deserve death and punishment and eternal condemnation. This is what true fear is about. Fear that because of my sin, my own sin, my own most grievous sin, God will say to me at the judgment – “depart from me you evildoer”, perhaps the most fearful words in all of scripture.
There is a part of us, even as Christians, that still fears such a thing. I have heard many stories about life-long believers (and good Lutherans at that!) who still fear that God will drag all their sins out in the open before his judgment throne. That somehow, when scrutinized, they will be found lacking. These kinds of fears are the delight of Satan, who wants us to doubt, and worry, and despair.
So how can we deal with fear?
We could turn fear into a TV show, and watch other people do all sorts of fearful stunts – from the dangerous to the gross. But how does that help me with MY fear?
We could use systematic desensitization, and little by little, get closer and closer to that which we fear – but how does that help us with the ultimate fear? How do you desensitize the fear of eternal judgment?
Maybe I could be rid of fear by thinking positive, “going to my happy place”. Nope. That doesn’t work either.
These are all human answers. And therefore they are limited and will fail.
Better to hear what God has to say about our fears. Better to let God deal with our fears.
II. The Many “Fear Not’s” of Scripture
God is decidedly against fear.
How often the Bible speaks those words, “fear not!”
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all people.” (Luke)
“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield.” (Genesis)
“Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage.” (Joshua) “Fear not: for I am with you.” (Isaiah)
“Fear not, from now on you shall be fishers of men.” (Luke)
“Fear not, little flock.” (Luke)
“Fear not. I am the first and the last.” (Revelation).
In fact the phrase “fear not” appears in the Bible somewhere between 80 and 140 times, depending on how you count it.
But all this talk about “fearing not” is useless, isn’t it, if God doesn’t actually DO something about it. Well fear not, for God does.
The only thing to do with fear, really, is to take it away. That’s what Jesus does.
III. Taking Courage in Christ
Just as Jesus took the disciples’ fear away, and took Peter’s fear away, so he takes our fear away. He doesn’t just say it, he actually does it.
Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Only God has perfect love. And he shows that love in Christ. He so loved the world that he sent Christ to the cross.
Our fear of standing before God’s judgment is taken away, because Christ stood in our place, hung on our cross, and bore the wrath and anger and judgment of God for us. Our deepest, darkest fears come to fruition at the cross, and there are put away in the death of Christ. There God said, “get away from me” to Christ. There God’s anger was unleashed, at Christ. There God’s righteous judgment was meted out in full measure, on Christ. Everything we could fear, Christ took, and took it away from us. At the cross, the power of fear is destroyed forever.
So when Jesus says, “fear not”, he has the standing to say it. When Jesus says, “fear not” he isn’t just saying it! He’s all about making it happen – taking our fears away.
It reminds me of the story of a young child who is afraid in the middle of the night. He comes to his parents’ room, and says, “there’s a monster under my bed”. The parents could simply say, “NO there isn’t. Get back to bed!” But will this do much to take that fear away? What if the parent goes with the child, looks under the bed, maybe turns on a light – and shows the child there is nothing to fear. This might be better.
When we come to Jesus with fear of the monster, he doesn’t just tell us to buzz off, there’s nothing to worry about. Nor does he make us look under the bed and see for ourselves. For the monster is real, in this case. But what he does is destroy it before our eyes. The three-headed monster of sin, death and the devil, is cast away by the Christ, never to cause us fear again. He doesn’t just say it, he does it!
It’s not insignificant that fear appears twice in this story. First the disciples are afraid when they see Jesus, thinking he is a ghost. Next, Peter is afraid when he sees the wind, and realizes, “hey, I’m walking on water! Am I out of my mind?”. In both cases, Jesus takes the fear away. He speaks it away, “Fear not, it is I!” and he does something about it, when he reaches out and catches Peter.
So too with us. Jesus again and again deals with our fear. He continually reminds us that we have nothing to be afraid of. We stand righteous before God, and as we read last week in Romans, nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ – we need not fear danger, or famine, or nakedness, or sword, or angels or demons, or the present or the future, nor anything else in all of creation – not even death. We are safe with him, in His love, in Christ.
When we read the account of Jesus walking on the water, we are reminded of many things. That Jesus is powerful; that he has control of nature. He calls his disciples to trust him. He rescues them when drowning.
But we also see that Jesus takes away fear. He bids the disciples, and us, to “Take courage! And be not afraid.”
Franklin Roosevelt famously said in his first inaugural address, “we have nothing to fear, but fear itself!” A catchy phrase, but not very theological.
Much better for us is, “In Christ, we have nothing to fear. Period.” For he is our savior, our God, our brother and our friend. He died for our sins, and he lives forever. And he says, “fear not!” Amen.
Impetuous Peter gives us a window into our own struggles between faith and fear. And Jesus is always there to catch us too. With Him we need never fear.