6/24/12 – FEAR OR FAITH by Lynn Naeckel

PROPER 7, B

Job 38:1-11

Mark 4:35-41

I love this reading from Job, even though it doesn’t really answer Job’s questions, at least not directly. Poor Job has had terrible troubles. He has always been a righteous Jew, and he prospered in his life. Then God made a deal with the devil to test Job’s faith by taking away literally everything he had, property, wife, children, respect.

Now Job passes that test by staying faithful, but he also rails at God for treating him in this manner. His so-called friends come to console him, but end up saying he must have done something wrong or these terrible losses wouldn’t have happened to him. In other words they agreed with the theology of the day, that God rewards good people with worldly goods and punishes evil ones by taking things away from them.

So if Job is now without any worldly good, without a wife or children, he must have done something to deserve this. Of course, Job knows that he didn’t, and God knows that he didn’t, but when he questions God about this and demands some explanation, God replies out of the whirlwind:

“Gird up your loins like a man, and I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding.”

In other words, who are you to question God? Rather it should be the other way around. Are you the one who created the cosmos? Well, no. Are you the one who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb? Are you the one who prescribed bounds for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther and here shall your proud waves be stopped?’

This last bit, of course, is the connection to today’s Gospel, in which Jesus calms the sea. He and his disciples escape from the crowds in a boat, when a great storm blows in on them, so that the boat was in danger of swamping. Jesus is asleep on the stern seat. The disciples become terrified and wake him up. Jesus calms the storm, then turns to them and says, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

And what do the disciples do? Do they even hear his question? Evidently not, because they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Sure, the disciples were still trying to figure out who Jesus is, and they were rightfully awed by his power to calm the storm, but they seem to pay no attention to his words to them.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

There are many places in the Bible where people are told not to fear or to have no fear. We hear these words over and over, and I suspect we pay just as little attention to them as the disciples did.

Remember that to be faithful is to give our trust. To have faith in God is not just to believe that God exists, but to trust God, to give our lives to God, to trust that in the end God will make it right, that all will be well with us. If we really have faith, we will not be afraid. And if we let fear rule us, it means we are not trusting God.

This does not mean that if we have no fear God will do what WE want. It does not mean that God will keep us safe from all harm. Bad things happen in this world and bad things happen to everyone, somewhere along the way. But I think what Jesus was saying to the disciples and what God was saying to Job is that God is with us whatever happens, and if we have faith in God, we can live our lives without fear.

It’s become very clear to me over the years that fear is what makes us hate others, exclude others, avoid others. It is also clear that there are many voices in our culture that encourage us to be fearful. This may be political use of fear to control people.

I hated all the fear mongering that went on after 9/11 and I’m still very concerned about the long-term results of the Patriot Act and other legislation that was passed to “keep us safe.” As if legislation can ever do such a thing. They pass legislation to require us to wear seat belts to “keep us safe,” but we can still die in a car crash. Certainly the church has been guilty of fear mongering as well, whether it used the threat of damnation, or the threat of shunning or excommunication, or the threat of ruining your business.

An article in the current issue of Sojourners Magazine by Brian McLaren and David Csinos talks about how keeping children cocooned safely in bubble wrap to “keep them safe” winds up teaching them to be afraid – afraid of all kinds of things, but particularly anything that is different.

My husband and I have often swapped stories of our childhood. We both were sent out to play with NO adult supervision whatsoever, with only the injunction to be home at a certain time or to return when our mother’s blew our whistle. All the moms had different whistles, so we knew who was being summoned. We couldn’t go outside the neighborhood without permission, but we often got permission to go some blocks away to go to the drugstore for a coke or the dairy for an ice cream.

All through grade school I walked to and from school, about 5 long blocks that were also up and down hill. By the age of 8 or 9 I was taking a city bus after school to go downtown for a piano lesson. Then I walked to Dad’s office to get a ride home. My grandchildren at 8 and 10 were not allowed to walk from their home on Hiway Lane to mine on Riverside Drive. They were driven to and from St. Thomas school. I have never known them to play in the neighborhood or use the playground on Riverside Drive.

When I took them out on the houseboat and asked if they wanted to jump off the roof into the water they thought I’d gone round the bend. They didn’t even believe me when I said I would do just that – until they saw me do it! I saw how easy it is to be paralyzed by fear, and it does not lead to the kind of life God wants for us.

And what about worry? How much time and energy do we spend on that? And isn’t that a direct result of fear? Trust in God can alleviate both fear and worry in our lives, but it’s not easy to overcome fearfulness. Practice gratitude. Practice mindfulness. Notice when fear kicks in and decide whether to ignore it or pay attention to it. Find ways to put it aside when it hinders your ability to do and be all that you can be, all that God calls you to be.

When I took my grandchildren to Washington, DC, they were surprised to encounter homeless people on the streets, but they were determined to give all of them some money. They had not yet learned to be afraid of the homeless and were an example to me in selfless generosity. No one had to tell them that we had so much more that we could surely afford to share. So let us be brave and fearless and trusting as a child who has not yet learned fear. AMEN

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