PROPER 14, A
1 Kings 19:9-18
In both the Old and New Testament reading today, we are shown the results of fear, especially the way fear interferes with discipleship. Elijah ran away from his assignment, in spite of defeating Jezebel’s prophets and working amazing miracles. Why? Because Jezebel threatened his life. He takes refuge in a cave. Notice what God asks him twice, “What are you doing here?” Both times he gets an evasive answer. Then he kicks Elijah out of the cave and tells him where to go and what to do.
In a very different kind of story we see another instance of fear. Jesus has sent all 12 disciples out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. The wind comes up during the night and they’re still out in the middle of the lake in the early morning when they see Jesus coming toward them walking on the water.
The disciples were terrified. Jesus calls out to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then Peter, the brave, bold, and brash asks if he can try it too, and Jesus says, “Come.”
So Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking to Jesus. But then he notices how strong the wind is and becomes afraid. Then he begins to sink. Jesus takes his hand to rescue him and says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
This story makes a direct connection between fear and doubt. Peter became afraid and that created doubt. The opposite of fear and doubt is faith. His fear undermined his faith.
Marcus Borg, who was a Biblical scholar, wrote a book called Speaking Christian, in which he discussed the ways that the meanings of theological words have changed during the 20th Century. One of the key words he deals with is FAITH. The prior meaning of faith was more like TRUST or TRUST IN. The current unnderstanding is more like BELIEVE, as in holding a certain set of beliefs or dogma.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the statement of faith we use once in a while in place of the Creed uses “We trust” rather than “We believe.” Trust is more like confidence in, rather than a statement of existence.
Peter’s fear undermined his confidence in, his trust of Jesus. Without that trust, walking on the water became impossible. Trusting God is what enables us to overcome fear.
So the question this raises for me is this. Whom or what do I trust? I began life trusting my parents, which lasted until I was about four. In varying degrees I have trusted my best friend, my dog, my teachers, my husband in the succeeding years. For some time I trusted only myself. None of us proved reliable!
We all know people who put their trust in money or success. It’s easy to see that misplacement of trust as a kind of idolatry when we look at others. But what about ourselves? It took me a long time to see the search for knowledge as a similar idolatry.
As I’ve mentioned before, a central tenant of AA is asserting your belief, or your trust in, a higher power. Many people who have found this program effective say that this acceptance of a higher power is crucial to recovery. I would say that it is also crucial to our lives as disciples of Jesus.
This week take some time to ask yourselves:
- Whom or what do I trust now? Completely?
- How do I combat fear, especially unwarranted fear.
- How often do I scare myself by imagining bad things happening?
- Am I afraid of dying?
One of the things that this story of Peter trying to walk on the water suggests to me is that Jesus is calling us to put aside our fears and doubts, to get out of the boat, and to trust him to hang on to us.
In prior sermons on this lesson I’ve pointed out how the boat has some parallels with the church. Look at the ceiling in this church. What does it remind you of? What is this space called? The NAVE; same root as the word navy.
Like the original disciples we’re gathered here in the Nave, and that’s good, but it’s only the beginning. We also need to get out and take what we learn here out into the world around us.
As you go, remember that both Peter and Jesus return to the boat safely. Don’t be afraid! Trust that God will go with us when we dare to step out as his disciples. AMEN