Fear v’s Faith – Mark 3: 45 -51

21 Jun

Franklin D Roosevelt is famous for the saying, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”[1]  This is the fourth sentence of his inauguration speech, the speech against which all such speeches are judged.  It was a speech out of character with his campaign speeches, which were buoyant, optimistic and spiced with humour.  Yet here he takes on an unusually solemn, religious air.  It was 1933 and the Great Depression was making inroads at levels never seen before.  The economy was devastated, unemployment was rising uncontrollably and all that had previously seemed impregnable lay shattered at the feet of what was, by its own peculiar character, an optimistic society. It was no more. FDR went on in that speech to reiterate the truth that materialism is fleeting and only a true religious focus lasts; he set directions and sought to turn society around to face their fear, a fear that was both real and unreal, logical and illogical, powerful but weak. He knew the truth – once we allow fear to generate a life of its own, we have given it a power it has no right to have. We have abdicated our senses and sensibilities, have ceased to think, and retreated into reaction as the only course of action available to us. In reflection on our own life times, how often has fear been at the roots of all major concerns and conflicts in our society?  Often the fears are unsaid and unspoken.  In the recent swine flu panic it seems its more to do with the old adage, it’s not that you do everything you can, but you must be seen to do so, otherwise someone will sue you.   There is only one pig in Afghanistan, a predominantly Moslem country, and he is in the zoo.  Yet that one solitary pig who was simply minding his own business and doing piggy stuff was quarantined to lessen the spread of swine flu in that country!!  Bizarre. That is not to lessen the seriousness of the situation and we all need to take precautions but to understand that fear often hides within much of what we do. It is interesting in our gospel reading today that the disciples, and those in the other boats around them, were more interested in waking Jesus and castigating him in the tone of the Old Testament Lamentations – “How long will you forget us?” – than sailing the boat.  They were fishermen.  This would not have been the first catastrophic storm they had encountered. The area where they were sailing was well known for them. They had survived before because they took actions appropriate to the situations they found themselves in.  They hadn’t drowned then and, if they had looked at the situation logically, probably wouldn’t now. Yet we are told nothing about what they were doing just where they were looking, where they were going to sheet home the blame if the storm didn’t stop.  It wasn’t just the half-dozen in Jesus’ boat, it was the whole flotilla, standing on the rails of their vessels and pleading to Jesus to fix it.  Admirable faith but…… faith without works is not worth a crumpet. When Jesus is woken he is angry, his tone is one of, why have you woken me for this? He dismisses the storm and turns toward them, sleep still in his eyes, and glares “Why are you afraid?” why did you wake me up?, “Have you no faith?” They would have probably answered, ‘We do have faith, that’s why we woke you! We knew you would fix it!’ And this way of thinking is not illogical and in a sense is true, but Jesus was pointing at something else.  He was pointing at: ·      Faith in ourselves to deal with the situation.  There is no faith unless it increases our capabilities to live.  If all our faith is, is a constant begging for Jesus to solve our problems then our faith has some way to go.  Jesus, by his death and resurrection, his presence, provides the inspiration to be more, to cope with more, to overcome more than we could ever do on our own.   ·      Faith that we are never abandoned, even tho it sometimes feels like it.  Right there in the middle of the storm they felt abandoned by Jesus, he was asleep for goodness sake, what was he thinking?  His response was he was a sleep for goodness sake and what were they thinking?   He was with them so he was in the storm as well as they were, and he had faith in their ability to negotiate the storm.  He was asleep because he had so much faith in them, yet they perceived that as disinterest and were overcome with fear. 
A great lesson for me was to understand just how much faith God had/has in me, he trusted me to accept the life and death of Jesus just for me, he trusted me to make the step toward him and then with him toward the world, he trusted me with the daunting task of living and doing it everyday; to put it bluntly he trusted me with a depth and a freedom I definitely do not trust myself with, and only rarely do I trust Him in the same way.   Jesus believed in those in the flotilla of boats around him in a way they simply could not see at the time.  There was indeed nothing to fear but fear itself for they had all they needed to survive that passing storm.   ·      If you take a short moment later to reflect on the path you have journeyed with Jesus you will find this to be true, and like the Psalmist can say, But I put my trust in your steadfast love;  my heart will rejoice in your salvation.
   I will sing to the Lord,  for he has dealt so bountifully with me.[2] And these are lessons for us, Jesus is not a magician who rescues us from the life as a human being, he asks us to find the faith to grow through the never-ending list of daily difficulties that seem to line up at our door waiting their turn to annoy us.  Our faith in Jesus is only real when it becomes a faith in ourselves.  Jesus is not an out there deity who shoots bolts of lightening to destroy our enemies, he is not Superman who flies in and beats back the baddies, Jesus lives and resides in us and it is within us we find what is necessary to persevere, to overcome, to keep on keeping on when it would be fair easier if we could just wake the Jesus asleep in the bottom of our boat. He is already awake and living in us through his Holy Spirit and we simply have to accept that reality and wade into life confident that we are not alone. This confidence is not a proud self-confidence but a humble sense of the righteousness God gives us through Jesus, it is a rightful understanding of in whose power we stand and whose presence we live. Jesus may have been asleep but he was present and in his presence there is not final harm to be had. The final harm for the Hebraic mind was death, but the fear of death no longer is real, for Jesus has dealt with that for us and now lives within us to continue our journey without any sense of final harm. Yes we will encounter great difficulties, awful tragedies, enduring suffering but not alone, and not without the capabilities to ride them out. It is interesting that the words Jesus spoke are noted as being to the sea, ‘“Peace! Be still!”  I wonder if they were meant equally for those listening, and for us today.  Be still, have faith and you will find peace where once there was fear. I just wonder.    

[1] Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933, as published in Samuel Rosenman, ed., The Public Papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Volume Two: The Year of Crisis, 1933 (New York: Random House, 1938), 11–16.
[2] Psalm 13:5-6

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