SERMON A Pentecost L.19 2017 Pr.14 King of Kings, New Windsor August 13, 2017
I Ki 19: 9-18 Ps 85: 8- Rom 10: 5-15 Mt 14: 22-33
What are you afraid of? In my family, over the years, there have been a variety of fears. A fear of anything that creeps or crawls, whether outside or inside, no matter how large or how small. A fear of needles. A fear of the FAFSA (that’s mine). My son, however, pretends not to be afraid of anything. Once, when I woke up in the middle of the night and discovered him watching a murder mystery, I crept up behind him and said, “Boo!” He didn’t calm down for quite a while after that. I guess he’s afraid of me! What are you afraid of?
In today’s gospel lesson, we learn that the disciples of Jesus were afraid. What were they afraid of? At first glance, it might appear that they were afraid of a storm. The writer of Matthew’s gospel tells us that “the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.” There was, indeed, a storm brewing on the lake. But the disciples didn’t seem to be afraid of this storm. The point at which the disciples began to be afraid was not when the storm blew up in the evening, but early the next morning, when they thought they saw a ghost; in fact, the writer of Matthew tells us that, when they saw Jesus, they “were terrified. And they cried out in fear.”
Well, it turned out that the “ghost” was Jesus. “Take heart,” he said, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Jesus didn’t belittle the disciples for being afraid. He didn’t say, “Silly, there’s nothing to be afraid of.” Instead, he recognized their fear and offered them his presence, saying, “I’m here with you. Don’t be afraid.” Jesus came to them and said, “I’m here with you. Don’t be afraid.”
What are you afraid of? Perhaps you are afraid of the dark. Maybe the thought of having to speak in front of others paralyzes you. Maybe you’re afraid of heights. There’s a whole set of words in English that helps us identify what scares us, like arachnophobia (the fear of spiders), claustrophobia (the fear of being enclosed in small spaces), lachanophobia (the fear of vegetables), or xenophobia (the fear of strangers or foreigners). In fact, a quick internet search yields 58 different phobias in modern parlance—and that only surveys the phobias beginning with the letter “A”.
Are you feeling afraid, perhaps, as the first day of school approaches or as you getting ready to go off to college? Does the thought of flying scare you? Are you worried about an ache or an illness? Maybe you’re wondering if you are lesbian or gay, and you are afraid to tell your parents. Maybe you’ve decided to make a major change in your life—and you’re scared about how that change will affect you and your family. Maybe you’re afraid about losing your job. Maybe you’re scared that if anyone really knew you—and what you’ve done—you wouldn’t have a friend in the world.
What are you afraid of—in the world, in our nation, in your community, in your own life? The heroin crisis, the devolution of our political dialogue, forest fires burning in the Western U.S., nuclear warheads in North Korea poised for attack, unrest in the Middle East, water shortages all over the world.… These situations are fear-inducing, to put it mildly. Turn on the TV or your I-phone, open the newspaper or your internet connection, and there’s plenty to be afraid of. There is enough fear to go around for all of us, isn’t there?
There’s even fear in our life together at King of Kings. Maybe you’re afraid that we won’t be able to pay our bills. Afraid that there won’t be enough members to serve on Altar Guild or the Hospitality Team or the council next year. Afraid that the carpenter ants or the ground hogs are going to take over the building. Afraid that the pastor is getting a doctorate because she wants a new call.
Or maybe your fears about King of Kings are more personal, and you find yourself saying… “I’m afraid that someone might see me cry, so I can’t come to church until I’ve gotten through this crisis. I’m afraid that, if I don’t come for a while, no one will miss me. I’m afraid to come to church, because I’m so angry at Joe, and I don’t want to lose my temper with him. I’m afraid that I’ve hurt Jane, and she’s not speaking to me, and I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid because things are changing too fast. I’m afraid that, if I get to church late, I might have to sit in the front row.”
There is much in life of which we are afraid. And sometimes, when God comes to us in the midst of our fear, we feel even more afraid. Whenever God sends an angel to visit someone, in fact, the person who is visited always reacts with fear. In all the biblical accounts of angel visitations, the angel has to announce, “Do not fear” or “Don’t be afraid.” When the angel of the Lord speaks to Hagar in the wilderness, he says, “Don’t be afraid.” He says the same thing to Abram and then to Elijah.
In the New Testament as well, whenever an angel shows up, the one who is visited reacts with fear, and the angel proclaims, “Don’t be afraid.” “Do not fear, Joseph.” “Do not fear, Zechariah.” “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” When the angel of the Lord appears to the shepherds in the fields, he says, “Do not fear, for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” When the angel of the Lord appears to the women at the empty tomb, he says, “Do not be afraid.” When Paul is shipwrecked, the angel of the Lord appears and says, “Do not fear.”
Jesus, too, apparently inspires fear when he shows up. He comes to his disciples, walking on the water, and they are terrified, thinking him to be a ghost. They cry out in fear. Not because of a storm, but because of Jesus. They are not afraid, until Jesus shows up. The disciples’ reaction to Jesus is fear. And so he says to them, gently but firmly, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
When you are afraid, my friend, Jesus comes to you. He comes, not as a ghost, but as himself. In his Word, both written and spoken. In the Waters of Baptism. In his Meal of bread and wine. In the embrace of a friend, or the smile of a stranger. In the gentle nudge of the Spirit toward a good deed. In the stirring of a song—or a book—or a movie. He shows up, sometimes when you expect him, and sometimes when you don’t, right in the midst of your fears, fears about your health or your happiness, your family or your finances, your career or your kids, your neighborhood or your nation.
At first, when you are afraid and Jesus shows up, you may feel even more afraid once you see him. But when he comes, he always says, “Take heart, it is I; take courage; do not be afraid.” He shows up and, immediately, he says, “My child, I know you are afraid. You are not wrong to be afraid. You are not silly to be afraid. There are fearful things all around you. But take heart, because I am here. Do not fear, for it is I. I am here, with you, and I will be with you always. Do not be afraid.” AMEN