FEAR OR FAITH

FEAR OR FAITH

Matthew 14:22-33I

In the holy name of Jesus (+). Amen.

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, but it is Peter, after all – decides he wants in on this water-walking, too. “If it’s really you Lord, tell me to come out there with
you.”

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 Jesus and Peter step into the boat, all of a sudden the wind dies down, and the waves smooth out. Everything is peaceful, and fear is gone.

Today’s Gospel lays fear right in front of us. And it reminds us of this problem with which we all struggle at various times, to varying degrees. Fear. Let’s consider the contrast and the question today, “fear or faith?”

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.

You can find all sorts of lists of phobias on the internet. By one count, there are over 500 known, scientifically-documented phobias. There are some with which you are no doubt familiar. Others are more rare or obscure, and a few are real tongue-twisters. How about some of these:

  • Acrophobia- Fear of heights.
  • Agoraphobia- Fear of open spaces or of
    being in crowds.
  • 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. Life-long believers (and good Lutherans at that!) 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.

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. 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.

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.

St. John wrote in his first letter to the early Church: “Perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18).

Only God has perfect love. And He shows that love to us in Christ. He showed the way in which He loved the world by sending His Son, Jesus, to the cross in place of each and every one of us.

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 into focus at the cross, and there they 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, because the
power of our greatest fear—eternal death for the guilt of our sins—is destroyed
forever.

So when Jesus says, “fear not”, He has the standing and the authority 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.

You’re all familiar with how young children can find themselves afraid in the middle of the night. A youngster  might come into his or her parents’ room, and say, “there’s a monster under my bed.”

The parents could simply say, in all truthfulness: “NO, there isn’t. That’s silly. Get back to bed!” But will this really do anything to take that child’s fear away? No,of course not. How much better is it 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?

When we come to Jesus with fear of the monster, He doesn’t just tell us to buzz off. He doesn’t flippantly say, “Don’t sweat it; there’s nothing to worry about.” Nor does He make us look under the bed all by ourselves. For in this case—the case of sin, death, and the devil—the monster is quite real; quite dangerous; quite deadly.

What Jesus does instead is to root out that monster, and destroy it before our eyes. The three-headed monster of sin, death and the devil is not only cast away by the Christ, it is ground into the dust under His feet, never to cause us fear again. Jesus doesn’t just say it, He does it!

It’s not insignificant that fear appears twice in this story of storms and stumbling. First the disciples are afraid when they see Jesus, thinking He is a ghost. Next, Peter is afraid when he sees the effects of the swirling wind, and realizes, “Hey, I’m walking on water in the middle of a stormy lake! Am I out of my mind?”

In both cases, Jesus takes the fear away. In the first instance, He speaks it away: “Fear not, it is I!” In the second instance He does something about it, reaching out and snatching Peter from certain death.

Peter and his impetuous actions and growing fear give 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. 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.

Take a lesson from Romans, 8. 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 the ark of the Church, 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. That He calls His disciples to trust Him. That He rescues us when we are in danger of being lost forever.

But more than that, 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 and very effective in a worldly sense, but not very theological or useful in addressing our concerns about our eternal well-being.

Much better it is for us to hear: “In Christ, we have nothing to fear. Period.” For He is our Savior and our God. He died for our sins, and He lives forever. And Jesus says, “fear not!”
End of story. End of death. End of fear. Amen.

 

This message by Rev.Sherman Stenson   is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas.  For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]  A Pass it On Project ,  You can read more  at St. Paul Lutheran Church  Austin Texas