Why We Need Not Be Afraid – Part Four /Pentecost 11A – The Cross

Matthew 16:21-28

The late Canadian federal politician, Jack Layton, in his final words written in a letter to all Canadians, wrote: “Hope is better than fear.” He wrote those words less than 48 hours before he would succumb to the cancer that was killing him. One thing about Jack Layton, you couldn’t fault the man for being genuine, passionate and from-the-heart in his communication. In other words, he wasn’t just saying, “hope is better than fear” just because it was a good thing to say; He really meant it.

How could he rise above his fear enough so to make that statement, genuinely? Hope is better than fear. How could he maintain optimism amidst his suffering and even in the face of impending death?

I must confess my reaction would echo Peter’s: It is not right for our leader to suffer and die! For that matter, let’s not talk about suffering and dying at all. Conversations like this have no place in the corridors of power, amidst the expectations of greatness and glory! Yeah, Peter’s reaction makes more sense than Jesus’ morbid talk!

I am not someone who has suffered greatly – especially as I consider some of the stories of you sitting in this room today. I suspect, nevertheless, that suffering comes to us all at some point in life, even when we don’t seek it. It is a natural part of life. So, I wonder, how can I prepare myself for the inevitable?

“How can there be a God,” sceptics ask, “when there is so much suffering in the world today?” I suspect the answer is, because people of faith discover hope and wholeness not be denying their broken places in life, but by embracing this reality, in love.

Perhaps another quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson can help set the context for our discussion this morning: “The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but deliverance from fear.”

Perhaps it’s not the circumstance itself that is the issue, but our response to it. Because I believe we’ve heard of many people who have faced incredibly desperate cirmcumstances in their lives, and yet were able to maintain and hold a high level of hope despite their circumstance. How do they do it?

Why we need not be afraid? Today’s reflection zeroes in on the Cross. Not the crucifix — we’ll save that image for Holy Week and Good Friday. No, let’s start with a plain, empty Cross not denying the suffering it has caused as a 2nd century instrument of torture and capital punishment but suggesting there is something hopeful beyond the suffering.

How can we learn to live in hope, not fear? Here are a couple of biblical insights that emerge from the assigned texts for this day:

1. Jeremiah 15:15-21 “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” (v.18)

Jeremiah complains bitterly to God, in the first half of this text. He even has the gall to describe God as a “deceitful brook” and “waters that fail” (v.18)

But God is not offended by Jeremiah’s accusations. That’s because Jeremiah’s protest, uttered amid his suffering, falls safely within the biblical tradition of “lament”. You can find other laments in the Psalms, for example, such as Psalms 22, 42, 44 & 89. Challenging God’s apparent unreliability in this manner is “fully spiritual” (David Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word Year A Vol 4, p.5). Why?

This language and style of communication presumes a relationship of faithfulness. The Lament is language of fidelity. It assumes that God values relationship and is open to being affected personally by a believer’s suffering. It is reminicent of the way Job challenged God. Anger expressed towards God is a more faithful act than complacency and a fateful, passive resignation fueled by self-rejection.

The first strategy for finding a way beyond the fear is grounding ourselves in a real, relationship with a God who is willing to be affected by our very own suffering, who is willing to hear our pain, who is willing to walk with us in the woundedness of our life.

The Cross symbolizes Jesus’ sympathy with human suffering. Because Jesus suffered and died on the Cross, God is no stranger to the depth and breadth of human suffering, including our own. He knows it. He can take it. Let him have it. And God will respond. How? God’s response to Jeremiah’s vitriol is a loving promise for redemption.

The Cross stands at the intersection of divine interest and intervention, and our own personal and corporate suffering. At the very least, we are not disconnected from God in our suffering. Therefore, we need not be afraid.

2. Which brings us to the second biblical insight for approaching our own suffering not with fear, but hope and love: The dialogue between Jesus, Peter and the disciples in our Gospel text takes place in the north country, Caesarea Philippi. Remember, the disciples are fishers. They are lake people, accumstomed to life on and around Lake Galilee. Places like Capernaum and Tiberias are their familiar stomping grounds. So, why did Jesus drag his disciples far north into unfamiliar territory in order to tell them that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die?

In fact, the text reveals that he did not “explain” or “tell” them about suffering, but that he “showed” them. So there must be something he did with them to teach them about suffering. Is it the very action of removing them from the familiar, from the routine, from the perceived safety and security of their “comfort zones” of home and hearth to teach them about the meaning of suffering?

I wonder if their physical displacement represented gaining some distance and perspective on the subject matter. Being far away from home symbolized the inner need for distance and detachment from all that seems to be important and with which they identified their lives.

Which sets the ground for the famous yet difficult teaching of Jesus in this text: “If anyone want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Jesus wants to give his disciples a vision of his mission and kingdom in which we are given hope through our suffering and death. But the path is a way of embracing our losses. The message of Jesus’ stories (called “parables”) is that in losing we will find.

In Luke 15 is a summary of the Gospel — often referred to as the “golden” chapter of the bible. In it we read the stories of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the Prodigal Son (i.e. the lost son). Sometimes I feel the Christians, based on their behaviour, would rather have it the other way around: Would we rather have Jesus tell stories about never having been lost? Why not parables about staying found, with instructions on how not to get lost?

The hope comes when we “let go.” Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel we find a version of the famous Beatitudes -teachings of Jesus – containing a list of “Blessed are those who …” The first one is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

The importance of letting go of, releasing and forgiving are vital qualities in the process of healing. Letting go, first by being honest and angry with God; that is, getting it out. But, letting go of all our pretensions, perceived perfection and glory-fixations so that we discover who we truly are. In the poverty of our being, when we let go, we discover our true selves, not by identifying ourselves with our suffering but merely by relating to it.

And who we essentially are is nothing more, and nothing less, than be-loved, lovable and loving. Love is at the heart of faith. It’s not suffering for suffering’s sake. It’s not suffering for evil purposes. Jesus went to the Cross because he wants to love you and be with you and show you that hope is better than fear.

It’s suffering in full awareness of God’s love, compassion and promise in and through our suffering. And I think the way to that realization is in the art of “losing”: that in losing we will find.

If God is willing to love us in our suffering, perhaps we too can embrace the part of our lives in pain. Perhaps we can love the parts of our lives — mind, body, and spirit — that are hurting.

This week I heard the moving story of an elderly person who at a young age had to give up a baby daughter for adoption. Given the circumstances of her life at the time, and holding a faithful conviction that her daughter was meant to be loved and raised in another person’s household, she gave up something/someone near and dear to her.

She had to accept her loss. And she came to terms with the very real possibility that she might never again meet her daughter. Yet, she moved on in her life to experience many other blessings.

Then in the mid-1980s the Ontario Government passed legislation allowing for adopted children to seek out their birth mothers, if they so desired. Upon hearing of this news, this person called the government office and released her contact information, allowing for the possibility that her daughter, wherever she was, might wish to contact her.

Within two weeks, she received a phone call from her daughter. They planned for a reunion in a neutral city. And what a reunion it was! Even though their lives had gone in different directions and continued so after their meeting, they have been able to enjoy each other’s company and friendship to this day. They meet once in a while and are mutually blessed by their relationship.

In losing we will find. Not a reckless, indiscriminate, unthoughtful, impulsive letting go. But a letting go that is held in faithful, trusting and committed manner. We too can experience new life, healing, resurrection. It is not easy to take this first step. It requires some risk-taking. Yet, the cliche is true and analogous: Better to have love and lost, then never to have loved at all.

When we are honest, real and true — expressing our deepest feelings to God in relationship that will endure all; and, when we practice the art of letting go in so many areas of our lives holding the Cross as a symbol of the hope we have in Christ Jesus, we can be liberated from our fear.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Why We Need Not Be Afraid – Part Three /Pentecost 10A – Tradition

“Look to the rock from which you were hewn …” Isaiah 51:1ff

I know. I know. “Tradition” is not exactly the first word that comes to mind as a reason NOT to be afraid. For some people – perhaps younger generations of meaning-seekers – traditions may very well be the SOURCE of anxiety and fear: Christmas family gatherings, going to church, formal social meetings and events. Traditions can carry a heaviness with it. I get it.

But I’m standing here today to tell you that Tradition is meant to free us from fear. Okay, let’s be clear: As with everything, there is good (Tradition) and bad (traditions). I’m not talking about the small “t” traditions that Jesus often criticized the religious leaders of this time. He called them out for “abandoning the commandments of God for the sake of human traditions” (Mark 7:8).

I AM talking about the kind of big “T” Tradition that Saint Paul writes about in one of the earliest written texts in the New Testament — only a couple short decades after Jesus — in his second letter to the Thessalonians: he exhorts the people there “to hold fast” to the Tradition you received from the leaders of the church (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

We’re not talking about those habits of being and doing that give us false comfort and security, even in the church; these traditions — do I need to list some? — that really have little to do with the big “T” Tradition of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel big “T” Tradition speaks to the heart — salvation and healing that begins in the inner life of faith, and then is reflected in attitudes, behaviours and lifestyles consistent with the mission of God in the world.

How do we tell the difference? And how can we appreciate the Tradition so that we are not dominated and driven by fear?

The 3 “Re- ‘s”: Re-member, Re-turn, Re-lease. Now, before I talk about each one, I will stress that all three are important together. If you don’t balance all three, you will likely fall back into a “bad” tradition, which will only fuel a fear-driven life. All three are important.

1. First, we need to Re-member the Tradition. Someone once said that faith is a rear-view mirror.  And this “looking back” operates on at least two levels. First, we need to remember where we’ve come from, individually. Recall your past, your journey of life and faith. Review it in your mind’s eye: the major events of your life, good and bad, experiences that have shaped you and formed you. Remember the people who have been instrumental in your life, who have impacted your life, for better or for worse. Bring to your mind the values that, consequently, you have always held close to your heart — values and beliefs you know to be true in your life experience. Remember.

But also Remember that you are part of a long, historical Tradition of the church universal. The church today does not float untethered in its existence. The church — the community of the faithful exisits as part of a long, legacy and history and journey. The church is grounded in a history of proclamation, service and worship. It’s not just “our little church” thinking. The good Tradition is not isolationist and private in nature. Not just what we in this time and this place can do or have done.

Rather, Remembering the Traidtion of the church is about a public memory throughout the ages which we have inherited, and to which we belong. We are a part of the Tradition spanning time and space. Think of all the Christians baptized at this and every font over the past 2,000 years; think of the unity we are in Christ, “one body” (Romans 12), connected not only today with one another when we celebrate the Holy Communion, but with all the saints in heaven and on earth of every time and place.

We Remember our own lives and the life of the community in this great Tradition to which we belong. And this awareness can be a source of great comfort and confidence, enough to diminish the power of fear in our lives.

But growth and transformation in anyone does not occur by thinking about things alone, but by doing something about it.

2. Which brings us to the second “Re-“. Not only must we Remember, we must also Re-turn. We must return to some kind of spiritual discipline, whether it is coming regularly to worship, beginning some daily prayer regime, start reading that devotional book you’ve always put off, or talk to that someone whom you admire for their Christian lifestyle but never initiated any kind of conversation with them.

Because when it boils down to it, each and everyone of us in this room is returning, beginning over again, each time we pray, each time we show up here, each time we help our neighbour — no one is an expert, in a sense. We all need to return and begin again before our Lord, on our knees in confession and in praise.

Returning to some part of the Christian tradition, regularly, has helped countless of people throughout the ages quell their greatest fears. For this practice to have an enduring benefit in our lives, returning cannot be a one-time event.

Sometimes we try something new — go to a prayer group meeting, go to a worship service, start reading the bible — and something in that experience of doing it the first time distracts us, throws us off, or turns us off — and we give up, go home and pass immediate judgement on it, saying, “That’s not for me.”

Would you evaluate your judgement in the context of our culture of instant gratification? How much we are influenced by our high-octane, entertainment-driven culture with every kind of communication being reduced to ten-second sound bytes? How much does this cultural influence affect our approach to worship, and prayer, and simply being the church together? When we are not immediately gratified by the experience, we assume there is something wrong with it, instead of something wrong with ourselves.

I haven’t met yet a strong Christian who hasn’t come to their maturity without having had to struggle with it at times, but through it all still kept at praying, continued to attend worship. In short, not giving up too easily.

Return to the Lord your God — is the call during the Lenten season. Indeed, a worthy reminder to keep returning throughout the whole year.

Remembering the Tradition leads to Returning to the Tradition. But we can’t stop there, for the danger of becoming compulsive control freaks. We can become so zoned in to the discipline that it becomes counterproductive to our faith.

It’s like the man who was so scared to fly, but went anyway on a trip he’d always wanted to take. During the flight he couldn’t relax, but gripped his armrests without letting go. Even though the flight was remarkably turbulence free, he remained tense. The stewardess observed his behaviour and tried to settle him down. She approached him, and said, “My, what a calm flight; it’s going so smoothly you can hardly tell we’re in the air!”

To which, the man replied, “Darn right, and I want to keep it that way; that’s why I’m still holding up the plane!”

We can be so fixated on our action and discipline that we delude ourselves into falsely believing it is by the sheer might of our own determination, will-power and strength that we are accomplishing it. We may fall into the trap of works-righteousness, to which Martin Luther objected in his theology of “justification by grace alone.” It is not us who accomplish great things for the Lord. We have a part to play. Our intention and returning is important for our own good. But in the end, there’s something more at play.

3. That’s why, not only do we need to Remember, and Return — we need also to Release the Tradition into the world. I speak of a quality of our lives that is able to let go, a surrendering, of all that is important in our lives. “Getting out of the way of God”, as someone recently described to me.

The Good News is meant to be given away! Shared with others. NOT guarded, protected, contained, and kept private — but exactly the opposite. What is important to us must also be entrusted to others.

The Tradition is not just for you and me. It is not just about you and me. It is about the mission of God to others in the world around us. It is not ours to own, it is ours to give away, to Release.

The Tradition is experienced like recreational fishing is: We catch it, but then we release it. “Catch and Release.”

The Tradition can also be described as “Back to the Future”. It operates like a sling shot: We first reach back (Remembering and Returning) in order to move forward (Release).

When we Remember, Return, and Release our Tradition, we remain grounded in God, and therefore need not be afraid.

How can we do this? The only way we can, I believe, is because God first loved and chose us (John 15:16). In other words, we can Remember, Return, and Release our Tradition because God first and always Remembered us, Returns to us, and Releases us.

God remembered us. In Isaiah there is this beautiful verse that describes how God will never forget us and will always hold us in the palm of his hand and remember us. For example, (49:15) “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget you, yet I will not forget you.” Even if we forget him at some point in our lives, God will never forget us.

God returned to us in Jesus Christ, once and for all in his sacrifice and resurrection. And through the Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to return to us in Word, Sacrament and in the gathering of the faithful. These opportunities present themselves over and over again even if we’re not ready at a particular point in time.

God released us from the shackles of sin, freeing us from the condemnation of death. Therefore God is faithful to us, believes in us, to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world for the sake of God’s mission. Even when we lose faith in ourselves, when we hold on so tightly to our own lives that we cannot lose them, release them, for Christ’s sake, God continues to stand by us and will never give up on us and on his purpose to free us.

At the end of the Isaiah text for today is a promise that sums up God’s promise, that God’s “salvation will be forever; his redemption will never end.” No matter what. Therefore, we need not be afraid.


Why We Need Not Be Afraid – Part Two / Pentecost 9A – Gift

After a busy week of Vacation Bible School, the memories still brimming to the surface are, as you can imagine, working with and relating to the children. What do children teach us? For one thing, they can honestly express their fear. On the other hand, they can celebrate the goodness that they have and are. When one five-year-old boy was told at the last minute he had to be Jesus in a bible skit, he didn’t shy away and express the burden or shame of being Jesus; he didn’t self-reject. Instead, the little one immediately smiled and glowed wide-eyed. He loved being Jesus! And he wanted to do it again!

How would we adults react to such an imposition — if someone told us we had to be Jesus in a play? How often in our adult lives, and how easy it is, to deny the gift of Christ’s presence in our lives. We can deny it. We can run away from it — like Jonah. We can reject it …. and so never reap the benefit and grace of our gift, ultimately to tragic end: hell!

But what can happen when we affirm the love and light of God in our very life? Martin Luther affirmed that we are all “little Christs”. Would we discover the gift has always been there, waiting for us to discover it? Surprise!

How can we access the gift of who we are, truly are? After all, we have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We therefore have the divine imprint on our very lives. In our unique personalities we reflect some aspect of God’s character. But how can we access that part of ourselves that very well may have been squashed by life’s experiences and the compulsions of our ego always getting us into trouble — greed, violence, manipulating, lusting, self-demeaning?

Let’s consider for a moment a group of people for whom we might first think it would be impossible for them to claim the gift they are: the incarcerated, the imprisoned, serving life sentences.

In a workshop I attended at a learning conference recently I heard the presentation of a counsellor who works in some of the largest prisons for men in the United States. She told the stories of men who have lost all hope. These men have come to terms with and have accepted the punishments deserving of their crimes. And now they yearn to find the purpose of their lives, and rediscover the gift of who they truly are. I left the workshop inspired to hear that so many have indeed discovered their true and enduring worth, and found inspiration in the goodness of their lives.

In her workshop, the counsellor cited Marianne Williamson, who writes about our true status as human beings and as children of God:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

We need not be afraid because of the real gift in our lives.

I recently copied one of those chain emails that get forwarded. It is an illustration of laminins — have you seen it? — that are a family of proteins that are an integral part of the structure of our physical bodies. Laminins are, apparently, what hold us together — literally. They are cell adhesion molecules; they are what holds one cell of our bodies to the next cell.

What is truly amazing is that when you look at laminins, they are in the shape of a cross. The author of the email writes that from a very literal standpoint, “we are all held together, one cell to another, by the cross.” We have the very mark of our creator on our beings — not just spiritually, but physically as well.

In worship services, leaders wear the alb (Latin for “white”) — an outer reality reflecting an inner truth. In the Gospel today (Matthew 15) Jesus emphasizes the importance of the inner realities of our lives. And the alb is a symbol of the gift within us, the gift of God’s mercy, forgiveness, grace and love in the spiritual presence of Jesus in our hearts. It is a baptismal gown (Galatians 3) to remind us that in our baptism we “put on Christ”, we are clothed by the redeeming act of God in Christ Jesus. That’s why we put it on in worship. To underscore this salient truth. And we need to be reminded of it.

We have to work at the “giftedness” part of our individual and community lives. It’s easier to focus on the negative, sinful aspects of our existence – we cannot deny them.

But it is often much easier to focus on the dark, than it is on the light. Physiologists have discovered that it takes less than a second to internalize a negative message. Conversely, it takes some 11 seconds to internalize a positive input — a compliment, a supportive, loving statement. I know how that feels — when I take the time to dwell on a positive statement someone makes about me or anyone else — to let that literally sink in. It changes something inside my body for the better. I feel it. We have to be intentional about at least acknowledging the good that is there, the gift. And I believe it will make a difference in our health and well-being in the long run.

“The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). God won’t stop! God is “The Hound of Heaven”. Throughout the bible we are reminded of this truth. In Jeremiah 31:3 — God loved us with an everlasting love. God continues to bless. God’s faithfulness will never end. We might as well go for it and BE the people we are called to be! We will never lose it! The promises of God found throughout the Scriptures – they will always apply to us, always be offered to us.

Therefore we can be bold in being who we are in the world. Like the woman in the Gospel who boldly approached Jesus, we can boldly approach the loving presence of Jesus in our own lives and in the people we meet. No matter what we do or don’t do, in the end, we will always hold the gift in our very life.


Why We Need Not Be Afraid – Part One / Pentecost 8A – Presence

please read Matthew 14:22-33

“Don’t be afraid!”

My reaction to this command ranges from downright denial to a self-amplified machismo to blatant disregard for the truth: “Afraid of what?” “Me, afraid? Nawwh!” “There’s nothing to be afraid of!”

“Don’t be afraid!” A direct command proclaimed from holy writ some 365 times — once for each day in the calendar year. What is easy is to keep this command at arms length. What is challenging is to receive this command personally, and not just a message given to its original hearers and readers thousands of years ago.

“Don’t be afraid!” It’s not that fear is altogether a bad thing. I can remember times in my life where a bit of fear kept me from doing some dangerous things. But if fear remains chronically the main catalyst behind all the decisions I make, then is there any room for faith in my heart? “Love casts out fear” John reminds us from the Bible (1 John 4:18).

So, what are you afraid of?

uuhhhhh, hmmmm, okay –lot’s of stuff. Where should I begin?

Maybe by a simple affirmation. Acknowledging my fear is a significant first step towards healing and transformation. I won’t get anywhere with all my fear unless I confess it, stay awhile in the feeling of it, embrace it, own it, name it for myself. This is the first learning I receive from the Gospel story given to us today.

I suspect this needs to happen as part of experiencing the profound transformation offered by the saving presence of Jesus — as was the case for at least Peter, individually, and the disciples, collectively, on Lake Galilee.

So I need to define the fear. Define what it is, precisely, that I am afraid of. And very likely the source of my fear germinates within me! Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “What people don’t seem to realize is that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.”

Often we point at something or someone out there that is the cause of our fear. Consequently we end up not accurately nor truthfully defining the problem. A man went to the doctor complaining that wherever he touched his body, it hurt — his head, his arms, his chest, his stomach, his legs, even his toes! What is wrong with him? The doctor’s diagnosis: a broken finger.

Sometimes the problem is not what we at first assume. Sometimes the source of our fear is closer to home than we think.

The teaching from the Gospel story is that I won’t experience the grace, renewal, and positive change in my life unless I commit to move towards and touch those places that generate fear in my life.

Admitedly, this calls for courage and risk-taking. Because I suppose the disciples could have avoided the lake that day. They were professional fishers. They could read the sky, the water and air temperature. I am sure there were some among them who counselled against going out on the water that day. They could have put it off for a day on account of the discernable threat of storms.

But they had a higher purpose. There was something more important about their lives than simply taking the easy path to avoid-any-difficulty-at-all-cost.

I learn from this Gospel text that I need not be afraid to tackle those more hidden, perhaps shameful and uncomfortable aspects of my life. I need not be afraid to be by myself in order to overcome my fear. And even though I read that Elijah discovered God’s presence not in the high energy places of life but in the “sound of sheer silence” and that Jesus wasn’t afraid to be by himself on some hillside to pray — I find this so hard! I find the inner journey challenging and difficult.

Because my fears are larger-than-life when I’m alone, or cut off from others. When I’m focused solely on self, without a broader context of people with which to relate to and love, fear grows.

I like to be on the river paddling. As you can probably guess, I’m not a white-water kind of guy. I like being on a relatively calm stretch of water. If I can get out on the river once a week for an hour or so, I’m happy meandering around the islands off Petawawa Point. And each year I look forward to participating in the annual Paddlequest event organized by the Miramichi Lodge Foundation.

This year as over a hundred of us paddled down the Ottawa River as a group from Petawawa Point to Riverside Park in Pembroke — more or less together (it wasn’t a race, thank God!) — it came to me that I’ve never felt brave enough to do that stretch by myself. Partly because it would be a commitment of several hours. But mainly because the river is wide and long. And the thought of me paddling by myself in the middle of that broad stretch of river frightens me.

But paddling with Jessica in the canoe and a hundred people around me — it didn’t bother me at all!

My fear dissapates and I have more courage to do what I will when I’m with others and love for them and from them keeps me going. Loving awareness of others around me gives me courage to take the higher ground and do things I would otherwise avoid, despite my fear.

The final learning from the Gospel story is the most poignant: Jesus comes to the disciples in the storm. This is the promise of the text. Whether working through personal issues, or considering what faces us in the relationships of our lives — Jesus will be present to us in the storms, in facing the fear, of our lives.

After all, Jesus has been there, done that. He experienced the full gamut of human pain, fear and suffering. Out of his self-giving love on the cross comes a deep sympathy for each of us. Consequently there is no pain, no fear, no suffering too large that will keep Jesus away from us in our fear. Jesus will come to us in the storm. Because of his love.

We need not be afraid. We need not lead fear-based lives. We need not let fear guide all our decisions. Why?

Because Jesus is there. The love of Jesus for me, and you, and everyone. The Psalmist sings: “Call on the name of the Lord!” (Psalm 105:1) There is power in the name of Jesus — to affirm the presence of God amidst the evil, when assailed by Satan, when burdened by sin — call on the name of the Lord!

My first memory of being really afraid was from my nightmares as a child — when I dreamed of a scary, evil, satanic character. And I would dream of this night after night. Part of the problem for me was I was afraid to fall asleep. I would keep myself awake, vigilant, as if by my effort alone I would keep the evil dreams away. I exhausted myself. This want on for a while until I confessed to my Dad what was happening. And he gave me good advice: Say the Lord’s prayer.

I tried it. When I next woke frightened from my dream, I began: “Our father in heaven, holy is your name … ” And usually by then, I was already asleep. It worked every time I had that dream until the bad dream no longer had power over me. “Our father in heaven, holy is your name….” Already at peace. Jesus was with me. I was no longer afraid. I was able to let go in trust into the Lord’s love for me.

From the heart, then, I believed. Not from the head! The New Testament is about a heart-felt experience of divine relationship with God.

Paul in his letter to the Romans (10:9) is clear about that: Believe from the heart — and you will be saved. Believe from the heart that Jesus comes to you and is with you in the storm — and you will be saved.

Courageous presence with self and others. Trusting presence of God with us. Presence — the first reason why we need not be afraid …