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Thursday, July 15, 2021

Calming Cosmic Chaos and Existential Fear

Mark 4:35-41

Jesus’ calming of the storm on the sea reveals his power over evil, since the sea represents evil and chaos. The boat on the sea is a symbol of the church and invites us to trust God amid life’s turbulence.

35When evening had come, [Jesus said to the disciples,] “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”



          We all have things we fear, and there are surveys and studies that identify some of the greatest fears humans hold and what they mean. So, let me ask you: Of what are you most afraid?         

          While most of the time, our fears don’t have an impact on our daily lives, phobias are something else: in fact, in psychological terms, a phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. The top ten phobias include things like:

·       Arachnophobia: The fear of spiders.

·       Ophidiophobia: The fear of snakes.

·       Acrophobia: The fear of heights.

·       Agoraphobia: The fear of situations in which escape is difficult. This may include crowded areas, open spaces, or situations that are likely to trigger a panic attack. People will begin avoiding these trigger events, sometimes to the point that they cease leaving their home.

·       Cynophobia: The fear of dogs. This phobia is often associated with specific personal experiences, such as being bitten by a dog during childhood.

·       Astraphobia: The fear of thunder and lightning.

·       Trypanophobia: The fear of injections.

·       Social Phobias: The fear of social situations. In many cases, these phobias can become so severe that people avoid events, places, and people that are likely to trigger an anxiety attack.

·       Pteromerhanophobia: The fear of flying.

·       Mysophobia: The fear of germs or dirt.

          Most of us dislike the various things in this list, but our “fear” doesn’t rise to the level of being an actual phobia.

But, of the second and less-paralyzing categories of fears, many of us would add these, which may or may not have much impact on our decision-making or activity on any given day:

·       Change.

·       Loneliness

·       Failure

·       Rejection

·       Uncertainty

·       Something Bad Happening

·       Getting Hurt

·       Being Judged

·       Inadequacy

·       Loss of Freedom

Additionally, many people self-report that

·       public speaking,

·       ghosts,

·       darkness, and, especially in recent years,

·       zombies,

·       and clowns,

-        round out these lists.

Many times, our fear comes from things that we have experienced before, whether they have actually hurt us or not. When we look at why we fear something, can we articulate what that fear means to us? Oftentimes, we cannot.

Whether our fear rises to the level of phobia (paralyzing us, fundamentally changing how we function) or not, we recognize that fear does have a way of altering our view of the world or of certain experiences in life, and oftentimes, they control us, rather than the other way around.

The past year and a half we have seen fear driving the polarization of humankind, driving our action and inaction, driving our view of “the other” in exaggerated and devastating ways, and controlling many of our choices, for good or ill.

As is unfortunately too often the case, we have also seen bad actors manipulating us by using our fear to control large segments of the population, or to create chaos and uncertainty, often through devious and exploitative means, like spreading misinformation and outright lies connected to areas in which our fears reside.

In our text, Jesus says, “Peace! Be still!”

We can certainly understand the fear of the disciples. But Jesus invites them – and us – to trust in his power to overcome the storm.  

The disciples are out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee when a huge and unexpected storm descends upon them. That would be scary for any of them.

The former fishermen among them have run into their share of disastrous and deadly storms before and have likely known people who have lost their lives in such storms.

Even those who had formerly lived and worked in non-nautical areas of life have probably heard about those lost at sea, and as I indicated before, darkness and storm make the lists of both phobias and peoples’ most common non-crippling fears.

As we read this story, it may be confusing to us that Jesus was so stern with these disciples over their fear of the storm around them. He even questioned why they were afraid! Really, Jesus?

But then, Jesus simply scans the chaotic winds and waters around him, rebukes them, “Peace! Be still!” And they quiet.

But here is the thing: it is after Jesus stills the storm that the text tells us the disciples were filled with great fear. (The word used in the Greek is usually translated as “fear,” and not “awe.”

The quieting of the storm reveals the power of God; it is a power that is greater than any storm. Throughout the Scriptures, storms and sea both represent chaos in the world and the very nature of evil – both powerful, each uncontrollable; they are chaotic and disruptive of the natural order of things.

By his stilling of the storm, Jesus exhibits the fact that his power is greater than any evil and more powerful than any storm or chaotic element in the universe.

This Jesus, whom the disciples call “teacher,” whom they have seen heal an assortment of diseases and maladies and who has driven out evil spirits from possessed individuals in their presence, rebukes the storm and stills the chaos. He controls the elements – they obey his word.

While the storm had unsettled them and had sent them to their knees and to the sleeping cushion of Jesus, it is this action – this stilling - that actually produces the greater fear; after Jesus’ stilled the storm, the Greek says literally, that they “feared a great fear,” causing them to question, “Who is this?” “Who has such power that even the wind and the sea obey him?” It is witnessing Jesus’ power over the chaos and storm that undoes them.

These poor disciples were as slow as we ourselves can be.

Despite the teachings they have received from Jesus, which have revealed great knowledge, wisdom and insight, and the miracles they have witnessed, they are still shocked and amazed at the level of power he possesses – it is absolute.

What is God doing here? What is God revealing to the disciples? And why should they feel such great fear at the revelation of Jesus and his power?

Let’s fast-forward and say it’s 2021 – or something like that.

We live in an era more than 2000 years after the death of Jesus. We are Christians, which means we believe in Jesus. He is the Son of God, the Messiah. We believe in his power. We trust in him with our whole hearts and minds—don’t we?

Jesus says to the storm and the sea, “Peace! Be still!” and they obey. Yet there are times when we question or doubt, and there are certainly times when we are lured into trusting earthly powers or our own strongly, only to find that they are not enough. How can we not believe in the power of his name?

As Christians, we believe that the trinitarian God has come into the world to save the world not only in a single snapshot of time, but remains in the world to strengthen, sanctify, and restore God’s good creation.

Yet, we draw lines, we struggle to understand or believe, and as the disciples did, we ask too often of God, “don’t you care?” And we allow our fear to change us, to change our view of God and our commitment to follow Jesus. Our fear keeps us from living, from loving, and from fully believing.

Yet still, God comes to us again and again to still the storms and redirect our trust and faith in him. And God calls on us to share the truth of his power and the revelation of Jesus’ divinity with the world.

The disciples were traumatized by this frightful storm, and they forgot – or never understood – the eternal and divine power of the person they called Jesus.

When we are buffeted in cosmic storms as they were, storms that scare us, that eclipse our faith, and send us doubting and wondering if indeed, let us be reminded of Jesus’ rebuke to the stormy and angry seas, “Peace! Be still!”

I am reminded of Psalm 46:10, one of my favorite bible verses which reads, “Be still and know that I am God.” God is active and working in our world, holding back the chaos, healing the broken-hearted, calling us to trust him and to reveal our faith and trust with others.

God is the great keeper of the cosmos, healer of the broken-hearted, broken-spirited, and broken-bodied. God’s power is made perfect in weakness and made most evident in the calming of the storms, the chaos, and the pain of the world. Contemplating his great power, let us not be fearful, but joyful. Embracing his mercy and peace, let us, like the winds and sea, be calm. Let us, as the psalmist writes and Jesus quotes, “Be still and know that I am God.” Amen.


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