Somewhere or other I read that the most common phrase in the bible is: “Do not be afraid”. True or not it sounds reasonable because there are a lot of stories in the scriptures which focus on fear and faith. Today we have two of the best. Two events which show us quite different reactions to fear. And, whilst we are probably not going to have to face a giant or a storm at sea at some time or other, we will all face fear.
Before we go any further, we need to get one thing clear and that is that faith does not remove fear from our lives. Fear, no matter how strong our faith, is part of the human experience. What these 2 stories help us see is that faith helps us cope with fear. So today we will talk about faith, fear and forgetting.
A bit cocky
First then to David; the shepherd who became a great king. A great king, but not always a great man. However, despite all his failings, and there were many, he loved God. David could never have been accused of playing it safe and, when we first meet him, he comes across as more than a bit cocky. He rattles on about how he’s killed bears and lions in the wilderness and now, he is more than up for dealing with a giant.
But for all his cockiness, David never claims that his confidence is due to his own ability. David never forgets that it is God who sustains him. David sees the Philistines as a challenge to God’s purpose and he is absolutely confident that God will help him bring down Goliath. All that God needs is someone who is willing to step-up, put their trust in God and allow themselves to be used by him.
You can imagine the king and his generals contemplating David and his offer. Well, no one else is willing and this lad will be not great loss, let’s give him a go. They deck him out with weapons and armour, the equipment which David knows – has already failed. He also knows something else, that a slingshot, a handful of stones and faith will be enough. And they are. David conquered his fear through faith. He did not forget that God stood with him. However, a thousand or so years later the disciples did forget.
Heading to the unknown
With Jesus the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee. They are leaving behind the Jewish side of the lake and heading to the unknown Gentile side. Even without the threat of bad weather it was always going to be a rough trip. They are about to sail into not one but two storms. One is caused by weather, the other by their own fear.
I don’t expect that many of us here are sailors, but we could all tell a story about a storm. We could tell of the times when life went wrong. The relationship that fell apart or the promotion that didn’t happen. The plans for the future of our child, which they then rejected. Sometimes we can see the dark clouds gathering; at other times the storm comes out of nowhere. Either way, it arrives, and we are adrift on a turbulent sea in our own little boat. Even the distant shore we once dreaded would come as a relief if we could get there. That was probably what the disciples thought too. The most unwelcoming of shores was better than drowning.
The least experience
So, there they are, a group of fishermen with years of experience of the sea of Galilee and, its storms. Yet they turn to the person who would have had the least practical experience. Jesus had spent his life until now far from the sea, he had probably hardly even seen a boat until his ministry began. Yet they turn to him. Some might see this as a sign of faith but actually it is more about fear. Not fear of the storm itself, I think their greatest fear was that Jesus would abandon them.
As his disciple’s shout into the gale, Jesus sleeps. They cry out, demanding that he does something, anything but still he sleeps. Then they ask the question that many have asked of God. Do you not care? At that Jesus wakes and all is calm, at least as far as the sea goes. As yet there is no calm for the disciples. For there to be calm there has to be trust; and that is what they forgot.
Peace! Be still!” was an instruction not only for the waves but also for them. Then Jesus asks “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” He understands that the disciples’ fear came from their inability to comprehend the challenges of faith, especially that faith inevitably involves fear and doubt. The disciples, like most of us, believed that faith could and should remove fear. They thought that faith would give them perfect lives and happy endings.
Not to forget
Many Christians also believe that (or at least hope for this). And when it doesn’t happen some will blame God, others will blame themselves. Whoever they blame they think that if they are afraid then their faith is at fault. Not strong enough, not good enough, not appreciated enough. They tell themselves, or some pious individual may inform the, that if they believe in Jesus, they should not be afraid. So, does that mean that when the storms of life descend Jesus has abandoned us?
Absolutely not. Because even as our fear has led us to expect the worst, our faith, small and wavering as it might be, is telling us to trust in God’s presence. Our faith tells us not to forget. Not to forget that 5 stones were enough. Not to forget that Jesus spoke, and the wind and the waves ceased. And not to forget that when he hung from the cross, he did not forget us.
Do not be afraid may be the most common phrase in the scriptures, but we know that we have been afraid; and we will be again. So perhaps what Jesus really wants us to remember is that we don’t have to be afraid, because he is with us. Amen.
‘Do not be afraid?’ was given by Elizabeth Binns at Christ Church Walmersley on Sunday 20th June 2021. It’s based on Mark 4:35-41 and 1 Samuel 17:32-49. Beryl Cook’s picture of Madonna and Child is Elizabeth’s favourite picture and is shown here with grateful thanks. Copyright © John Cook 2021. www.ourberylcook.com.