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Fear Not

July 25, 2021
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this ninth Sunday after Pentecost comes from our Gospel text, especially where Mark records, “But immediately [Jesus] spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.”  Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

I’m going to ask you all a question, and I need you to be absolutely honest. It’s rhetorical, so you’ll be happy to know that I won’t actually have you voice your answers. Here’s the question: what are you afraid of? I don’t mean the heebie-jeebies; I mean, what sends a shiver up your spine, makes your hair stand on end, and makes your blood run cold? What wakes you up in the middle of the night with a terrified shriek, drenched in a cold sweat? What are you afraid of? Losing your job and financial ruin? Hearing from a doctor that there’s nothing more that they can do for you? Receiving a call from the sheriff’s department that there’s been an accident, and your child was involved? Learning that someone has found out your deep, dark secret, something you’re truly and deeply ashamed of? What are you really, really afraid of?

We just heard an account in our Gospel lesson wherein the disciples experienced true terror. Who knows what was going through their minds as they were making painful headway across the Sea of Galilee in the dead of night? It was a long way to Bethsaida from where they had been, and to be fighting against the wind, I’m sure, was no picnic. Bear in mind also that they had, just that day, “returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught,” only to go across the lake and be met with a massive crowd to feed. These guys, I’m sure, were tired. They had to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. And Mark tells us, “about the fourth watch of the night [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw Him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw Him and were terrified.” They thought the One walking past them was a phantasma, an apparition, a ghost. It’s hard to blame them, since everyone knows that human beings cannot walk on water; ergo, whoever or whatever was walking past them was an eerie, unknown entity that was clearly more than human, and the first thing that came to mind was that it was a specter. … Well, maybe they weren’t terribly off-base.

In their fear, they hear this walking-on-water entity speak, and we as hearers of their experience usually focus on the latter sentence, when Jesus tells them, “Do not be afraid.” Grammatically, that’s an imperative, a command, and as you know, commands fall under the purview of the Law. We Lutherans know what the Law is and does, right? It gives us the requirements of God, how we ought to live, what we ought to do, what we ought not do, but more importantly we know that the Law gives the command … but not the ability to carry it out. The Law of God is good and wise, but to us who are perishing, it is a cruel taskmaster. So, in light of that honest conversation you’ve just had with yourself about the things that legitimately strike terror in your heart of hearts, to hear Jesus say, “Do not be afraid” may come with no small amount of guilt. We know we ought not to be afraid, that we ought to trust in the Lord our God with all our hearts, but that knowledge hardly gives us the ability to dismiss those fears from our hearts and minds. The plain and simple fact is that Jesus’s command to not be afraid is yet another command which we poor, miserable sinners are unable to fulfill.

But Jesus did say more than this. “Take heart; it is I,” He told them before the aforementioned command. With all due respect to the translators of this version, I think a more wooden translation serves the text better: “Take courage; I AM.” That’s right, Jesus says, Ego eimi, the Greek translation of the name YHWH. Turns out the disciples were on the right track, after all: the One who was walking on the waters of the deep was more than a mere man. He was the same One who made those very waters He walked upon, spoke them into existence ex nihilo, out of nothing. The same One whose voice the waves and winds couldn’t help but obey. The same One … who would, in the fullness of time, do what only God could do: make full atonement by offering Himself in the place of all sinful mankind. He was no ghost: He was, and is, God. Jesus’s proclamation to the disciples during His leisurely stroll across the Sea of Galilee is a Gospel proclamation, which frames the reason why the disciples need not fear. This is made clear as He climbs into the boat, and immediately the winds die down – note, without even a word from His lips.

Sad to say, while the creation recognized and obeyed its Creator, the disciples did not. Mark tells us, “they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” In spite of all they had witnessed, in spite of the miracles they’d seen, they still didn’t understand. They still would experience fear through their lives. That’s because they were sinful men living in a broken world, and fear is endemic to the fallen human condition. And we’re in the same boat. In spite of the miracle that is baptism, when God claims a human being as His own, that human being will still be afraid. In spite of God’s Gospel proclamation week in and week out, in the words of absolution, we still worry and fret that we’ve sinned too much for God to forgive us. In spite of the glorious feast in the Lord’s Supper, wherein we taste and see God’s goodness, we are still beside ourselves when those deep-seated fears that we know resurface in our lives.

We can’t live perfectly without fear … but the One who did knows your secret fears and yet loved you so much that He died to pay for all your sins. Courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s continuing on, trusting in spite of that fear, and Jesus, who claimed you as His own, says to you, “Take courage; I AM.”

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Mark 6:45-56