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Pick Your Fear

“A great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

- Mark 4:37-41

Does anyone else see the irony of the disciples’ experience with Jesus here? The disciples’ fear of the storm was so great that they awakened Jesus and were then even more afraid of the One who had authority over the storm. What were they thinking? As waves began to break over the boat, they woke Jesus to… drown with them, maybe? If they didn’t think He could do anything, why bother to wake Him? But then He ordered the storm to stop. “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Ah… no, not really, not all that much, no… There’s some wisdom in facing the authority and might of God.

We are in the middle of a storm in our country these days. It’s been going on and building for some time, but the waves are getting larger and looking as if they could swamp the proverbial boat. The Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which we knew was going to happen, brought waves of protests and threats of violence across the nation because, as we all know, screaming and blowing up pro-life offices are the most persuasive argument a person can make. I don’t really want to address the abortion debate again. As I've said before, I think the discussion needs to begin with what it means to be a woman, not a medical debate about when life begins. But that’s a Christian opinion, and some people adamantly oppose any Christian influence in the public sphere.

We know that because of the outrage and anger aimed at Christians. Some of the things being said about Christians and Christianity boggle the mind. It’s as if people have no idea what Christianity is, no understanding of what Christians believe, and no knowledge about Jesus Christ. Even as I am typing that sentence, I can’t help but think of the mass confusion of Methodist Christians in the throes of separation and division because we don’t know any of that either – or, at least, not much of it.

I’m working with two or three pastors who are trying to help their congregations sort through the issues dividing the church. The thing most pastors understand is that the conflict isn’t really about sexuality/gender. That's just the tip of the iceberg. The bigger issues are the authority of Scripture, the Person and works of Jesus Christ, the meaning of our humanity, the nature of salvation, and more. Big issues… How the various factions in the church understands these issues results in completely different ways of looking at the world and understanding ourselves in relationship to our Creator, to the extent that Christians even believe God created.

What should shame us is how few Christians are aware of the deeper and more profound differences in our visions for human life. The clergy cannot discuss such matters because there is so little common ground and so much distrust built over the years. Sadly, too many of our laity have all common ground without much depth of understanding. It’s considered bad form to point out that the pastor before or after you has another version of the Gospel, one that you’re not confident will lead folks to the throne of Jesus Christ. So, nothing specific is said, and you hope the laity figure out we aren’t really saying the same thing. I believe we clergy types are going to be accountable to God for our failure to teach the Gospel to the laity.

Some years ago, a professor told me that the UMC would never divide because Methodists don’t argue. We have potlucks with fried chicken and green bean casseroles. He thought that, rather than debate anything seriously, Methodism would slowly fade away, a casualty of terminal niceness. There’s some truth to what he said, although I feel certain he’d be impressed with the last couple of General Conferences, especially the Called Session in 2019. Lots of fireworks there! No debate, though…

When the Christians cease to understand the faith we confess, why are we Christian anymore? Are we even Christian? What are we, really? Americans? Progressives? Conservatives? Black, brown, or white? If we are Christians, then are we prepared to learn and to own our beliefs and live them out so that people are drawn to Christ in us? I’m not sure. We’ve been limping along with one foot in secularism and the other in the church for a long time now. Too many of us are not entirely clear what Christianity is or why all the current adaptations of this century would make any difference.

As people spew vitriol at Christianity and Christians, we find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. We haven’t taken Jesus all that seriously, co-opting Him for whatever cause we champion. Life in America has been just plain comfortable, and complacency in Christian faith is perceived as an enlightened virtue.

It is possible that humanity has moved beyond Christianity, that the human race is now so advanced, so skilled, and so educated, that human beings no longer need to be saved. That may be true, but I haven’t seen much evidence of it. Whatever the case, if we’ve progressed beyond Christianity, let’s not call it Christianity. Christianity is this one, coherent, complete account of all that was and is and ever will be. I believe it is the accurate depiction of reality and the best explanation of human beings I’ve ever seen or heard or studied. If it’s wrong, though, and something else is more accurate and truer, then we should not be Christian. We should be whatever that true thing is.

So, we are sitting in the boat of our time, our place – this generation in the history. What are we expecting Jesus to do when we call on Him?

When the disciples woke Jesus, whatever it was they thought He was going to do, commanding the storm and the waves wasn’t on the list. The threat of the storm did not produce the level of fear that the presence and action of God produced, and we need to take heed of their response. There are many things for which we call upon Jesus. We want Him to enter our living to calm storms and keep us afloat. The problem with that expectation is that it is far too small for the creating Word that spoke the seas and the dry land into existence. It’s not that He isn’t interested in the small things in our lives. He is. But the Son of God came into the world to save it, starting with His image-bearers. The work of God in our lives is not to return us to cozy contentment but rather to help us see the inevitable conclusion of rebellious decisions.

We think the storms of conflict that mark this time in history are scary. But no human force on earth has the power and the presence of the Holy Trinity, the perfect and perfectly good God. An encounter with God makes the pomposity of this generation look like child’s play. That is what happened with Jesus’ disciples. They thought the storm was a great danger, until they were faced with the One Who has the power and authority to still the storm.

We need to be a bit afraid. We are making decisions about God that are not ours to make. He has shown us Who He is, and we do not have permission to change Him according to our wisdom. Our God has not changed, and when we seek to make Him something other than He is – or do not bother to seek Him in humility because it’s just too much work – we discover our God is not some cosmic love-muffin who makes our dreams come true. He is God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.

Christianity really is much easier on the margins. The milieu of this age practically demands that we not display our faith too loudly or live our obedience too seriously. Now, we are faced with some major and increasing storms, the first of which – for Methodists – is in our church. What do you believe? Who is Jesus? What do you know of God? What does it mean to be saved? From what are you saved? What do you expect of God, and perhaps more importantly, what does God expect from you? So many questions we each need to answer…

The latest big storm is growing across the nation and beyond. The push for globalism in the name of progress; the open mockery of religious faith, especially Christianity; the simplistic judgments and platitudes impersonating authentic Christian devotion; the accelerating conflict between secular humanism and secular Christianity (that isn’t truly Christian); the freedom of evil to move across our land because no one believes the evil is there and at work… When we cry out for Jesus in the middle of the storm, are we ready for the response of God to our pleas?

What I wish for you is a bit of intimidated fear before the God Who is the unknowable Other, the One Who called you into being, and the One Who holds your destiny in His hand. We see conflict and division, animosity and anger, but these are little human waves splashing before the Maker of storms and peace, Giver of life, and Savior from death. We need the humility that comes with the realization of Who God truly is. Once we experience the terrifying reality of God, the paradox is that we will then be able to stand firm in the face of all other fears and threats. “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” We need faith to face the God Who is worthy of worship and obedience. There is nothing more we need or can want, for in Him is the totality of life and love, of goodness and holiness, of power and might, and of mercy and joy.

Pick your fear. Are you afraid of all the ugliness, the relentless pursuit of power, the flagrant abuse of human beings and of law, the end of morality, or the collapse of our nation? Don’t be. Fear instead the One Who holds power over every aspiration to self-important rule, the One Who calls you from yourself to die with Him so that He may give you life. Be a little afraid of the One Who will answer those who seek to make Him small and manipulate the message of the Gospel to suit themselves, for a little fear will keep you from doing the same. If you aren’t sure where you fit – if you’ve tried to keep God manageable or stopped believing the Lamb of God was crucified – then turn and run to kneel before the King of kings. He will lift you up, hold you close in His heart, and give you life, such life that your fears fade away into nothingness in light of His glory.

In Christ –

Rev. Elizabeth Moreau

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