“Faith is Larger Than Fear” John 6:16-21

The Sanctuary Sermon for 3/22/20

The Sanctuary Sermon for 3/22/20

Faith is Larger Than Fear” John 6:16-21

“When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”

Most of us woke up last week to a world we never imagined.

Life as we know it has been interrupted because of the Coronavirus outbreak. I saw a meme someone posted on fakebook with a picture of John Candy, his arms spread wide as the caption said, “Sorry folks, the world’s closed!” Along the way we’ve learned a new word: Pandemic. We know the word epidemic, which refers to widespread disease, but what is a pandemic? It means a disease has spread to nearly every part of the world. The word is also spread 24-7 on every news outlet with some facts and much speculation inducing panic, pandemonium, fear and uncertainty. Our first response? Naturally, we hoard the toilet paper and stock up on bottled water. People. They’re the worst.

What started in China spread quickly to South Korea and Japan. Travelers took it to Iran, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, the United States, Canada, and soon it spread across the globe. As I write these words, nations are in lockdown, and now large cities here in the US. Almost every country in the world has issued travel restrictions to keep out anyone infected with the coronavirus.

We live in strange times.

The stock market is volatile and unstable. Hospitals are having trouble getting enough equipment to meet the demands to care for people. The National Guard has been deployed in some states to assist and conspiracy theories abound. Schools, restaurants, and sporting events have been canceled. Most assemblies are forbidden, senior care facilities are closed to the public and we’ve all learned about “social distancing” which means you stay away from me, and I’ll stay away from you. Now some cities are under a “shelter in place” order, which means you stay home round the clock, with only a few specified exceptions. I read yesterday that the Pope declared that if you can’t go to confession, take your sorrow directly to God. Hmmmph, now there’s a novel thought. Not judging my Catholic friends. 

All of this because of a tiny microbe that is incredibly contagious and extremely dangerous, especially to those over 60 and those with compromised immune systems. Since I fit into that first category, I’ve tried to follow the rules. I’ve started washing my hands all the time, wiping down everything and even take hand sanitizer when I go out. I thought the other day other than washing my hands, I rarely gave such things a second worry.

No one’s certain when things will get better. This may last a few weeks, or it may last a few months. It could last even longer. I guess God got so mad about our fighting down here that he’s sent us all to our rooms for a time out.

We’re living with a level of anxiety we haven’t seen since 9/11. People worry about their health and the health of their loved ones. We’re worried about losing our jobs and our income. We feel trapped by events we can’t control. Such is life for all of us right now.

How should we respond? We certainly need to allow our faith in God to be larger than our fear. Here are a few thoughts on John’s account of the storm at sea.

 

Jesus has miraculously fed the 5,000 and has sent the disciples on their way as he went up the mountain to pray by himself. At twilight the disciples push off from shore and start rowing across the Sea of Galilee. It was soon dark, and the shallow body of water became rough as high winds and a storm front blew in. When it says it was dark, it was very dark. The disciples could hardly see past their hands. The storm front swallowed up the moon and stars; now just dark inky blackness was in their faces with wind howling, shouts of despair and the rumbling of thunder over and over. As the sea grew rougher; the waves continually lifted their small boat high into the air, then pitching them down in a great splash of water as waves crashed over the sides of the boat, drenching the disciples as they hung on for dear life fearful that they were about to capsize and drown. It’s as if the weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost. No, wait… 

Serious stuff, their lives were in danger. They were about to go over and under, they were panicking, nearly terrified. Then they look out and see a figure of a man walking toward them on the water in the darkness of the storm— now they were truly terrified!

We can identify with these disciples, can’t we? And like these disciples who were caught up in a terrible life-threatening storm at sea were terrified, we too must face our fears. We face all kinds of fears today: fear of inoperable cancer, a fear of losing a loved one or spouse and becoming a widow/widower, a fear of financial insecurity or ruin, a fear of having to live in a very limited capacity due to the afore mentioned. The list could go on as you add your ‘etc.’ Right now we are all faced with a storm that scares us to death, this storm called Covid-19. It is scary isn’t it? It’s highly contagious and has taken the lives of people all over the world. You may have it, not knowing and pass it to others. On the news yesterday I saw a line of cars miles long filled with people waiting to get tested for the virus. Of course, the government has set guidelines and we are all taking measures to ‘flatten the curve’. I guess in a way the world is closed and our survival is at stake. At least that’s all we hear and are fed to believe by mainstream media. It has produced a storm of fear and worry to people who are terrified.

We need to take comfort that God knows and cares that we are in a storm. Jesus was on a mountainside praying but he hadn’t forgotten his disciples. He looked down from that hill and could see the ‘perfect storm’ developing as they struggled, scared to death trying to keep their heads above water, so to speak. He didn’t ignore their peril; he came to them.

You and I can get so scared with this Coronavirus with all that we are hearing and experiencing with it—that we may miss seeing that God has not forgotten us in Christ, that he knows the storm we’re going through, that he loves and cares for us. He has not abandoned us as orphans, in fact, he’s moving toward us to help, he’s here with us!

Jesus said, “It is I; do not be afraid.” ‘It is I’ in the Greek, is even simpler. Jesus said, “Ego eimi,” which means “I am.” God said to Moses in the Old Testament, I want you to go to Egypt, and tell Pharaoh to let my people go. Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

Who is coming across the water to the disciples in their distress? It’s the Great I Am. During the storm that night, the disciples saw a figure come walking across the water toward them, and they may not have recognized him for they were terrified. They may have wondered, “Who’s that coming toward us?” Jesus said, “I am,” and the Jewish ears of the disciples would have heard the echo of Yahweh, the God who sent Moses is here with them.

This same Jesus, who is the Great I Am, who is bigger and stronger than any obstacle we face in life, who is stronger than any storm we face—he is here with us in this Coronavirus storm. That’s the Good News. That’s the answer we need more than any other answer, Christ is present with us in this storm.

Since God is bigger and stronger than this storm, we’re in—we’re going to trust, keep our eyes on him and pray. It’s so comforting to know that this great God is with us and we don’t have to be afraid. We need to allow our faith in God to be larger than our fear. Oh, and wash our hands.

Did the storm immediately end when Jesus came to them? Did the waves stop pounding? Did the wind stop howling? Did the Sea of Galilee get all calm and chill? No, no, and no. They were still in the storm, but Christ was with them. The Gospel of John doesn’t say that Jesus stilled the storm. John’s account ends with, ‘Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.’ The miracle is that the Lord climbed into the boat with them and through the storm brought them to shore.

That’s our faith because it’s larger than our fear. Are we in a storm? Yes. Is there fear? Yes. Are we uncertain about the weeks and months to come? Yes. Is the ‘I Am’, the Almighty God, with us? Yes. As we cry out and trust in him, he’ll see us through this storm as we come out on the other side.

David Crowder writes in his song, “I Am” using a play on words,

I Am
Holding on to You
I Am
Holding on to You
In the middle of the storm
I Am holding on
I Am!

He continues to come into our sinful and dying world and hold us today in the waters of our baptism. He continues to feed us with his Supper, saying to us that our sins are forgiven, and we are not alone. When we have the Father holding and feeding, we needn’t be fearful of this or any pestilence. Our sins are forgiven, heaven is ours. A virus can’t take our soul.

Stay calm—we’re in this boat together and God’s moving toward us

Stay prepared—be a good boy/girl scout, also wash your hands

Be prepared to serve—keep your eyes open for those in need

This is the Word of the Lord for the day,

Amen.