Fearless Faith: Weathering the Storms of Life
The assignment was about memorization.
It was for an English class, sometime in middle school.
The Memorization was perhaps the main thing that worried me about it,
because I wasn’t then, and am not now, very good at reciting back.
Its one reason I work from manuscripts rather than memory:
I can capture dates and details,
I can analyze the forest or the trees, depending on what we need
but ask me to get the words right on a song I’ve heard a thousand times
or to relay the exact nuance of a voicemail message
well… not my strong suit.
But that middle-school assignment was to memorize a poem.
The Poem assigned to me: Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.
So I took it home, and I worked on it
and read it, and read it again
and did some of those mnemonic exercises
of imagining myself at various stages of the composition
doing what it was doing, you know,
so I could remember how it worked its way along
and I got myself pretty worked up.
Not because I wasn’t trying. I was.
Not because I wasn’t succeeding. I was doing ok.
Maybe not as well as I wanted to
but I’d pass. One way or another, I’d be ok.
Not because I’d have to speak in front of class. That’s was all right.
But because I knew this was a particular weakness of mine,
and I’d be EXPOSED.
The date came,
and then third period I went to English class.
And I stood before the class and I recited the poem.
I didn’t get it all right, but most of it:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Maybe the most beautiful thing about that whole experience
was how that poem has stuck with me
and sometimes I’ll pull it out,
butchered, of course, getting some detail wrong
since I can’t recite memorized things for the life of me
but the main points, the broad strokes, for sure..
the images, the texture of the poem
life as a journey—one we all have to take
there’s no stopping, not really
you’re on the road, not parked along side
and you’ve got to choose; you’ve got to take a path.
Thinking about the assignment: I think I got a B. Too long ago to remember.
I was so worried though. And so relieved when it was done.
But I faced that challenge, and got through it,
and now have this really wonderful gift
that I carry with me.
I was afraid when I stepped into that English class.
But it was not the first time, nor the last time.
Truth is, there are a lot of things that terrify me:
some more powerfully than others
some that I recognize are more realistic than others, even if both are equally powerful.
–I wrote at least some of this sermon
in a metal contraption 33,000 feet in the air
moving at several hundred miles an hour.
They scanned us using all sorts of gadgets to get on the plane
and even checked Tessa’s hands for chemical residue.
–Last Sunday around this time,
I was strapped into a rollercoaster with my
somewhat fearless daughters
screaming screams of joy next to me
which was scary enough
and then news of this tragedy at Schlitterbahn
started coming our way
and we as parents decided to push on, getting on more rides,
Sunday and again throughout the week
even as we double checked harnesses
and tried not to extrapolate details from that horrible thing
to what WE were doing…
–We slathered each other with sunscreen and bug spray,
trying to keep sunburns and zika away, you know
–And we tried not to stress as our now 10 year old girls
begged to go look in that gift shop for a bit on their own
while we were resting on a bench,
KNOWING how BUSY that park was—it was packed
KNOWING that they were no longer so little any more
and could probably find their way back on their own.
And I was sitting at a stunt show with the family,
a stunt show, ironically, called Fear Factor Live
based on the TV show where they put ordinary people
through all these challenges
you know: they make them eat gross things like bugs and fish guts
and they tie them to bungee cords
and have them do these stunts dangling high in the air
or they put their heads in a box and put
spiders or scorpions all around them for 15 seconds
that sort of thing
and I was sitting there with my family
and was thinking about how this show missed the point:
our fears surround us
all the time
Its like we’re swimming in them:
fears for our partners
fears for our children and our parents, the ones we love
that they’ll be safe, and secure, and successful, and loved
fears for ourselves,
that we’ll make the right decisions
that we’ll worry about the right things, and not the wrong ones
that our bodies will hold up when we need them too
like walking 15000 steps a day in the heat of a Florida August
that what we do today won’t come back to bite us
that we’ll have enough money and friends and time to live on
that when we die we’ll have done all right,
and are going someplace alright
if anywhere at all.
And then add on top of that anxieties about world affairs,
from violent extremism to economic and political turmoil
or our own political circus, this election cycle in particular
or the particular stress that each one of us bears one time or another
social stress—meaning our so-called friends
or colleagues or neighbors
physical stress—maybe it’s the heart or its cancer
or its eyesight not quite right.
You step back and take stock of all of this
and it really does feel like we’re swimming in it
and you get a sense of what the Psalmist meant
when he pleaded with God
Save me, for the waters have come up to my neck… (Psalm 69:1).
Robert Frost knew that taking the journey through the wood
is a bit dicey.
Of course it is. Human life is dicey.
There are dangers, toils, and snares all over.
To love another person is to open ourselves up to hurt and heartache.
To get out of bed in the morning means its possible
you’ll stub your toe on the way to the shower.
That’s the stuff of human life.
And that says nothing about the road less traveled
where it is grassy, and want of wear
that Frost somehow boldly decides is his destination
sort of the same way kids,
who haven’t known hurt yet
bound yet again to the entrance line of a rollercoaster
for another go
It’s the most normal, natural thing in the world to be afraid.
Its an evolutionary quality, one that has served us well over the eons
the one that tells us to run when being chased by a lion
or not to walk too closely along the edge of the cliff face.
The point of all of this is not that fear is bad, or that caution isn’t warranted.
Its just to acknowledge the world we live in
where we get out of bed, anyway
and we get on the plane
and when the kids get their drivers license
(and they demonstrate competency)
we hand them the keys to a car
and pray and pray and pray.
Its to acknowledge the power fear has over us
to control our choices and our thinking and our future.
When fear is operating well, it offers some protection for us.
When it is not, it keeps us under the covers,
or keeps us from opening up to another in love
or holds us back from doing something we need to do
or having hard conversations
or facing our own faults.
Truth is: Fear is a powerful, powerful thing.
It is used by some advertisers and politicians and alas even some clergy
to try to motivate you to DO something. Often the wrong thing.
And fear sometimes keeps us from living as joyfully
as justly as we might want to live.
We want to accept some fear, but not be controlled by it, consumed by it.
This is important:
There is a group of scholars who talk about how one part of “salvation”
is freedom from just this sort of fear—one that traps us
and binds us to our worries
in such a way that we don’t choose
acts of love and compassion and joy.
We’re going to look at this question these next several weeks,
as we explore at what God might be trying to say to us about
the sort of life God wants for us.
Does God want us to be captive to our fears
or does God somehow empower us
to subordinate them, to make them less powerful
than our trust in God’s loving care?
What might a fearless faith look like?
And what impact might it have on our daily lives,
and on what we are all about as a church?
So we have these two very interesting scripture passages to start off with.
Donna read this amazing passage
from a letter that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth
Paul is working so hard with that little church.
He LOVES that church
but they are stressing him out.
He got them together. He got it up and running.
And then he had to leave town,
and they started to struggle.
They broke into factions. They lost their way.
So they wrote to him, and he wrote back,
trying to give them advice on all sorts of things.
And some of it was working and some of it was not.
And in a moment of authenticity and openness,
he wrote these words Donna read
where he describes all these things he’d gone through
in his work for the sake of Jesus.
Just listening to it makes one cringe a bit:
but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way
through great endurance,
in afflictions, hardships, calamities
beatings, imprisonments, riots
labours, sleepless nights, hunger…
its amazing he got out of bed every morning too.
But here’s the joy of the passage: throughout all these things
he was exposed to even greater wonders and possibilities:
knowledge, patience, holiness of spirit
genuine love, truthful speech
so that, as he says:
“see—we are alive!”
Others may see him enduring these calamities and see him
as punished or sorrowful or poor or having nothing
and, on the contrary, Paul says:
we are ALIVE, not yet killed
yet always rejoicing
making many rich
How does Paul do that?
How does he go through life with that sort of disposition
even in the face of so much?
Maybe it has something to do with his mission
his experience of being called by God
and sent off to do this sort of work.
Paul seems to face these things because he knows
there’s something bigger going on
that they make sense in a larger narrative
that they can’t really hurt him, not ultimately.
Its not that Paul is reckless, or careless, or throws caution to the wind.
Its that Paul doesn’t let the obstacles in his way keep him
from doing what he needs to do.
And then there’s Jesus.
Jesus is asleep in the boat.
I get that. I really do. He’s been working so hard,
healing and preaching and teaching
crowds of people coming to him for a word of solace
crowds of people who get this sort of world of ours
because they too are living in a stressful world
a hurting world
crowds of people who aren’t really able to check it
So Jesus is tired. Exhausted.
And so he gets in his boat for some peace and quiet
just him and his buddies, you know
and that blessed, blessed quiet
and he falls asleep.
But the troubles of the world don’t stop while Jesus is asleep.
The winds start picking up, and the waves start lapping the side of the boat
and the clouds look menacing
and Jesus…Jesus is asleep on the boat.
And the disciples don’t have anywhere to go.
No where they can hide.
They’re on a boat, in open water, with GIANT WAVES
tossing them about.
And Jesus…Jesus is asleep on the boat.
And the disciples are somewhat paralyzed by all of this.
They don’t know what to do.
The Waves are threatening to swamp that boat, to bring them all down
to sheol, as they would say.
And they shake the sleeping Jesus:
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing…”
And Jesus wakes up…
Did you notice what Jesus does?
What is the first thing that Jesus does? Right then?
That moment the disciples disrupt his REM sleep and
bring him back to the world of now?
What does Jesus do? Jesus stands, and rebukes the waves, the disorder, the chaos
“PEACE! BE STILL!”
Jesus tends to the immediate needs of the people he loves:
The wind….it ceases. There is a dead calm.
And, just like that, there is hope again….
Sometimes we focus too much on the second thing Jesus does,
when he asks them why they are afraid
but when I think about the waves of our own lives, our own worries
I get it. And I think Jesus did too.
Sometimes we focus on this passage as a call to personal trust in God
that Jesus, the one whom even the wind and the sea obey,
that Jesus doesn’t want us to be afraid any longer, to trust
but I like to see this more as assurance in the midst of
the most frightening storms.
Those disciples, they were frightened.
Jesus recognized that, and with a word of calm and assurance
shows us that even those GIANT WAVES are no match for God….
The phrase “fear not” or “be not afraid” appear more than 80 times in the Bible.
Its in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Its found in the Acts of the Apostles and in the letters of the faithful.
Its here in the mouth of Jesus himself.
And its not so much an admonition as it is an assurance
that GOD’S GOT THIS
that if we can get our head and our heart and our spirit oriented the right way
that even we can weather the storms of life
with all of its unpredictability and its dangers.
Did you notice something else:
the disciples had each other.
In the same way: I’m glad we’re in the boat together.
That boat, in another sense, can also be seen as a life raft
the vessel carrying us safely from shore to shore
in calm seas or in turbulent waters.
We’re in this boat together. You and I.
May we not lose heart, but be of good courage,
as we chart a course through the storm
as we make choices about which path to take in the forest
Sometimes easier said than done, for sure.
But how much more wonderful will life be
the more we trust that God’s Got This
and we can live our life placing our fears in God’s hands….?
We’ll look at some of the ways our fears particularly overwhelm us
over the next several weeks,
but the overarching theme will be the same:
God’s Got This
You are God’s beloved, and in the end, you are going to be ok.
Thanks be to God.