Sermon: Proper 12 / Pentecost 9 RCL B – “Do Not be Afraid”

God is sitting in Heaven when a scientist says to Him, “Lord, we don’t need you anymore. Science has finally figured out a way to create life out of nothing. In other words, we can now do what you did in the beginning.”

“Oh, is that so? Tell me,” replies God.

“Well,” says the scientist, “we can take dirt and form it into the likeness of You and breathe life into it, thus creating man.”

“Well, that’s interesting. Show Me. ”

So the scientist bends down to the earth and starts to form the soil.

“Oh no, no, no,” interrupts God. “Get your own dirt.”

In the beginning. In the beginning when God created would have been something amazing to see. I think it would have been something truly beyond our abilities to imagine or even comprehend. Yet, that has not stopped us from trying. Last week we did a 31,000 miles per hour drive by of Pluto. The New Horizons space probe traveled 3 billion miles on its journey to get there and it takes 4.5 hours for a signal to reach earth. You thought your internet connection was slow. How big is Pluto? If earth were the size of a basketball, Pluto would be about the size of a golfball. The universe is one of those situations where the more we know, the less we know.

When the author of Genesis began writing his understanding of creation, he did not have the scientific knowledge that we have today, but he did have his own cosmology. His own understanding of the universe, which a careful and imaginative reading of Genesis can reveal.

Hebrew conception of universeThis cosmology can be demonstrated best by taking a bowl, turning it upside down, and pressing it down in the shallow end of a swimming pool. Imagine, instead of floating up, that this bowl would rest on pillars coming up from the bottom of the pool. Then, imagine a disk and place it inside the air pocket created by the bowl, and have it also supported by pillars. That disk is surrounded by water on all sides. Therefore, the disk is the dry land and if you were to look up, essentially looking up at the inside of the bowl, you would see the firmament, the heavens, where the sun, moon, stars, Pluto and all the rest are held. Below you, below this disk is Sheol, what we now call hell. Above the surface of the swimming pool is Heaven. So everything, the bowl, the dry land, the firmament, Sheol, everything is surrounded by water, and the water is chaos.

When God created the heavens and the earth, he brought them out of this chaos. He brought order. The flood during the time of Noah, was God allowing the water, the chaos to once again reign over creation. Moses and the Israelites passing through the Red Sea shows God delivering His people through the chaos and into the Promised Land.

All of this ties into the use of water at baptism, because going into the water is going into the chaos, going into disorder and death. Consider Paul’s words, “We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Going into these waters of baptism, of chaos, is being buried in them. It is death.

Now, with that understanding of the waters, consider again our Gospel reading: “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.”

They were terrified because out of the darkness came this figure, walking across the waters of disorder, chaos, and death. With their understanding of the waters, can you imagine the fear they experienced? But then He spoke to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

The Psalmist wrote:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

And Jesus spoke to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” And God spoke to them, “It is I; do not fear though the earth should change, though its waters roar and foam.” Do not be afraid.

Today, some are experiencing chaos in their own lives, but we can all look out towards the horizon of our own lives and and even though we may not hear the thunder, we can see the flashes of lightning in the clouds. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” And so there are times in our lives when the rain falls, the thunder crashes, the seas roar, and we become afraid. There are days when we may not want to even come out of the minimal security of our rooms, but Jesus says, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Put yourself in the place of the disciples on the boat. Jesus says, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Here He is, the one who treads on the waters of death and chaos, but do you trust Him or are you still afraid? And if you are afraid, what would you do if you weren’t?

For example: If you weren’t afraid of the storms that may come in your life, how much would you give? If you weren’t afraid that there wouldn’t be enough for you, that it wouldn’t run out, if you weren’t terrified by the proverbial rainy day, how much would you give?

If the events in your past life didn’t trap you in the fear that they might happen again, how much would you care? If you weren’t afraid of losing someone or something? Of being ridiculed or laughed at? If you weren’t afraid of shedding a tear, how much would you care for family, friends, or even a stranger?

If the chaos of loving someone hadn’t isolated you from loving others, how much would you love? We’ve all had our hearts broken at least once, but if you weren’t afraid of it happening again, how much would you love? If you weren’t afraid of revealing your true self, your greatest joys, hurts, weaknesses, strengths, and shortcomings; if you weren’t afraid of death, and if you weren’t afraid of being a true friend of Jesus, how much would you love?

In the midst of a terrible battle, two soldiers who were friends became separated. As the fighting raged on all sides, one of the two soldiers suddenly saw his friend lying on the ground, badly wounded and with no protection from the bullets and the bombs. The soldier turned to his lieutenant and begged for permission to go to his friend, to try to rescue him, to try to carry him out of the firefight and to safety. The lieutenant forbade him. “I order you not to go. You would stand no chance of coming back alive.”

A moment later, while the lieutenant was turned in another direction, the soldier took off. He ran into the clearing, knelt by his friend, picked him up and began to run. Part way back, a spray of bullets hit him. But stumbling, he made it back to safety with his friend. The lieutenant came over. He was furious and grief-stricken at the same time. He said to the soldier, “What a waste. Look at your friend. He’s dead. You brought back a corpse. And look at you. Look at your wounds. What a waste.” The soldier looked up at the lieutenant. He smiled and said, “Lieutenant, it wasn’t a waste. When I got out there, my friend was still alive and he looked up at me and said, ‘I knew you’d come.’”

Jesus says, “It is I; do not be afraid.” A quote that made the rounds awhile back, “Be the kind of person that when your feet hit the floor in the morning, the devil says, “Oh no, they’re up!”

In the beginning, God created. He created the heavens and the earth and everything in between. And he created you. He created you to love and worship Him, but He also created you to give, to care, to love one another. He created you to live. Still, He understands your fear of the stormy, chaotic waters of this life, but just as He did not abandon His disciples, He will not abandon you. Even now, He comes to you, walking on those waters. “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid to give, to care, to love. Do not be afraid to live.

Let us pray: O Dearly beloved Word of God, teach us to be generous, to serve You as You deserve, to give without counting the cost, to fight without fretting at our wounds, to labor without seeking rest, to spend ourselves without looking for any reward other than that of knowing that we do Your holy will. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.

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