August 31, 2014: How Can I Avoid Fear?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, every single day events occur in our lives that cause us to fear. We fear failure in our jobs. We fear failure when it comes to raising our kids. We fear being found a hypocrite. We fear financial ruin. We fear when good days come that something will occur to upset our cozy lives. Today, take away our fear by moving us to always look to You for help, guidance, forgiveness, and most of all: love which never disappoints. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, IN WHOM THERE IS NO FEAR!

TEXT: Matthew 14: 22-33

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

What’s your greatest fear? What causes you to break out in a cold sweat at night? After going through the “worst case scenarios of life” it all boils down to “being alone” doesn’t it? Putting aside the rugged individualism we all like to cling to, the fact is: we humans are pack creatures. We find safety in numbers. We like to be surrounded by family and friends when bad things occur. In fact, that’s where the idea of the “wake” before a funeral stems from. Admiral Richard Byrd once wrote his famous book: “Alone” outlining his solo survival during a harsh Antarctic winter confined to a little hut. It’s a powerful outline of how the mind can play tricks on a lonely person and bring on great mental distress.

Sometimes, even when we’re in a crowd, fear is still inescapable. Think of those crowded refugee camps in the Middle East where people huddle together worrying about where their next meal will come from or if the enemy will find them. In those cases there is no safety in numbers, only collective misery, apprehension, and fear.

Today we meet the disciples in a boat tossed by a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee. Although they were hard-bitten fishermen used to the waves, collective fear captivated them. Then, as Jesus comes out to meet them, fear of their imminent deaths gripes them as they think He’s a ghost. Finally, we see Peter, impetuous Peter, walking solo on the water to Christ, looking away, and sinking. Personal fear grips him. Fear, fear and more fear. And yet, Jesus has an answer to it all. And today I want to share that answer with you by asking and answering this question:

HOW CAN I AVOID FEAR?

I

Scripture says: “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.” In other words, don’t get a big head! When you think you’ve got life under control, that’s when something will happen to bring it all crashing down on your head. We see that very thing happening to Peter and the disciples.

If you recall the end of last week’s Gospel on the feeding of the 5000+, you’ll remember that the disciples had been privy to a wondrous miracle. And it wasn’t just one miracle. No, Christ had also healed various people, too. Now, after a long day, after getting news that John the Baptist was dead and being emotionally drained by the day, Jesus has sent the crowds home with full tummies and full souls. Then, He also sends the disciples away to Bethsaida, a boat ride across the lake while He communes alone with His Father in prayer. Note well that Jesus is never consumed by fear when alone. That’s because God’s eternal Son never second-guesses Himself, because He’s in control of everything, and because He knows the future. Unlike us, He’s not tainted by sin and its progeny: fear.

The night is dark. Remember, no street lights or shore side homes with security lights on. A furious storm arises and through the flashes of lightning, Jesus sees His disciples about a mile or so out in the lake. The waves are big. Their boat is small. Sinking is a distinct possibility. So, Christ decides to help them. He walks on the water out to their location. We see that terror and fear has fed on itself among them in that when they see Him they were terrified and shouted: “It’s a ghost.” But immediately, Jesus tries to claim their fear by replying: “Take courage! It is I! Don’t be afraid!”

Those words: “Don’t be afraid!” are perhaps the sweetest in all the Bible. Recall how the angel used them to the shepherds at Bethlehem. Recall how other angels used them at the empty tomb. Recall how Christ spoke them to Mary when she wandered aimlessly around the garden looking for His body. Those words are pure gospel. They are quiet, loving, powerful, and comforting all at the same time. And the reason for that is that they convey God’s huge heart and all-encompassing power to us personally.

II

Most of you have received news of the death of a loved one. Many of you have received news of health problems from your doctor. The nation goes to war, the stock market crashes, a car accident occurs, fear comes. But, as a Christian, have you also heard that small voice inside saying: “Don’t be afraid?” Have you heard the Holy Spirit whispering to you like Elijah of old in our OT lesson? And have you heeded that voice without any conditions?

Well, St. Peter heard it all right, but he had conditions when it came to accepting it. “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” You’d think that after seeing and experiencing the miraculous feeding of the 5000 along with countless other miracles that Peter would be totally accepting. He wasn’t. He needed more. So, he puts this condition of acceptance upon Christ. Jesus takes him up on it, too. He says: “Come.” Peter looks at Jesus, catches His eye, and climbs out into the waves. He literally is walking on the water! Then, suddenly, fear comes over him. He switches his gaze to the violent waves and begins to sink. He cries out: “Lord, save me!” And Jesus does just that. He stretches out His hand and grips Peter’s. They get into the boat and instantly the storm quits! All He says to Peter is: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

So, How Can I Avoid Fear? Isn’t the answer obvious? Isn’t it by looking to Christ? And where do we find Jesus today? Can I avoid fear by taking Sunday off and going to the beach? Do you really see a loving, kind Savior by gazing at the waves and wondering how bad the rip tide really is? Can I avoid fear by cuddling my kids? Even though you know it won’t prevent the bill collectors phone calls? Can you avoid fear by withdrawing to a quiet, cozy place in your memory bank? Even though you know the past cannot be repeated or conjured up into present time? No, Peter looked to Christ where and when He was present. And when He did, fear left him. But, when he looked away, it returned.

Remember the Isaiah passage: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near?” It’s true. God, Christ, isn’t in the ocean waves, or merely in our memory bank. No, He’s found in His Word and in His Sacraments. His love and forgiveness, won on a cross for you, His triumph over death proved by His resurrection—that Christ Who exudes hope, comfort, and help is found in your Bible, in your baptism, and in Holy Communion. In fact, that’s the very reason Sunday worship is so vital for us. We come to have our fears taken away by Christ here at church each week. We look to Him, the entire liturgy fixes our gaze upon Him, and we leave feeling refreshed and hopeful—just like Peter when he got back into that boat. Yes, worshiping Christ, just as the disciples did, helps banish fear!

It’s really quite simple. Keep your gaze fixed on Jesus and fears will fade away. Look away from Him and fears are overwhelming. Yes, faith in Jesus enables all of us to rise above fear and walk not just with angels, but with God in Whom there is no fear! Amen