This past week at St. Paul’s was Vacation Bible School, with the theme, “Shipwrecked: Rescued by Jesus.” I’ve often heard it joked about that people get more out of the children’s sermon than the normal one. While it is a joke, I think there’s something there. Children’s sermons are kept deliberately simple, but contain the really important basics: God loves you, share God’s love with others, God loves you, God takes care of you, and did I mention God loves you? “Big People” sermons can sometimes get bogged down and miss this simple message. While I hope that all of my sermons are discernible, I purposefully kept this one simpler than most, trusting that what we teach our children is something we need to hear, too. (If you’re curious about Stephen Ministry, please let me know!)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This past week was Vacation Bible School here at St. Paul’s, and we spent our time hearing stories about how when we’re in some kind of trouble: whether we’re lonely, or worried, or struggling, or we’ve done wrong, Jesus can rescue us!
And actually our story for Wednesday was our Gospel reading this morning. Jesus calming the storm and stilling the seas. As each group of kids came to Story Time, I asked them: what are you afraid of? The disciples in this story are really scared, what scares you sometimes?
Our preschoolers shared that they were scared of things like spiders, being alone in the dark, getting shots at the doctor. As the groups got older, their fears changed. Being left out. Not doing well at school. Disappointing their parents. Failing.
Everyone has fears. I won’t make you raise your hand and share yours. Maybe some of the kids’ fears are things that you worry about, too. Being alone, being left out. Failing. Disappointing those who are depending on you.
You probably have other fears, things that hopefully kids don’t have to worry about. Maybe you’re dealing with a health issue, or a family member or a friend is. Maybe you’re wondering how to best support and care for aging parents. Maybe your kids are leaving home for the first time and you worry for them. Maybe you worry for the future, worry what kind of world we’re creating and leaving for those who come after us. The news is certainly full of things that make me very scared.
We all are afraid sometimes. There’s no way around it. And sometimes it can be so overwhelming that we want to cry out with the disciples: “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Do you even notice, God? Do you not care that my loved one is dying? Do you not care that I don’t know how I’m going to get through this struggle?
Of course, when Jesus is awoken by these cries, he does care. He stands up and stops the storm and calms the winds. But then he says something that’s interesting: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” I think it’s pretty obvious why the disciples are afraid. They think that they’re going to drown. But they’ve seen Jesus do great things already. He’s healed people, he’s cast out demons. And when the storm threatens to overwhelm them instead of trusting in the power of Jesus, they are overcome with fear.
There’s a moment in Game of Thrones, both the book and the show, where a young boy named Bran asks his father, “Can a man be brave, even if he is afraid?” And his father responds: “That’s the only time a man can be brave.”
“Can a person have faith, even when they are afraid?” Jesus seems to make it an either or. Either you are afraid, or you have faith. I don’t think it’s that simple. I think what Jesus is getting at is that even when you are afraid, you can still respond in faith. It’s not an issue of whether or not you’re afraid, but how you respond. Are we paralyzed by our fears, like the disciples? Unable to truly do anything but panic?
Or, can a person have faith, even when they are afraid? That’s maybe not the only time, but one of the times when our faith can shine through the darkness of fear and truly be a beacon of hope and guidance.
When we talked about this story with the kids this week, we used our catchphrase of the week: Jesus rescues! When you worry, Jesus rescues! When you’re lonely, Jesus rescues! When you struggle, Jesus rescues! We tried to be clear though, what that rescue is and what it isn’t. Our faith doesn’t magically make our fears go away. As adults we know that. If only that were the case.
But our faith makes it possible for us not to be paralyzed by our fears, not to let our fears or our struggles be the things that rule us. That control us. Our faith means that we are never alone in our fears. God is with us. Yes, God cares. God cares that we are afraid. God cares that we are struggling. And we are never alone. And a God who cares cultivates people who care. Part of our most basic Christian vocation is the calling to care for each other.
After the hymn of the day, we will be recognizing our Stephen Ministry’s ten-year anniversary. Our Stephen Ministers are people from our congregation who have been trained to help provide support and Christian care-giving to those who are struggling or in need of help. Some of those who receive care are dealing with grief or coping with an illness. Others are trying to handle a change in their life situation.
Whatever the situation, our Stephen Ministers are here to provide one-on-one care for a period of time. When we struggle, we do not have to do it by ourselves. If you think you might benefit from a Stephen Ministry relationship, please reach out to me or to one of Stephen Leaders, Beth McElvenney and Hazel Pelletrau.
“Why are you afraid,” Jesus asks? Well, much like the disciples, the reasons for our fears seem obvious. There is nothing wrong with being afraid. But, to borrow from VBS, when we are afraid, Jesus rescues! Not by making our fears disappear, but making it so that we might live by faith in spite of our fears. Making it so that we might live knowing we are loved. Knowing we are not alone. Knowing that our fears don’t get the last word. God’s love does. Amen.