Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Do not fear!

I'm scared.  Are you?

When a group of scientists releases a report on climate change which basically says "Sort it out now.  Or else." that's pretty scary.

When we hear that species are going extinct at a rate of thousands per year, that's pretty scary.

When you see pictures of the amount of plastic in the sea, that's pretty scary too.
Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters

Even when we're doing our best to help the environment, we're aware that the whole way we live is unsustainable.  Just by living in a centrally-heated house, with running water and electric lights, driving a car and eating imported food, we are using more resources than any other humans in history.  But - even given a 12-year deadline - there doesn't seem to be any easy way to change this.

It's all scary.  But fear often stifles us, not stimulates us.  How do we get away from our fear?

Jesus on the Lake

Rembrandt: The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Our Bible study looked at two stories of Jesus on Lake Galilee with his disciples.  Matthew tells them both, and I'd never noticed how much they mirror each other.  Look at this:

When Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him.  A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.  And they went and woke him up, saying, 'Lord, save us!  We are perishing!'  And he said to them, 'Why are you afraid, you of little faith?'  Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.  They were amazed, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?'
Matthew 8:23-27

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side... And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake...  So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus.  But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!'  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, 'You of little faith, why did you doubt?'  When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'
Matthew 14:22, 25, 29-32

It's the same conversation both times.  The disciples call for help, Jesus remarks on their lack of faith, and fixes the problem.  In the first story, however, they finish with a question: 'who is this man?' and in the second, they have their answer: 'he is the Son of God'.  Despite their 'little faith', they have arrived at a new knowledge of who Jesus is.

These stories deal with fear and faith in a natural world which seems out of control.  Here are several possible responses to environmental problems which arise out of fear.  What can we learn about the kind of faith which overcomes our fear?

It's all down to me
Half of the disciples were fishermen.  Being on a lake, in a boat, in a high wind, was surely familiar to them.  They knew what to do, and they were doing it just as hard as they could.  But it wasn't making any difference.  And they were scared.

Sometimes we feel like saving the earth is all down to us.  We have to drive less and recycle more and use less plastic and buy ethical clothing and source clean energy and... it's exhausting, and as hard as we work, it doesn't seem to make any difference.

Unfortunately, Jesus doesn't seem to be stepping in for us, to make everything calm.  It's a little more complicated having faith when there isn't an instant answer.  But apart from calming the storm, Jesus drags his disciples attention firmly back to himself.  He is the creator and sustainer of the world, the one whom winds and sea obey.  Faith isn't just asking for help when things get bad.  Faith is keeping our focus on Jesus.

I don't know what to do!
Sometimes we feel like Peter - we've got out of the boat, but now the problems look bigger than we thought, and we're stuck!  It's easy to panic when we're confronted with complicated issues.  Yes, let's eat differently to help the earth.  But do we go vegan? eat organic? avoid plastic? avoid imported food?  How much will it cost?  Do we have to survive on lentils?

Amidst all this, Jesus reaches out his hand to us and says, 'I've got you.  Just one step at a time now.'  M.J. Wilkins describes faith as "consistent trust in Jesus to accomplish what Peter is called to do".  We can't do everything, but if we take one step, and then another, we can keep going in the right direction.  Faith is keeping our focus on Jesus, and then moving towards him.

God will sort it all out
Or maybe we go to the other extreme.  We can't cope, we don't know what to do - but hey, we believe in God, don't we?  He can sort it all out.

You would think that Jesus would react positively to his disciples saying, 'Lord, save us!' wouldn't you?  Doesn't that prove that they're trusting in him?  Interestingly, his response is scathing: 'You of little faith!'

The kind of faith that turns to Jesus only when we're out of other options is not, apparently, very creditable.  Nor is the kind that uses him as an excuse to do nothing.  Jesus wants far more from his friends.  He wants a big faith.  A faith that says, yes, this is hard and scary and dangerous, but because Jesus is with us, we're going to do it anyway.

Faith is keeping our focus on Jesus, moving towards him, and gaining courage as we do.

Making a boat

In our study group, we made a list of our fears for the world.  Then we folded that list into a paper boat, to remind us to react not out of fear, but out of faith.  Yes, there are a lot of reasons to be scared.  But when Jesus is with us on the lake, there are a lot more reasons to have faith.


Introduction: Compostable Christians
Study 1: The Importance of Creation
Study 2: Groaning Inwardly
Study 3: Do Not Fear!
Study 4: Live in the Light

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