In the holy name of Jesus (+). Amen.
It’s a fearful story. Not really a ghost
story, but the disciples thought it was a ghost. When Jesus came walking on the
water toward their boat, they were afraid. They cried out in fear.
Jesus calmed the fears. “Don’t be
afraid. It’s just me!”
Peter – for whatever reason, we can only
guess, but it is Peter, after all – decides he wants in on this
water-walking, too. “If it’s really you Lord, tell me to come out there with
Pretty fearless of him, right?
Oh, it goes fine for a little while, but
then Peter saw the wind, and he was… afraid… and began to sink. “Lord,
save me!” he cries, and of course, the Lord does. And Peter’s fear is
once again removed.
And when Jesus and Peter step into the
boat, all of a sudden the wind dies down, and the waves smooth out. Everything
is peaceful, and fear is gone.
Today’s Gospel lays fear right in front
of us. And it reminds us of this problem with which we all struggle at various
times, to varying degrees. Fear. Let’s consider the contrast and the question
today, “fear or faith?”
We humans are well acquainted with fear.
We all have fears from an early age. When you first go to school and are afraid
of the unknown. When you lie in bed and are afraid of the dark. We have fears.
But then we get older and we find new fears.
You can find all sorts of lists of
phobias on the internet. By one count, there are over 500 known,
scientifically-documented phobias. There are some with which you are no doubt
familiar. Others are more rare or obscure, and a few are real
tongue-twisters. How about some of these:
• Acrophobia- Fear of heights.
• Agoraphobia- Fear of open spaces or of
being in crowds.
• Claustrophobia- Fear of confined spaces.
• Coulrophobia- Fear of clowns.
• Glossophobia- Fear of speaking in
• Logizomechanophobia- Fear of computers.
• Porphyrophobia- Fear of the color
• Peladophobia- Fear of bald people.
• Ephebiphobia- Fear of teenagers.
• Phobophobia- Fear of phobias.
• and, of course: Homilophobia- Fear of
Maybe your fears are of an illness.
Maybe you fear for members of your family. Are you afraid about your financial
security? Or do you simply find lots of little things to be afraid of – or
But what is our greatest fear? What
should it be? The root of all fear is certainly a spiritual one, and it is
connected with sin. In fact the first fear recorded was a direct result of Adam
and Eve’s sin, “I heard you walking in the garden, and I hid, because I was
afraid.”. Since then, all other fears lead back to the one great fear:
The ultimate fear is the dread of
knowing we are NOT all right. That there is something very wrong, very wrong
with us, as we stand before our God. The ultimate fear that should have every
human quaking and shivering is the fear of the wrath of almighty God. For
sinners deserve death and punishment and eternal condemnation. This is what
true fear is about. Fear that because of my sin, my own sin, my own most grievous
sin, God will say to me at the judgment – “depart from me you evildoer”,
perhaps the most fearful words in all of scripture.
There is a part of us, even as
Christians, that still fears such a thing. I have heard many stories about
life-long believers (and good Lutherans at that!) who still fear that God will
drag all their sins out in the open before His judgment throne. That somehow,
when scrutinized, they will be found lacking. These kinds of fears are the
delight of Satan, who wants us to doubt, and worry, and despair.
So how can we deal with fear?
We could turn fear into a TV show, and
watch other people do all sorts of fearful stunts – from the dangerous to the
gross. But how does that help me with MY fear?
We could use systematic desensitization,
and little by little, get closer and closer to that which we fear – but how
does that help us with the ultimate fear? How do you desensitize the fear of
Maybe I could be rid of fear by thinking
positive, “going to my happy place”. Nope. That doesn’t work either.
These are all human answers. And
therefore they are limited and will fail.
Better to hear what God has to say about
our fears. Better to let God deal with our fears.
God is decidedly against fear.
How often the Bible speaks those words, “fear
• “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good
news of great joy which shall be for all people.” (Luke)
• “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield.” (Genesis)
• “Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong
and of good courage.” (Joshua)
• “Fear not: for I am with you.” (Isaiah)
• “Fear not, from now on you shall be
fishers of men.” (Luke)
• “Fear not, little flock.” (Luke)
• “Fear not. I am the first and the last.” (Revelation).
In fact the phrase “fear not” appears in
the Bible somewhere between 80 and 140 times, depending on how you count it.
But all this talk about “fearing not” is
useless, isn’t it, if God doesn’t actually DO something about it. Well fear
not, for God does.
The only thing to do with fear, really,
is to take it away. That’s what Jesus does. The story about Jesus walking on
water is also a reminder of where, and how, and by whom, fear is put away.
Jesus calms our fears, and gives us courage.
Just as Jesus took the disciples’ fear
away, and took Peter’s fear away, so He takes our fear away. He doesn’t just
say it, He actually does it.
St. John wrote in his first letter to
the early Church: “Perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18).
Only God has perfect love. And He shows
that love to us in Christ. He showed the way in which He loved the world by
sending His Son, Jesus, to the cross in place of each and every one of us.
Our fear of standing before God’s
judgment is taken away, because Christ stood in our place, hung on our cross,
and bore the wrath and anger and judgment of God for us. Our deepest, darkest
fears come into focus at the cross, and there they are put away in the death of
Christ. There, God said, “get away from me” to Christ. There, God’s anger was
unleashed, at Christ. There, God’s righteous judgment was meted out in full
measure, on Christ. Everything we could fear, Christ took, and took it away
from us. At the cross, the power of fear is destroyed forever, because the
power of our greatest fear—eternal death for the guilt of our sins—is destroyed
So when Jesus says, “fear not”, He has
the standing and the authority to say it. When Jesus says, “fear not” He isn’t
just saying it! He’s all about making it happen – taking our fears away.
You’re all familiar with how young
children can find themselves afraid in the middle of the night. A youngster
might come into his or her parents’ room, and say, “there’s a monster under
The parents could simply say, in all
truthfulness: “NO, there isn’t. That’s silly. Get back to bed!” But will
this really do anything to take that child’s fear away? No, of course not. How
much better is it if the parent goes with the child, looks under the bed, maybe
turns on a light – and shows the child there is nothing to fear?
When we come to Jesus with fear of the
monster, He doesn’t just tell us to buzz off. He doesn’t flippantly say, “Don’t
sweat it; there’s nothing to worry about.” Nor does He make us look under
the bed all by ourselves. For in this case—the case of sin, death, and the
devil—the monster is quite real; quite dangerous; quite deadly.
What Jesus does instead is to root out
that monster, and destroy it before our eyes. The three-headed monster of sin,
death and the devil is not only cast away by the Christ, it is ground into the
dust under His feet, never to cause us fear again. Jesus doesn’t just say it,
He does it!
It’s not insignificant that fear appears
twice in this story of storms and stumbling. First the disciples are afraid
when they see Jesus, thinking He is a ghost. Next, Peter is afraid when he sees
the effects of the swirling wind, and realizes, “Hey, I’m walking on water
in the middle of a stormy lake! Am I out of my mind?”
In both cases, Jesus takes the fear
away. In the first instance, He speaks it away: “Fear not, it is I!”
In the second instance He does something about it, reaching out and snatching
Peter from certain death.
Peter and his impetuous actions and
growing fear give us a window into our own struggles between faith and fear.
And Jesus is always there to catch us too. With Him we need never fear. Jesus
again and again deals with our fear. He continually reminds us that we have
nothing to be afraid of. We stand righteous before God.
As we read a couple weeks ago in the
Epistle lesson from Romans, nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ.
We need not fear danger, or famine, or nakedness, or sword, or angels or
demons, or the present or the future, nor anything else in all of creation –
not even death. We are safe with Him, in His love, in the ark of the Church, in
When we read the account of Jesus
walking on the water, we are reminded of many things: That Jesus is powerful.
That He has control of nature. That He calls His disciples to trust Him. That
He rescues us when we are in danger of being lost forever.
But more than that, we also see that
Jesus takes away fear. He bids the disciples, and us, to “Take courage!
And be not afraid.”
Franklin Roosevelt famously said in his
first inaugural address, “we have nothing to fear, but fear itself!” A catchy
phrase and very effective in a worldly sense, but not very theological or
useful in addressing our concerns about our eternal well-being.
Much better it is for us to hear: “In
Christ, we have nothing to fear. Period.” For He is our Savior and our
God. He died for our sins, and He lives forever. And Jesus says, “fear not!”
End of story. End of death. End of fear. Amen.