Today I shared some difficult news with the fellowship at Pier Avenue and, I think it is only right to share it with you.
Over the past few weeks, things have been coming to a bit of head for me. During this time, I read a passage from the Bible that really made me angry. The passage is one that is really well known, Jesus stilling the storm on the lake. It is found in Mark 4 vs. 35 – 41.
Ironically, our Regional Minister chose to preach on this passage when he was with us a couple of weeks ago. My preaching on this was not an attempt to “put his sermon right” because, his was an excellent sermon! But, I needed to address my own struggle with it and explain why I find this a difficult story, at the moment. The reason for my struggle is found in verse 40;
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
(Mark 4 vs. 40)
When I read those words, part of me wants to grab Jesus, shake him and say “of course they are afraid, I would be more worried if they were not. They have just come through this incredible storm which has terrified experienced sailors. Their lives were on the line. They were face to face with death and you ask why are you so afraid?”
I have, in the past, sat through those sermons that have told me fear and worry are a sin. I have been told that fear is about faithlessness and, by implication, if you worry and if you have fears then you cannot be trusting God. If you are not whole-heartedly trusting God then, you must be in sin.
Eugene Peterson, rather unhelpfully, in the Message translates this verse as
Jesus reprimanded His disciples “why are you such cowards?”
And that really angered me!
Not wishing to lack grace here but, those sermons and those kind of comments have not helped. All they have done is piled on guilt on top of the fear and the worry and told me what a poor Christian I am.
So, why is this passage so sensitive for me at the moment?
We are living through an “annus horribilis” – if I may borrow the Queens phraseology. My son has had major health problems. My, as yet unborn, grandchild has had shown on a scan that he is going to be born with a cleft lip – the same condition I was born with. Although there is, according to the medical staff, no genetic link I am sure you can imagine what is going through my mind.
As if all this wasn’t enough, I have recently had an accident at home. My prayer became “come on Lord, give us a break!”
Then came some news from left field.
Following the accident, I made a trip to A&E. I was convinced that I must have broken ribs. The doctor came to see me after the scan and advised me that there was “good news and bad news”. The good news was, no broken bones. The bad news was they had found a growth in my pancreas.
I needed to see my GP urgently and had an emergency referral to see a Gastro Intestinal Surgeon. As yet, I do not know if this growth is benign or malignant and I will be returning to hospital for further tests this week. We are in that awful “this may be something or this may be nothing” phase. I think our family is living proof of the truth of Shakespeare’s words in Hamlet;
When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions
What amazed me was the fears that began to surface in me. Life or death is not a major issue but, I am a fairly private person. My biggest fears centred around me becoming “the centre of attention”. I cannot explain why but I became terrified that, if people knew, I would have people laying hands on me and praying for me in front of the church (in private is a different matter altogether). I didn’t want people to fuss!
I have come to realise and believe that God created us to be people with feelings and emotions. I think Jesus understood the fact that His disciples were afraid.
So, what if, this question is not a criticism?
The word rebuke or reprimand does not appear hear. So, what if this is not reprimand but, an invitation?
You see God wants us to trust Him. God wants us to grow in our faith and the starting point for this growth isn’t criticism or condemnation; it is honesty. That is what I have come to believe Jesus is saying here in this verse.
Be honest about it. No false bravado. No mask. No hiding behind your religiosity – be truthful and together we can deal with this.