Do not be Afraid 12 B John 6:1-21 St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Little Rock, July 29, 2018 Joanna Seibert

 Do not be Afraid 12 B St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Little Rock, July 29, 2018

Jesus says, “’It is I: do not be afraid.’ Then the disciples wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”

I well remember the times I delivered information bringing fear to people who previously had joy. Part of my medical practice was performing OB ultrasounds. Most examinations were joyful, pointing out the precious parts of that developing baby, the heart beating, the tiny hands often in the baby’s mouth, the kicking legs, and lastly the private parts  that would determine the right color to be painted in the nursery. Rarely we found abnormalities. The hope was that this would alert new parents and their physicians to complications that needed addressing immediately after delivery. But as we followed these mothers and their babies, at each examination I saw increasing fear and anxiety about the future. I saw families now living in fear. Many abnormalities were minor, but for months parents met with other physicians to discuss the worst-case scenario about their expected child. There were exceptions, and we did find life threatening abnormalities,/ but they were less frequent than the minor problems that caused so much fear during a time already full of great anxiety.

Jesus says, “It is I: do not be afraid.”

Our communication system is excellent, but it seems more and more to be fear based. Fear has become the tactic to get more viewers, more listeners, more readers. “Stay tuned to the weather tonight. A storm may be approaching from the west.” We don’t pay attention to the political scene unless “breaking news” comes across our screen. With few exceptions, more than 90% of newscasts are about what is wrong in our city and world,/ robberies, murders, political fighting and corruption. Imagine again that tiny baby in the mother’s womb. If he or she could hear and understand today’s news, do you think they would want to come into our world after hearing the nightly news!/ This information is important, but our lives are being dominated by weather and crimes and politics on the local and national news.  This is what people talk about in “shops and at tea.”

Jesus says, “It is I: do not be afraid.”

Perhaps some of you will remember the first week of the swine flu or H1N1 pandemic in 2009? In our country, sports events, schools, conferences were canceled in states where no confirmed cases were reported when only 141 unconfirmed cases of the flu were reported in our entire country. The most ridiculous reaction was the killing of hundreds of thousands of pigs in Egypt. The country had no cases of the flu, and the flu is not transmitted to humans by pigs even though it is called Swine Flu.

Jesus says, “It is I: do not be afraid.”

A group I once worked with only talked for a whole year about how we had no money, could do no programs, might not make salaries.  Our staff meetings were fear based, dominated by the half empty glass, pessimistic thinking. At year’s end, we had a substantial surplus left over in the budget. Some might say we had the overage because we lived so frugally, but I cannot express how depressing and filled with negative paralyzing energy that year was. It was hard to see Jesus leading us in that workplace.

Jesus says, “It is I: do not be afraid.”

I have also had the privilege of working with people of vision who could see opportunities and steppingstones instead of stumbling blocks. My husband and I came to Little Rock in 1976 to help develop the Arkansas Children’s Hospital. We were the first physicians in our specialties. I remember well the people on the ACH board with vision and hope. Many of them were Episcopalians, Mary Hodges’ father, Ed Penick’s brother, Sissie Brandon’s husband, Charlie Whiteside, and later Diane Mackey. If they had been fear based about the lack of funds at Arkansas Children’s Hospital we might today still have a 20 bed children’s hospital with a girls and boys ward.//

The words “fear not” or “do not be afraid” are repeated in almost every book of the Bible.  God’s command not to fear is repeated more times than the command to love. That should tell us something about how much God wants us not to live in fear. Of course, Jesus also says we should be meek as lambs and wise as snakes, telling us to have faith.

Faith means believing in something we cannot always see or seeing God at work in something that seems almost as impossible as walking on water. My experience is that if we only believe in what is not risky /or the bottom line/ or on the surface and fail to see the potential, the vision, the possibilities, the heart and soul,/ we lose our way, sink and soon begin to live in darkness. We will walk this fine line between vigilance and hype with every issue in our lives./

Henri Nouwen reminds us about living in fear, being tempted to be safe,  holding on tightly to what we have when strong winds blow.

“As fearful people we are inclined to develop a mind-set that makes us say: ‘There's not enough food for everyone, so I better be sure I save enough for myself in case of emergency,’ or ‘There's not enough love to give to everybody, so I'd better keep my friends for myself to prevent others from taking them away from me. There’s not enough money, so I better hold on tightly to what I have.’”1   This is called scarcity mentality.  It involves hoarding whatever we have, fearful that we won't have enough to survive, to make it through the storm to shore. “The tragedy is that what we cling to so tightly ends up rotting in our hands.”1/

In today’s gospel Jesus feeds a large crowd of 5000 people with five barley loaves and two fish. Perhaps the major miracle was not that these loaves and fishes somehow feed the crowd, but that the people shared food instead of hoarding it so that the uneaten fragments filled twelve baskets.2 

  In our 2006 General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, Katherine Jefferts Schori preached about fear at the closing Eucharist shortly after her election as presiding bishop. She said: “fear is really a reaction, often an unconscious response to something we think is so essential that it takes the place of God. ‘That's mine and you can't take it, because I can't live without it’ -- whether it's my bank account or my theological framework or my sense of being in control. ‘If you threaten what defines me, I will respond with fear.’ Jesus calls us to look beyond these lesser gods..  Jesus gives birth to a new creation/ of love -- and you and I are His (beloved newborn) children.”3

Our previous presiding bishop tells us to listen to the message that God constantly whispers in our ears above the storm. “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

When we  keep our eyes on Jesus and his love, we are promised that we will lose sight of fear. When we keep remembering we are God’s beloved, when the seas are rough, even in the dark, we begin to respond with less fear. When we know we are all God’s beloved, we begin to recognize God’s presence  in our neighbors and even in those we find the hardest to love.

 When we think we have lost sight of Jesus, we always know where to find him. Jesus is walking in the dark on the rough waters looking for the weakest, the poorest, the most excluded who are desperately trying to weather the wind and the storm in their makeshift boats and rafts. When we spy Jesus with them, we realize they also are our beloved brothers and sisters, and we hear Jesus calling us to help Him bring them to land.

As God’s beloved children we can continue to squabble over the inheritance God has given us,/ or /we can claim our own image as God's beloved and share and recognize that beloved image of God,/ within ourselves,/ within the members of our family,/ within members of this congregation,/ and within our community outside this upside-down boat we worship in.

“Jesus says, ‘It is I: do not be afraid.’ Then the disciples wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”

1Henri Nouwen, “The Temptation to Hoard,” Daily Meditation for May 6, 2009, Bread for the Journey, a Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, Harper One 1997.

2Malinda Berry, “Living the Word,” Christian Century, July 4, 2018, p. 21.

3The Right Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. Homily preached the General Convention's Closing Eucharist, Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday, June 21, 2006,

Joanna Seibert