Year A Proper 14 Matthew 14 2011
I think this very poignant story reminds us that fear is so basic to whom we are as humans, it goes all the way back to the beginning of time. To be human is to experience fear.
There seems to be no limit to our fears. In a peanuts cartoon strip Charlie Brown goes to Lucy for a nickels worth of psychiatric help. She proceeds to pinpoint his particular 'fear'. Perhaps, she says, you have hypengyophobia, which is the fear of responsibility. Charlie Brown says no. Well, perhaps you have ailurophobia, which is the fear of cats. No. Well, maybe you have climacophobia, which is the fear of staircases. No. Exasperated, Lucy says well, maybe you have pantophobia, which is the fear of everything. Yes, says Charles, that is the one!
Sometimes we feel like we are afraid of everything. We are afraid of ourselves. We are afraid of people. We are afraid of the future. We are afraid of the past. We are afraid of life. We are afraid of death.
Every person, every Christian, must fight their own fears. Even Paul, the sturdy Christian warrior, had to do so. Paul had fallen flat on his face in Athens. He did exactly what he intended not to do, and in his own eyes he had failed. He wrote of his arrival in Corinth: "For when we came into Macedonia we had not rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings; within were fears." Paul was full of fears, just like you and me--the fear of inadequacy, the fear of failing.
But perhaps the most surprising fear of many people and one that we do not like to address is the fear of God. It is the fear that God is not really on our side. It is the fear that God will put us out on a limb and leave us.
It is not a new idea. One of the great fears of the ancient people was that God would fall asleep. Can you imagine such a thing? When the prophets of Baal could not get their Gods to rain down fire on the top of Mt. Carmel, Elijah taunted them: Maybe your God is asleep, he said. On the other hand, the Jews took great comfort in the fact that the God of Israel neither slumbered nor slept.
Over and over again the message of the Bible is fear not. When Abram took his family to the Promised Land he feared that he was turning his back on everything he knew, his security for the unknown. God spoke to him: Fear not Abram, I am your shield and your reward will be great
When the Jews stood at the Red Sea and could see Pharaoh's chariots coming on the horizon, they cried out that they would all be slaughtered. Moses said to them: Stand still, fear not, and see the salvation of the Lord.
When the angel of the Lord came to Mary and said that she would bear a child, she trembled with fear. What would become of her? Said the angel: Fear not Mary, for you have found favor with God.
Fear not! Fear Not! It is how we would like to live. How do you do it?
- First, we must confront our fears.
- Second, we must understand that too much doubt can sink us.
- Third, we must remember that regardless of what happens, God will be with us.
Save Me, Lord
British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace was without peer in the 19th century except for one name: Charles Darwin. One of Wallace's most astute observations about nature has gotten totally forgotten in the whole debate over the "survival of the fittest." Wallace made a surprising discovery about the saving nature of struggle.
One day Wallace was observing moths struggling to hatch out from their cocoons. One of the larger insects seemed to be having a particularly hard time getting out. After hours of watching this moth beat desperately with its yet undeveloped wings to break out of the cocoon, Wallace couldn't take it anymore. Moved by the creature's life-and-death struggle, Wallace decided to lend a helping hand. Gently, being careful not to injure the insect, Wallace used his sharp knife to cut open the remainder of the cocoon and freed the moth from that transformation chamber.
But something was wrong. The moth was not injured. It began beating its wings to pump them up. Its body unfolded and filled out. Yet in the ensuing days, compared to all the other moths that had struggled their way out of their cocoon captivity, Wallace's moth appeared smaller. Its movements were noticeably weaker. Even its wing and body color were less vivid, pale and dull. Over the course of its brief life span the "helped out" moth flew poorly, fed inefficiently, and finally died long before its time.
In this little experiment Wallace discovered that his compassion was actually cruelty. The struggle against the cocoon was nature's way of strengthening and developing the moth's wings so it could fly. The "easy-way-out," the struggle-free hatching, was a recipe for failure, not success. The struggle to break free from a cocoon was a necessary, life-enhancing, life sustaining part of a successful moth's existence. The struggle made the moths stronger, their shades of color more vivid, and increased their vitality.
Parents know this, but how hard is it for us to do this. One of the worst things we can do for our children is give them everything they want. Why? Because there will never be an end to "all we want." Give someone everything they want and they will simply want more.
One of the other worst things we can do for our children is to do everything for them. If you find yourself cutting your teenage son's meat for him, you know somewhere along the way you went too far, "helped out" too much. Doing everything for another, even out of love and compassion, insures the other will have a gray and dreamless life. Like the over-aided moth, they will have no strength, no vibrancy, no soaring spirit in their living.
In today's gospel text Jesus shows his great love for his disciples by sending them off, by themselves, without his help, to struggle alone...