So when Jesus asks the disciples, in the middle their storm: Why are you afraid? I can think of a hundred ways to answer. I am afraid because we worry more about the location of our smart phones, than the care of someone in need. I am afraid because it feels that we see so much violence, that we have become comfortable with it, and I fear that we only get truly angry, when it gets called terrorism. I am afraid because mostly we seem to get angry at the wrong time, and not for the reasons that truly matter. Maybe it’s this fear – that this won’t change – that keeps us sitting down.
That is where the disciple sat, huddled in an open fishing boat, tossing helplessly in the sea. They wake Jesus, who is sleeping nonchalantly on a cushion in the stern, and demand to know why he isn’t more worried - doesn’t he care about them? Shouldn’t he be saving them?
We might ask the same of God in moments like these: why is God asleep? Doesn’t God care? Why didn’t God save them?
On the sea of Galilee, Jesus rises, and, we are told, that he “rebukes the wind” and commands the sea. “Peace! Be still.” And the wind ceases and the waves calm.
But Jesus does not console the disciples. He lectures them: “Why are you afraid?” he asks. “Have you still no faith?”
That’s harsh, we might think. Are the disciples to be blamed for being afraid? Are we to be blamed for asking for God’s help?
But look behind the words. Jesus is not trying to shame the disciples. Fear is a natural emotion of life - it confronts us all. Fear of change, or death, and yes, even fear of living life. Fear is a driver and paralytic, depending on the circumstance.
I suppose we could interpret Jesus’ words to actually mean: “come on guys, have a little faith.” Can’t you just trust that everything will work out? Just lie down on the cushions with me in the stern and God will take care of it. Have a prayer and everything will be right as rain.
I don’t buy that either. That is not to say that talking to God or prayer to God doesn’t tend to put right our perspective on the world. Prayer brings us closer to God, quiets the other voices. Prayer points us in the right direction. It’s a powerful act alone, or in a group, which is why the parishioners were gathering on a Wednesday night in a church in Charleston.
But, the fact is, sitting around praying in a boat caught in a storm may not be the most effective way to handle the situation. That boat needs a captain and crew, a team to keep it balanced best as possible, to steer it into the wind, to bail the water as fast as it’s coming in. At least some of the disciples were fishermen - they had skills, they knew the sea. Yet, in panic, they shook Jesus awake. They counted on God to rescue them before trying to rescue themselves. They figured God should just take care of it. Think about it: their faith in God wasn’t really the issue - they assumed that Jesus could fix the storm, which is why they woke him.
Consider that Jesus was chastising the disciples not specifically for their lack of faith in God - but for not having more faith in themselves - faith in the trust God had placed upon them as followers of Jesus. In that case, he was criticizing their lack of action. He was calling them out for being afraid to take care of the situation as they were able, for not taking charge. For not, after seeing Jesus asleep in the stern, saying to each other: okay, we got this.
“Why are you afraid?” Jesus asks. “Have you still no faith?”
In other words, Jesus was saying to the disciples: don’t worry, you can handle it.
Storms are inevitable. And in the midst of them, we will be afraid. We get news that we think we cannot handle. We see tragedy we believe we cannot bear. We lose hope and think we will never find it again. And yet, almost always, we do. We handle the news, we carry on from tragedy, we regain hope.
Jesus wanted the disciples to understand that storms were going to happen. But they had the strength to brave them, and the presence of God within them to endure them. True faith does not expect God to solve every problem; God guides and teaches us in a way that leads us to our own solutions. Believing in the gospel does not wrap us up in a bubble through which no wind blows and no rain falls; it teaches us how to brace for the wind and endure the rain. It teaches us to choose what fears will get out attention, and what fears we need to fight hardest against.
Can we handle them? On Friday, in the bail hearing for Dylann Roof, the family member of those he had killed stood in court, and spoke to him. They could have spewed hate, they could have let fear inside twist into rage. Instead, Nadine Collier, who lost her 70-year-old mother Ethel Lance, stood up and told him, “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you.”
Nadine Collier rebuked the wind and commanded the storm with her faith in God. Do not be afraid, Jesus will later tell the disciples, for I am always with you. He will tell them this with a dozen different parables. He will speak it plainly to them in the darkest of days. How well they listen will decide the path of their lives ahead - as it does for us.
On that stormy night, in Galilee, Jesus was reminding them - and us - not to fear their own ability, to hold fast, through their relationship with God, to a robust faith in themselves. Because, asleep on a cushion in the stern, Jesus wasn’t only trusting God; he was trusting them.