When Safe Places Become Scary

Today’s blog contains the sermon manuscript and video for a message preached July 5, 2015 at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church, Richmond, VA.   You can also find an audio of this sermon by visiting the church website and subscribing to our podcast.  The sermon is titled:  “When Safe Places Become Scary” based on Mark 4:35-41

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When Safe Places Become Scary – Mark 4:35-41

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”


He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.


He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”


They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

I’m not what you would call an adrenaline junkie.  I don’t like “the rush” that comes from engaging in dangerous activities.  You’ll never hear about me rock climbing, sky diving, or cliff jumping.

I saw a poster recently that advised:  “Do Something Every Day That Frightens You!”

I said:  “No!”

The way I figure it, there are plenty of scary things going on in everyday life.  I don’t need to going looking for danger.  I have been a passenger with Brian Snead driving down Broad Street.  That’s fright enough for one lifetime.     The world is a scary place.  That’s why we install security systems for the house and safety mechanisms for the car.

The world is a scary place.  That’s why we avoid dark alleys in unfamiliar neighborhoods.

The world is a scary place.  That’s why most of us look for that simple enclave of safety in which we can rest.

Then it happens.  The familiar place becomes frightening.  The safe place becomes scary.

There was a story on the news, recently, about a home owner in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The family had just returned from a farmers market with fresh eggs.  The lady on the house put the basket of eggs on the kitchen counter.  About thirty minutes later, she came back into the kitchen and discovered a six foot long snake, hanging out of the kitchen cabinet, itself to the one of her fresh eggs. I do not like snakes.  I particularly do not like the kinds that snakes that hide in kitchen cabinets helping themselves to my breakfast foods.


What do we do when familiar place becomes frightening and the scary things of life invade our safe havens of security? 


Every summer Sunday afternoon when I was a boy,  my family would visit my Uncle Al and Auntie Vie’s home.  Their home was a place of safety and security (as long as I stayed away from their plastic covered furniture in the living room).  I especially liked playing in the shallow end of their backyard swimming pool.


Then one day my father decided it was time for me to learn how to swim.  He employed a “sink or swim” methodology.  He tossed me into the deep end of the pool.  I could either sink or swim.  Now, it was never my aim, but I always managed to sink.  My father had to fish me out of the pool before I drowned.   Then once I had sufficiently recovered, he would repeat the process.  I started hating going over my aunt and uncle’s home.  I never have learned to swim.


What do we do when familiar place becomes frightening and the scary things of life invade our safe havens of security?


You probably heard on the local news the story of the Rev. Hugh Mayes and his wife Carol. Hugh is the pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Carson, Virginia. He and his wife were brutally stabbed in the safety of their home by a young man they’d been helping for a number of months. They’d been treating him like he was their own grandson. Then one evening the familiarity of their home became a horror house of fear as entered their bedroom and began stabbing them as they slept.


What do we do when familiar place becomes frightening and the scary things of life invade our safe havens of security? 


This past Wednesday, as folks left a prayer gathering at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, a gunman who had sat for an hour in their meeting, pulled a gun and killed nine people, turning the safety of the worship hall into a killing zone.


What do we do when familiar place becomes frightening and the scary things of life invade our safe havens of security? 


Fear is everywhere in our society. We feel it in our homes and on the highways.  We talked about it over breakfast at Hardee’s and during discussions at the church house.  We fear for our health because of deadly diseases.  We fear we might lose our jobs in this changing economy.  We worry about the next big storm.   We are alarmed we might fall victim to the schemes of unscrupulous people.


Fear is everywhere in our society.  All we want is a safe haven of rest and a familiar place to hide.  BUT what do we do when those familiar place become frightening and the scary things of life invade our safety and security?


There were a couple of number’s crunching, pencil pushing geeks among those who were Jesus’ disciples.  The former tax-collector named Matthew comes immediately to mind.  For the most part, however, Jesus’ followers were a tough group of guys, especially when near the water.  The bulk of them were watermen who spent their days casting nets and bringing in fresh fish to market.


I am talking about Zebedee boys, James and John, nicknamed the “Sons of Thunder,” along with Peter and his brother Andrew.  Some of the others were known as zealous hot heads.  Put them on a boat and send them out on the lake and it is unlikely they would have been easily frightened.  This would have been for them a safe place, a familiar place.


I have been on the Sea of Galilee.  In 1987, I toured the Middle East with a group of seminarians.  One afternoon we had the opportunity to visit a museum that housed an unearthed fishing boat dated to the time of Jesus.  It was a long and narrow vessel.  You would be able to fit 13 people on such a boat, but it would be a tight fit.


After the tour, we all boarded a schooner to cross the Sea of Galilee.  It was a beautiful day, hardly a cloud in the sky.  The waters were clam.


The Sea of Galilee is boarder on one side by very high mountain range.  Occasionally, however, a weather front will cut through the valleys and hit the water.  In a matter of minutes, the Sea of Galiee can be transformed from being crystal calm to deadly dangerous.  That is what happened while we were on the boat.  The only comfort I felt in the whole storm was the knowledge that everyone else on the boat seemed just as nervous as I did.  It was as if God was trying to give a bunch of preachers a sermon illustration.


As quickly as the storm had arrived, it left.  We reached the other side in one piece and continued our tour.  However, I have never forgotten that storm.  Each time I read this story from the Bible, I remember my experience on the Sea of Galilee.


At first, they were fine.  They had seen this all before.  They were not scared.  They relished watching the fear on the faces those less experienced with the water.  But in short order the winds grew fiercer and the waves larger than even those experienced watermen had encountered.  The boat was in danger of capsizing and they were at risk of drowning.  The familiar become frightening.  The safe place had become scary.


Stuff like this happens.  There is no way to prepare for it.  It comes suddenly and unexpectedly.  You go to the doctor for a routine checkup and learn that you have advanced stage of a deadly cancer.  You go to work and find out the company is downsizing and you are now unemployed.  You take a short trip and when you return your discover your home has been burglarized.   You leave the house for an hour and when you get back the rescue squad is taking your spouse to the emergency room.


How can this be happening to me? Where is God in all of this? What about my family, my children? Who’s going to care for them? Lord God in heaven, O Jesus, just where are you? Don’t you care about what happens to me?


We can sympathize with the disciple’s fear.  Their safe haven has become a scary place.  The familiar place has become frightening.  They look to Jesus, the one called Immanuel – the one who has been for them the presence of God.  He had been their symbol of safety and security.  But there he is in the back of the boat, sleeping.


They wake him and ask: “Don’t you care if we die?”


Jesus stands up and speaks.  Is he addressing the raging waters or the disciples fearful hearts? Perhaps both.  He speaks but a word: “Shalom!” “Peace.”  The wind and the waves become calm.


Next Jesus speaks to his disciples: “Have you still no faith?”


The next few words in the text offer us an amazing insight.  It says:  “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”


They were terrified. 


People turn to this familiar passage in tumultuous times for a bit of reassurance.  We want a reminder that Jesus is with us and that he will speak to calm the story seas of our lives.  But notice that the truly terrifying part of this story is not the storm.  What truly terrifies them is Jesus.


Jesus calms the waters and silences the storm.  “They were terrified and asked: ‘Who is this man that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”  The familiar and safe Jesus suddenly becomes someone who is dangerous.


“They were terrified and asked:  Who is this man, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


If Jesus has the power to turn a storm inside out, just imagine what he might do with this congregation.  We build our boat to be familiar and trustworthy.  We build our lives into familiar places of safety and security.  Then Jesus shows up and it can be terrifying.


Folks, you know I believe in the intimacy of God – but I want us to remember that such intimacy is an awesome thing.  We are talking about Almighty God, revealed in the person of Jesus, who is Lord of all.  This God is not at my beck and call.  This God does not exist to fulfill my wants and wishes.


God is with us in the boat.  God is with us in the familiarity of this fellowship.  While this is amazing, it is also a seriously terrifying proposition.  What kind of congregation would we be if we lost our awesome respect for the power of God?


“They were terrified and asked:  ‘Who is this man, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”


The disciples looked at Jesus.  They were afraid and bewildered.  Who wouldn’t be?  Who can feel safe, in such a presence?  “They were terrified and asked:  Who is this man, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis write of an occasion when Susan and Lucy ask Mr. and Mrs. Beaver to describe Aslan, the Christ-figure in the story. They ask if Aslan is a man.  Mr. Beaver replies: “Aslan a man? Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the woods and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”


“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”


“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”


“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.


“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”


Two thousand years ago The Lion of the Tribe of Judah came roaring into our small world devouring the grip that sin and death held on those He loved. With one swipe, the authority of hell over you was demolished. The power of the world over the life of a believer today is no more than the final whimper of a scared rabbit who is held firmly in the great jaws of the king of the jungle.


The power of our King is awesome. Demons run like roaches in bright light at His presence. Hell quakes in fear at the very mention of His name. He is not only King. He is King of Kings. There is no greater authority; no greater power; no greater LOVE with which one must reckon. One day every creature in the universe will fall before Him in humble submission and awe. He will forever be the Sovereign-Of-The-Universe because He is the Son of “the great Emperor-Beyond-The-Sea.”


Terrorists threaten and scare some.


The economy causes others to be afraid.


Biological warfare?

Weapons of mass destruction.


Mad cow disease?  Ebola?


Nuclear warheads in the hands of madmen?


They are all field mice to our King.


Is our King safe? Oh, no! He is far too powerful to ever be described that way. But He is good – very good.


For God’s sake, let us not underestimate the truth that the church is a vessel that contains the awesome presence of Almighty God.  Jesus is here.  He is the Sovereign-Of-The-Universe and the Son of “the great Emperor-Beyond-The-Sea.”


Jesus has the power to transform us, to transform our community, to transform our world, and to make of us something we had not figured on. 


There is an awesome presence among us.  It is an awesome, terrifying, disturbing, and frighteningly wonderful presence.  It is the presence of Almighty God, revealed in Jesus Christ.  This familiar place should never be what WE want it to be.  This is not our place.  This is not our enclave in which to hide from the tumult of a raging world.  We are a vessel containing the presence of Jesus Christ whose has the power to transform the world with his love and grace.


“Terrified, they asked:  Who is this man, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

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