Sunday, August 10, 2008

Do Not Be Afraid

1. In the ancient world, it was believed that if you saw God, you would die. What was it about God that frightened so much? Maybe it is because before the Lord, all our illusions about having power and importance are stripped away and all that remains is the truth of our utter dependence on His love and mercy.
2. Many people are afraid to meet Jesus. It is easy to say that we love Him and believe that He is Lord, but deep down we would like Him to stay a safe distance away and not get too close. I suppose that is related to the sin of Adam and Eve, and how they hid themselves in the Garden after they had sinned because they were afraid.
3. Maybe it is because we look for God in the wrong way. Many times, we only expect God to speak in the earthquake, in the hurricane, in the explosion, in the mighty wind. But as Elijah realized, God was not speaking to Him in those ways. Rather, it was in the tiny whispering sound.
4. In the silence, Elijah recognized that God was already there. It is not that God could not speak in the mighty wind and rain. It is just that most of the time, God speaks in the tiny whispering voice that we must really listen for. God’s messages usually do not come in a blast, but quietly to those who are actually listening. We have to get quiet, we have to wait in silence and really listen, and then we will hear God.
5. In the Gospel account, we learn of another theophany- that is another manifestation of God, this time in the person of Jesus Christ. Psalm 77 says The waters saw you, God; the waters saw you and lashed about, trembled even to their depths. The clouds poured down their rains; the thunderheads rumbled; your arrows flashed back and forth. ...Through the sea was your path; your way, through the mighty waters, though your footsteps were unseen. And in Job: the Lord alone stretches out the heavens and treads upon the crests of the sea. In fulfillment of these scriptures, our Lord walked across the waters. Although the sea and wind recognized that Jesus was God, the disciples had a different interpretation. They thought He was a ghost. And so to reassure them, Jesus called out take courage, it is I, do not be afraid. These words are meant to more than reassure the disciples, they are intended to let us know what is really happening, just in case we do not understand what the water is doing. He said it is I. Another way of saying it I AM, which in Hebrew is the name of God. Jesus frames His self identification with the words Take courage... do not be afraid. Whenever the Lord gave a message through an angel or directly, He would always say this- do not be afraid. God does not desire to terrify us, but to be with us.
6. When the Lord called him, Peter was able to do what Jesus did as long as He focused on the Lord. When Peter began to fear the wind and the waves however, he began to slip. At least he had the presence of mind to call to the Lord, who was already reaching out to rescue him. But Jesus could not help asking Peter why did you doubt? Why did he doubt? Jesus was right there.
7. When Elijah encountered God in this manner, he was still afraid and he hid his face. But nevertheless, he went and stood at the entrance of the cave, so that he could hear God. And what did God say? Elijah, what are you doing here? In other words, why are you hiding- why are you afraid?
8. That is a question for us also? Why do we doubt? Why are we afraid? And we are afraid. We put off going to confession, we hold back our tithe when the collection basket goes by and give something less, we resist the call to the priesthood or religious life, we hold on to grudges, we skip chances to grow intellectually in our faith, we refuse to let God choose how many children we have, and on and on. We could practically walk on water if we focused on the Lord. Instead we sink because of our fear. The worst part is that we do not get to know the One who has chosen us to be in heaven forever. Even if we fear and doubt and sink, we should imitate Saint Peter in calling on the Lord. But really, we should not be afraid.

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