Sermon Text: Safe?
So the oncologist said this to my wife: "You are tiny, but tough."
You see, my wife went through surgery and then had a very strong chemotherapy regimen. She never missed a treatment and only missed two days of work. At the end of the whole process, her doctor looked at all this and said, "You are tiny, but tough."
And I said, "Doc, welcome to my world."
You need that background for this story: One time I was thinking about the idea of the fear of the Lord. It's a theme in Scripture. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," according to the book of Proverbs. And in my favorite Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, fear is a big theme. When the disciples started figuring out who this Jesus might be, they were terrified.
So I was thinking about all this one time. And without prelude, I mused aloud to Paula, "Can you be scared of someone you love?"
She gave me The Look. Husbands know this look. It's a long, level look. The eyes are hard, like steel. "Can you be scared of someone you love?" I asked. She gave me The Look, and said, "Yeah. I would think YOU are."
She had a point.
Now, if you're like me, you prefer the Bible stories about God's love. I want God to be nice. I want Jesus to be polite. The thing is, if you read the book, it's not always like that.
If an angel shows up in a Bible story, the first thing the angel says is, "Fear not!" Every time. Why? Because the power of God is terrifying. In the Book of Exodus, God tells Moses, "No one can see my face and live."
The fear of the Lord is a theme in the Bible, and it refers to a deep awe and reverence for the mysterious power behind the universe.
The Gospel of Mark uses the word "fear" often. In fact, it's the last word in the Gospel. After Jesus dies on the cross, the women meet an angel at the empty tomb. They are terrified. "Don't be afraid," the angel says, just like always. The angel tells the women Jesus has risen and sends them to tell the other disciples. The women tremble and flee from the tomb. And the last line in Mark's Gospel goes like this: "They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid."
In today's text, Peter sees the glorified Christ on the mountain. Peter starts babbling, and the text says, "He did not know what to say, they were so frightened." The disciples are starting to get an idea of who this Jesus might be. And they are scared out of their minds.
Now, I'm a liberal Christian. There are conservative Christians who do not think I'm a real Christian. I do not preach hellfire and brimstone, and don't believe in it. I don't believe God is watching my every move, ready to whack me if I fall short of the divine plan. I preach about grace and forgiveness, and the God who loves us no matter what.
But I might be wrong, you know. In the face of the mysterious power behind the universe, all of us preachers had better show some humility. We better not claim to know too much. And maybe that goes for all people of faith.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom because it leaves us in a posture of humility, with a willingness to recognize how little we truly know.
I remember seeing the second "Star Wars" movie 30-some years ago. Luke Skywalker begins his Jedi training with Master Yoda. Luke says confidently, "I'm not afraid!" Yoda gives him The Look all of us husbands know. Yoda growls, "You WILL be....you WILL be..."
Or I think about the Chronicles of Narnia, with the great lion Aslan as an image of Christ.
When the children from England come into the magical world of Narnia, they hear about Aslan. They ask, "Is he safe?" Their guide says, "Safe? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe! But he's good."
Or I think of part of a poem by Mary Oliver about Christ:
tender and luminous and demanding he always was,
and a thousand times more frightening than the killer sea.
God is not safe. Christ is dangerous. But we also believe God is good.
All this makes sense, when you think about it. Have you ever stood under a stormy sky and watched a massive thunderstorm head in your direction? Have you ever watched rising floodwaters? Have you ever witnessed childbirth? Have you stood by someone's deathbed and seen the reality of the arrival of death? Have you ever looked at the photographs of deep space taken by the Hubble telescope with galaxies as numerous as gnats? How could the creative power of the universe be safe? Or tame?
Now, I am not suggesting that we cringe in fear before the Lord our Maker. But I am suggesting that we walk humbly, as the prophet Micah says. Micah says, "And what does the Lord require of you, O mortal, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
Is Jesus safe? Not at all.
Is Jesus polite? No way.
Is Jesus comfortable? Not very.
But is Jesus good? Yes.
Mark's Gospel does not say we will never be afraid...quite the contrary.
But Mark's Gospel does say that the fearful power of God is for us and with us.