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22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
1 Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2 This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” 14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. He came to Shechem, 15 and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?”16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, “Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. 18 They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24 and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. 28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
Last week, Pastor Pam reminded us of Karl Barth’s call to Christians to hold the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other – to help us see our story through the lens of God’s story. And this week, as I have done that, there is one word, one feeling that jumps out: fear. 
I will talk a lot about fear this morning, we know fear can be a healthy and necessary thing for survival. But I think we all can agree that there is another kind of fear that can be toxic and can convince us to believe lies. About ourselves. About others. About God. And it begins to distort who we are and who we are called to be.
Fear is all over our Old Testament text this morning – the fear Joseph must have felt being thrown into a pit by his brothers and eventually sold into slavery. The fear of his brothers that masks itself as violence and anger and resentment. Because surely at the heart of each one of them was this fear that they were not loved or valued enough by their father, Jacob. That Joseph had something they didn’t, which somehow made them less than. And so they act out of their fear.
We heard the brothers say, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him …and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” That’s fear talking.
This was news to me this week, that same line is stamped into a plaque at the Lorraine motel where Martin Luther King Jr was killed. Listen to these words, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him …and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” Which sounds a lot different this morning than it did on Friday morning. It isn’t hard to see how fear leads to violence.
The fingerprints of fear are all around our gospel reading this morning. The disciples are in a boat on the sea of galilee and the wind and the waves are beating against them. When the disciples see Jesus walking towards them on the sea, they are immediately frightened thinking it is a ghost and they cry out in fear. Peter gets out of the boat to walk towards Jesus, but it when he notices the wind he becomes frightened and begins to sink.
After grabbing a hold of Peter to save him, Jesus speaks those hard to understand words, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Which generates a bit of fear in the doubter in me.
So that’s just the biblical stories this morning. And then there’s the newspaper stories – which, you know, where do we begin?
Threats made by North Korea. Presidential threats made in response. And there is the headline on the Guam newspaper which simply said, “14 Minutes,” meaning the amount of warning time the people would have to prepare for whatever atrocities head their way. On top of that there is the fear of not knowing how fearful to be. Don’t take it too seriously, some say, this is unlikely to happen. Take it very seriously, others says.
And then of course there is Charlottesville. And the haunting picture of White Supremacists and torches and racism and hate. And the violence. All of which is surely against God. And all of it surely born out of fear. Toxic fear.
That’s global and the national fear that we most of know about. But then there are the fears we carry secretly in our hearts from our day-to-day life that swallow us whole each day too.
Fears of failure, fear of not meeting people’s expectations, fear of not being welcome because your different than those around you.
I think we live in a town that is saturated in fear of not being good enough, successful enough, smart enough, or as one person said to me recently, unique enough.
Fear. Fear. Fear. It is all around us today.
I want us to see what we can learn about fear this morning in the light of this story of Jesus walking on water. Specifically, I want to zero in on one particular moment of fear this morning – the moment when Peter steps out onto the water.
Now, it’s important for us to understand that in that time, the sea was a symbol of chaos and danger and evil. So, think about that for a moment – Jesus sends the disciples in a boat out on to the sea. Which teaches us that following Jesus doesn’t mean that our life will get easier. In fact, it will likely get harder, because Jesus will call us to a life of faith we’re not sure we want to enter into. Loving your neighbor and loving your enemy is not easy, it’s risky.
So, the sea is a symbol of chaos and danger and in this story Jesus is able to walk on top of the sea. He comes to the disciples who are being overwhelmed by the sea, and Jesus comes walking on top of it. Suddenly, the story for me is about much more than the defying of the laws of physics. It is no longer scientific, it is theological. It is a theological promise that God has power over that which has power over us.
So, Jesus comes to the disciples in their moment of fear, walking on top of that which creates fear. They think he’s a ghost; Jesus says immediately…immediately, Jesus is desperate for them to know this, he says it right away…. “Take heart, It is I, do not be afraid.”
Notice he doesn’t say, “Calm down, these storms aren’t that bad.” He doesn’t say, “Stop being so silly. These are good storms, you just think they are bad storms.” He doesn’t dismiss the truth about the storms and how frightening they are, he simply says I am with you in the storm. You do not need to be afraid any more.
And then Peter speaks up. Listen carefully, Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come out on to the water.” IF it is you. Peter must have gotten a little of that evil sea water in his lungs, because remember that’s the devil’s question when Jesus is in the wilderness. If you are the Son of God…turn these stones into bread. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself off this temple.”
Peter says, “Lord, if it is you…” which doesn’t sound like the most confident and faithful and brave Peter we’ve been taught to see here. And why does Peter isolate himself from the group? Why not have Jesus command all of them to walk out on the water, why just Peter?
So, Jesus obliges. Sure, come on, Peter.
And Peter steps out of the boat. And for a brief moment, Peter can walk on the sea of chaos too. But then Peter notices the strong wind and he gets frightened. He becomes fearful and the text says he begins to sink.
And this is the part that has caught my attention all week. Why does he begin to sink? Why doesn’t he sink like a stone, like the rest of us? Instead, I have this image of Peter on this painful slow escalator going downward. What could it mean?
Could it be that when we become fearful, our lives slowly sink into chaos. And it’s a gradual process. Sometimes, it’s so slow that you wake up one morning and you can’t figure out how you got into the mess you’re in, because it was so slow you didn’t even notice.
That’s what evil and chaos do – they grab a hold of us slowly, so that we don’t know they are there.
Remember, scripture says love casts out fear. But the opposite is true too. Fear casts out love.
Think for a moment about the things fear causes us to do. When I become fearful, I’m more likely to look out for myself than to look out for others. And if I’m protecting myself, I’m more likely to lie than to be honest. Fear causes me to stay with those who are like me rather than those who are different than me.
I mean that’s the really truth, right? That there is a form of racism that is alive in all of us, but we cannot see it. Because it has creeped in very, very slowly, and it has been normalized. And none of us want it there, none of us would choose it, but we are being asked to look for it. To search for the hidden racism within us so that we can expose it and perhaps in exposing it begin to heal it.
Ultimately, fear causes me to isolate and hide.
And none of that happens quickly. It happens slowly. I begin to sink into that which is chaotic and dangerous and evil. At a pace where I barely even notice it.
Which is what happens to Peter. He becomes afraid and he begins to sink into the chaos. And Peter shouts, “Lord, save me!” Which very well could have been Peter’s moment of doubt, not sure that Jesus would save him. But Jesus does. He grabs him by the hand and puts him back in the boat. With the others.
Please notice that Jesus saves the sinking doubter. I think that’s important for all of us to hear.
A couple of weeks ago, Mike and Julie and I went to a conference called Rethinking Church. At it, we got to hear from a pastor Kara Root, who stepped into a church when there were only 30 people left. And along the way, she realized that we live with competing scripts in our life – the way of fear vs the way of God. And those two scripts compete for our attention.
So her congregation started to ask those questions. What is the way of fear saying to us right now and what is the way of God trying to say to us instead.
The Way of Fear: Our glory days are over. We will never be the church we were.
The Way of God: God is doing something here and now among us.
The Way of Fear: We are too small and we don’t have any money.
The Way of God: We are exactly the right size and have all the resources we need for what God wants to do in and through us.
The Way of Fear: If you volunteer for something, you will be stuck there forever.
The Way of God: We all participate from our particularities and our passions.
The Way of Fear: The Same Few People Do All the Work
The Way of God: We all do the ministry of the church
And then they took those core values of the way of God and hung them on their church wall – so as to be surrounded by the way of God and not the way of fear.
And then came Marty. Marty was a member of the church, who was diagnosed with cancer. And when it became clear that the treatments weren’t working, Marty stepped into Pastor Kara’s office and said he felt scared and alone.
Pastor Kara told him that he isn’t alone. That this church would walk alongside him as he goes through what we all will go through. You see, the way of fear says you are all alone. That you have to figure on your own. The way of God says you are never alone – but rather that we belong to God and we belong to each other.
And so trusting in the way of God that Marty is not alone in his dying, the church decided to show him that. One Sunday morning, the church – adults and children – gathered around Marty and commissioned him into a ministry of dying. The church asked him to teach them about dying – and his only job was to be honest about his experience. And for about 18 months, through his raw honesty and openness about what life with terminal cancer was like, not only did he teach this church how to die but, as some said, he taught them how to live. And when he died this past June, the people around him said, “He wasn’t afraid and he wasn’t alone.”
When Marty first arrived in Pastor Kara’s office, he was sinking. When he left her office, and ultimately when he died, he was back in the boat. With the people of God. That is the way of God alive and at work among the people of God. The way of fear leads to sinking…every time.
I wonder what the way of fear whispers to us. As individuals, as a congregation. I wonder what the way of God would whisper back.
The way of fear says You’re not enough.
The way of God says you’re always enough.
The way of fear says You should be doing what that church is doing.
The way of God says God is already doing something here.
The way of fear says at least your country has a bigger military, so you’re okay. Don’t worry about it.
The way of God says all life is sacred.
The way of fear says that what is happening in Charlottesville will blow over. Just give it time. You don’t need to say anything about it.
The way of God says what you do for the least of these you’ve done for me.
Can you see how these two scripts are competing for our attention?
And it is Jesus who says to us, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” Because we belong to God and we belong to each other. And we are called to that way of God.
So stay in the boat. I don’t think Peter was meant to walk on water. I don’t know that any of us are. If they were, Jesus would’ve told them to grab onto their faith and walk across the sea. Instead, he put them in a boat together.
The way of fear will cause us to sink. The way of God will keep us together. So, let’s stay in the boat. And together let’s listen for the way of God to lead us to shore. Amen.
 I am indebted to Matthew Skinner for this theme and for some discussions on fear with this text.