Jesus, Jesus, don't you care?

Twenty-something years ago, Delia Ephron wrote a children’s book about manners called “Do I have to say Hello? Aunt Delia’s Manners Quiz for Kids and their Grownups.” Frankly, it was hilarious. And quite effective.  Each “manners lesson” was presented like one of those quizzes in a magazine with multiple choice answers.  One answer showing good manners and two illustrating terrible manners.  Here’s an example: 

You want another helping of corn.  Do you say, “Please pass the corn, Uncle Jerry?”  Do you say, “Yo, corn!”?  Do you bang the table with your knife until Aunt Delia and Uncle Jerry ask what you want?
Our daughter loved this book. She wanted to read it out loud over and over again and just couldn’t stop laughing as we paged through the lessons.
There is also a book of manners for talking to Jesus.  It’s the Psalms.  For example, when you are afraid you are about to die, do you say, “O God, save me, for the water is rising up to my neck?” Or “Deliver me, O Lord, in your mercy”  Etc.  Or do you say, “Jesus, Jesus, don’t you care that I am dying over here?  Look at you over there sleeping! Wake up so you can at least watch us go down with the ship!”
Is that how we talk to Jesus, children?
Well.  We see what fear can do.  The disciples are miserably afraid. And with good reason! The are going across a large body of water in the dark - going across to Gentile territory, too, where more scary things, like a stark raving mad man living among the tombs, await.  They are in a storm and the boat is swamping. They’re about to sink.  Why would they not be afraid?  Who would not be afraid? And when we’re afraid we regress, and accuse people of not caring about us instead of nicely asking for help. Who hasn’t done that?
And what’s this about faith? Have you still no faith? Jesus asks.
Well. There’s the rub. At its heart, this passage is about who Jesus is and what discipleship means, and discipleship is not actually based on good manners but on trust.
Jesus says, fear not. Just like the angels do.  And he shows through his actions that he will be with them, even if they are perishing. He shows that he is stronger than anything, even the wild wind and waves.
People do perish. People do succumb to dangers of all sorts. Jesus doesn’t promise that we won’t perish. And we know what the disciples then couldn’t know, that it was through death that salvation would come - through death, not instead of death.  Jesus would die, but God would raise him to new life.  The disciples didn’t know that.

But we do.  
This story is like a Moses and the burning bush story - where God tells Moses not to be afraid of what God is asking him to do because God will be with him and because God is the ruler of even the forces of nature.  This is a familiar story that occurs many times in the Bible.  Fear not. God will be with us, even though we are afraid and even terrified.  Even if we die, God will be with us.
That’s the faith Jesus is looking for. The faith that believes that even if we die, we are saved because we are God’s own forever. 
Jesus calms the storm to show the disciples his divine power, to show them that they are in the presence the very Holy One of God. Which terrifies them even more, as it should.  After all, God is not a tame lion, as C.S. Lewis wrote. 
It is hard to be trusting in the face of death and destruction.  We are much more likely to regress to name-calling and accusations. Don’t you care about me, God? we may well rail when things are falling apart around us. 
It’s hard to have faith sometimes.  Jesus never said it would be easy. Look where his faith took him.  But that’s the point here. Jesus had faith that God would make good on God’s promise of salvation, and he asks us to trust in those promises, too, and therefore to not be afraid to go where God calls us to go, not even to be afraid of perishing.
And if we are not afraid, then we can live life fully.  We can imagine possibilities. We can be bold and forward looking.  We can hear and answer God’s call to us to push across boundaries and live out the Gospel in places we might not have thought possible.
We can let go of the stuff that fear makes us close our fists so tightly around, stuff that keeps us from growing, stuff that makes our world smaller and supposedly safer, stuff that stunts us and bends us out of our natural shape and into the pretzel of worry and anxiety and small-mindedness. Operating out of fear, both as individuals and corporately, keeps us from being free to be who and what God made us to be.
So we all might take a page out of young David’s book. Let us be bold and imaginative, using the gifts that God has given each of us to go where God calls us to go, knowing that the Lord will fight for us and will accompany us through any storm. We all belong to God, and so we don’t need to be afraid. Not even afraid of perishing.


Bill Bynum said…
A meaningful essay with a lot of import. The Ephron sisters are both great writers and you quote Delia with good effect. I definitely need pointers about talking to Jesus, because the Janis Joplin/Mercedes Benz style prayers that I've used in the past didn't ever seem to connect. I guess "Yo, corn" wasn't the way to go.
Ray Barnes said…
I know you're right really Penny, but, would it be possible do you think. just to cross our fingers and touch wood as an aid to finding the necessary courage?
Practice, practice, practice. That's about all I know how to do.
Whatever it takes, Ray. Just because I believe I should be fearless doesn't mean I always or even usually am able to be. Most of us need something tactile or physical besides "intellectual assent" to help.
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