Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. DeeAnne Lowman, Associate Pastor




 “Panic: That Sinking Feeling”

Sunday, February 10, 2008



Matthew 8: 18-27


DeeAnne Lowman


When I was about 10 or 11 I went away to Camp Hilaka, a Girl Scout camp in Northeast Ohio. As with most summer camping experiences, we had to take the dreaded swim test, after which we would be assigned a “cap color” that indicated at what level we could swim.  I knew I could be a white cap, or at the very least a yellow – the top two color and ability levels. They told us to jump in the shallow end, and to swim “the crawl” to the rope in the middle of the pool.  I had been raised around water, and even had swimming lessons when I was much younger. But I never knew the names of the strokes, so I told them I didn’t know what to do.  They gently told me that was fine, and I could get out of the water and go change into my camp clothes.  I knew it…I was now officially a “red cap,” the lowest level of swimmer in the whole camp.  When it came time for swimming, me and ONE OTHER GIRL were the only “red caps” in the entire camp.  I was so embarrassed; the cap wasn’t the only thing that was red.  When I asked if there was a way to move up to another group, the counselors told me if I worked really hard I could get there next year.  Next year, when you are 11 years old, might as well be never.


When I became the Director of Camping at a United Methodist Camp in Troy Conference, I discovered that the swim test included an opportunity to practice throughout the week and advance to the next level of swimming.  I was so relieved; I didn’t want any child to be as embarrassed or discouraged as I was when I was their age.


Last Wednesday was the beginning of the annual church season of Lent, a time when we admit to God, to one another, and to ourselves the places in our lives where we have fallen short.  Historically during this period people either prepared for their baptism and emersion into a life of Christian living, or they reflected on their living and recommitted themselves to a deeper life of faith.  This year throughout Lent we are going to be talking about what it might mean for any of us to “go out into deeper waters” with our faith. We’ll be hearing scripture passages from the Gospel of Matthew that encourage us to venture into deeper water – in our spiritual life and in our mission engagement in the world.  I want to assure you that our ushers and greeters will not be handing out differently-colored caps or jackets or anything that will “identify” where you are in your faith.  What a relief that most of life doesn’t require us to wear our abilities for all to see, especially when it comes to something as personal and important as our faith.


The passage that was just shared with us is found sandwiched precisely between four stories of healing by Jesus, two before and two after.  The two before were about a request from a Roman soldier who asked Jesus to heal his servant who was in pain back home.  The second was Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick with a fever.  We can understand why Jesus might have asked his disciples to get in the boat and go to the other side of the sea.  Folks in the surrounding areas had begun to hear of the healings that were taking place, and either wanted to see these spectacles for themselves, or had an infirmity they believe could be healed by Jesus.  In any case, Jesus wanted to get away from the crowd that was becoming overwhelming and have a bit of peace. 


Capernaum was the town where Jesus healed both Peter’s mother and a Roman soldier’s servant. It’s located on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, actually a fresh water lake fed by the Jordan River.  This is a body of water quite familiar to the disciples and to Jesus.  We can assume they knew the propensity for storms to come up quickly on the water.  Why were the disciples so panicked when just that happened on their way across the lake?  They woke up an exhausted Jesus, who had been bombarded with requests from needy people all day long, and whined about the rough waters.  Jesus reprimanded the disciples for their lack of faith, got up, rebuked the sea (literally meaning that Jesus criticized and reprimanded the waters for the rough ride), and immediately the water was as smooth as glass and there was calm – a dead calm according to the translation that we heard. 


What caused the panic among the disciples?  Some of these guys were fishermen, right?  Some of them had made their livelihood on the sea.  I bet they had all learned to swim early in their lives as a matter of survival.  Surely they had experienced rough seas before.  So why did they panic?  I have a theory – one that our confirmation class helped me understand more fully yesterday when they met for their first meeting.  We were talking about when bad things happen does Jesus help us out, and if so, how?  One of our youth said she thought that, sometimes, if we aren’t careful, we can rely too much on Jesus.  I was taken aback.  I thought, “Boy, Matt has his work cut out with these kids.”  But then she said something more profound than I ever could have at her age.  She said, “If Jesus does it all for us, we become weak and stop believing that we can do anything.”   The disciples had been witnesses to the phenomenon of healings and casting out demons, so why was it such a big stretch for them to think that Jesus would “save” them too?  After all, he’d just done so much for all these others, why not them? 


Historically the word panic has not been applied to the feelings or actions of an individual.  Panic is an overwhelming widespread terror affecting more than just one person at a time. In our overly individualized application of most everything in our culture nowadays, we apply the word to our individual sense of being overwhelmed and fearful.  I am not downplaying feelings of personal panic, and I understand that many of us have experienced what might refer to as panic attacks.  This is not what the disciples were experiencing.  They panicked – collectively – because they had forgotten what they knew about water, boats, and their own abilities.  The disciples expected that Jesus would save them from their fear, instead of using their own strengths and skills to protect themselves.


Remember the beginning of the story we heard earlier?  Remember that church official who came up to Jesus and pledged that he would follow him “wherever [he would] go”?  The church official like the disciples preferred to stay where they were comfortable – in the shallow end, if you will, where their feet could touch.  But discipleship is not about staying in the shallow end; it’s about risk. So how do we risk without that feeling of panic that overcomes us all, either individually or as followers of Jesus as a whole?


While on our vacation in Puerto Rico last month, Chris and I enjoyed the luxury of hanging out on the beach – reading, snoozing, and swimming in the ocean.  While I grew up around water and have been swimming for as long as I can remember, I still feel a bit uneasy in the ocean.  We’d been cautioned that the undertow near our hotel could get dangerous, even for those who live there.  So I was a little uneasy.  Chris challenged me to swim out to the ropes marking the recommended swimming area.  At first, I preferred to stay where I could have my feet on the ground.  I would look out and see him floating effortlessly in the salt water, his face toward the sky.  He looked so relaxed and at ease – I had to try.  So I swam out to the rope and pulled my feet up, and my toes peaked out of the water. I laid my head back into the water, and eventually I was able to completely relax in the water.  I was being held up with very little effort from me. 


I think the reason that Jesus got mad wasn’t because the disciples became frighten of the sea.  I don’t think he even minded being awakened and told the waters were rough.  I think he was upset because the disciples, while faithful in physically following Jesus, they weren’t following his way of living. Actually walking in the footprints that Jesus already walked in was easier than living and risking out on their own.  In the words of our confirmands, they began to rely too much on Jesus.


I do find it fascinating, that Peter didn’t even request healing for his own mother-in-law. Now all mother-in-law jokes aside, why wouldn’t Peter just ask Jesus for help? After all, Jesus just healed a servant of the Roman soldier that wasn’t even present in front of him.  How had Peter understood her healing?  Had he and the other disciples misunderstood what the healings meant for them and the world? 


It is good to think of Jesus as a powerful presence, a friend who stands by you, even a leader whose living offers us a way of living that is more aligned with God. But each of us needs to make that decision to “lift our feet.”  Jesus is more than happy to hold us up or even calm our seas; we have to be willing to let him.  I needed to lift up my feet in order to feel the freedom of floating in the ocean.  If I hadn’t, I never would have felt the sensation of being completely relaxed and supported by the water. When things get tough, we lose confidence that we have anything we can trust in, least of all, ourselves.  Christ encourages us to both use what we have (to risk) and to rely on something beyond ourselves (to trust).  This isn’t easy – either one actually.  Risking and trusting require a commitment to our relationship with God and Christ – a commitment that is lived out moment by moment.


There are ways to strengthen our connection and bond to Jesus and our commitment to living as he has taught. Prayer, meditation, fasting, silence, solitude, service, generosity – all these can help strengthen our ability to trust and to risk.  Perhaps you have a desire to pray more, for yourself or others.  Join the group that is meeting during Lent to talk about and learn more about prayer, or pick up a copy of our concerns list and pray for the folks we list there throughout the week.  Use Foundry’s Lenten devotional or the devotional online at our website to meditate on and contemplate your relationship with Jesus as friend. Consider fasting from TV or fast food or take one day a week and fast from food altogether. Or maybe you could see the value of finding a time each day to be alone and in silence, listening instead of speaking.  Or maybe venturing into some kind of service you’ve not been involved with before, like our one-time opportunities in our Mustard Seed Mission that our Mission Intern, Katy, is coordinating. Are you being called to be generous in your giving during this season?   Lent is a perfect time to not only reflecting on what we do and who we are, but who we are called to be and what else we might do.


Perhaps you are ready to rekindle or even rebuild your trust of God and your capacity to risk.  Perhaps Lent is a good time to take on one or more of these ways or disciplines and really commit yourself to life of risking and trusting, either again, or for the first time.  I invite you into this time of reflection and reconciliation and renewal. I invite to go deeper with God during this season of Lent.