When I was about eight years old my brother dared me to jump off the high diving board at a community pool. I had passed the swimming test the summer before so I was allowed in the deep end. I wasn’t afraid of the water and I loved to dive headfirst off the regular diving board. However, I was afraid of heights so the higher diving board (maybe 8 or 10 feet up) was pretty scary. If I didn’t jump off that board, though, I would likely never hear the end of it. And I really wanted to be brave.
I went up that ladder one rung at a time. Breathless with fear, hands sweating and knees knocking. Up I went. It seemed like a long, slow climb and I thought that would be the worst of it. Then I was confronted by the walk out to edge of the diving board with nothing to hold onto. On the lower board, I had already mastered the run, bounce, and dive. On the high board, I could barely think about walking to the end and jumping feet-first. I stood with the railings firmly in hand for what felt like forever. Then I heard one voice cheering me on. It was the lifeguard who had given me the swim test two summers in a row, the lifeguard who didn’t believe I was only eight and confessed that she thought I was 11 or 12. I heard her call out to me, “You can do it! It’s the same as the lower board. Let go and run!” She kept talking to me while I tried to breathe deeper and let go of the railings.
The lifeguard moved off her stand and stood over by the ladder out of the deep end. She kept telling me I could make the dive. she said she would count to three and all I had to do was run and jump. She would stay right by the ladder and help me if I needed it. I remember feeling like it was only her and me, everyone one else faded into the background. She started counting and when she got to three, I let go, ran, bounced, and dove headfirst. Then swam over to the ladder where the lifeguard leaned over and told me that I was a “very brave girl” and that she was proud of me.
Fear can overtake any of us at any time. I’ll bet David was afraid as he stood immobilized by the weight of everyone else’s armor. The disciples were clearly afraid while the storm raged around a little boat while Jesus slept in the stern. Fear is sometimes a very reasonable response. As a child I had a fear of heights that was due, at least in part, to having some balance problems and falling a lot. It wasn’t entirely irrational; if I felt like I could fall, I became very fearful in high places. David had every reason to fear Goliath, especially when his movements were encumbered by armor designed for adults. The disciples also had reason to be afraid in that small boat as the storms raged. How could they have known that Jesus could calm the storm?
Fear can protect us or it can limit us. Last night at West Central Regional Youth Event, I learned a song called, “Do it Afraid.” It was a song encouraging justice-seeking even in the midst of fear. This is excellent advice, particularly when we are confronting injustice. Goliath wears many faces today. And the Philistines around us will do whatever they can to keep us paralyzed by fear. Sometimes even our allies will insist that we wear armor designed for someone else. It’s too easy to give into the fear that keeps us locked in oppressive situations or systems. Goliath runs the show and would like us all to believe that one small person can do nothing in the face of giants – racism, misogyny, xenophobia, white supremacy, and all the other isms and phobias that keep those with power in power. Yet, we are not in the boat alone and we have our own gifts that can be used to slay giants.
Jesus is the one who can calm the storms and fill us with courage. Jesus won’t take away the fear so much as he will cheer us on and encourage us to jump into the deep end, like the lifeguard in my childhood. Jesus doesn’t want any of us to be paralyzed by fear, especially when it comes to confronting Goliath. We don’t need to do what other people are doing; their armor may not fit us well at all. We do need to use our own gifts, even if they seem as insignificant as a slingshot, to confront the giants of injustice. We can do this. And it is perfectly okay to do it afraid because Jesus is in the boat with those who seek justice, promote healing, and embody love.
Peace. Be still.
RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 24, 2017
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 with Psalm 9:9-20 or
Job 38:1-11 with Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
2 Corinthians 6:1-13