All around us there are invisible barriers separating us from “the other”. Some of these barriers have physical properties such as fences, hedges or even walls but most of them go unseen and are rarely crossed. I think that there are two reasons we don’t cross these barriers, the first is because we are unaware that we can and the second is because when we are aware we are afraid to do so.
Today’s gospel is about these very barriers of separation, it is about the dividing line between fear and faith. The Sea of Galilee is the barrier between the predominantly Jewish culture on the Western side and the predominantly Roman culture on the eastern side. We heard that when Jesus finished teaching for the day he decided to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, presumably because that is where he planned to teach the next day. The communities on the other side are predominantly Roman in culture because the emperor had ordered settlements to be created there to Romanize the area, so this is an instance where Jesus is venturing into somewhat unfamiliar territory as he has spent his life in predominantly Jewish communities, where Roman culture was present, but not dominant. So here we have a Jewish man spreading a new message to the Jewish people and who is already annoying his own people’s leadership, willing to go into unfamiliar territory to spread that same message to a group of people who don’t even believe in the same God.
Most barriers worth crossing are not easy to cross, I think that Jesus knew this but it certainly did not stop him which is demonstrated by his willingness to go into Roman dominated areas to teach both the Jewish and non-Jewish populations. I think that sometimes the barriers we want to cross are scarier than what is on the other side, which is also demonstrated by today’s Gospel when Jesus and the disciples are caught in the storm. The storm, which occurs in the middle of the voyage causes the disciples to freak out and think that they are going to die. Jesus not only stops the storm but once again chides them for their lack of faith and allowing fear to control them. The fact that their fear takes hold in the middle of the sea is significant because at that point they are in the middle of the barrier between the known and the unknown, which is typically the scariest point. The disciples are half way through their journey having left behind a safe and friendly group of believers and are on their way to a new location that may or may not welcome them. They trust Jesus and happily followed him onto the boat, but the second things got rough they abandoned their faith and allowed fear to take over.
How often do we allow our fear of the unknown to drive our decisions as opposed to our faith? How often to we claim to believe in God, to love God, but when faced with a new barrier in our lives, choose the familiar. When I was a child I missed out on many things because I was afraid. My grandfather used to set off fireworks on the Fourth of July, But I never saw them because I would be in the house hiding. When I visited Stone Mountain in Georgia, I never made it to the top because I was afraid of the Gondola. When I visit the ocean, I am still afraid to venture beyond my knees because I am afraid of what might be lurking there. You could argue that these are superficial barriers and have nothing to do with faith and you might be right, however if we can’t cross the superficial barriers and overcome our own self-inflicted fears then how can we expect that we will be able to cross the barriers we encounter in our ministries? Jesus gave us the answer in today’s Gospel. We need to trust that God will not lead us to danger and that God will not push us up to a barrier that we are not equipped to cross. When I was a child I did not understand this, so my fear and anxiety got the better of me, but now that I do understand I am willing to take chances, which are no less scary to me, but I know that I have to take the chance. Sometimes the barriers other people encounter may not seem like barriers to us, but what we think doesn’t matter, our only job is to love them where they are and recognize that there are people who have barriers in front of them that they may not be able or ready to cross. Those situations are our opportunity to show them the love of God by meeting them where they are and with Gods help guide them across the line and once they do take that step, we need to be there with open arms to greet them.
There is a line that both clergy and lay preachers face when preparing their homilies and that is do we bring up controversial topics. I would argue that the answer is yes because it is our job to get all of us to think about the relationship between those hard topics and our faith. The current border crisis we are experiencing on our southern border is one of those topics. The people who are currently arriving at the border and asking for Asylum, as well as the people who are crossing the border without permission are doing nothing more than stepping out in faith that if they cross the line into the United States that they may have a chance at a safer and happier life. We have a duty as Christians to love them, which does not mean that we as a nation shouldn’t hold them accountable for breaking our laws, but it does mean that we must treat them with the dignity and love that all of God’s creation deserves.
When we are faced with a situation that is foreign to us and we feel the fear rising we need to ask ourselves some simple questions. First, would crossing this barrier mean that I am loving my neighbor? Second, would crossing this barrier further God’s vision for creation? Third, am I afraid because this looks different than my usual comfort zone? If crossing a barrier means you will be loving a neighbor, if it means you are furthering God’s vision for creation and if your fear is simply based on what might be on the other side, then cross it and don’t look back because God would not lead you to a barrier you aren’t prepared to cross. Amen