Pentecost 4B: When the Storms of Life…

Readings:

Sermon

I found myself thinking about storms and children’s messages a lot this week. I think that children’s sermons are an interesting part of the church service that cause some division amongst adults. Some people like them and others don’t. Some children like to come forward to talk with the worship leaders and others don’t. I wasn’t ruminating on my own thoughts and position regarding children’s sermons, however, I was thinking about their content. Anyone can search for children’s sermons online and find a collection of object lessons and small prayers for time spent with children in church. A more thorough search for today’s gospel in children’s sermons unveiled a particular trend.

There are some very vivid images that creep into our adult minds when we hear today’s gospel story. Storms and boats and turbulent waters generally have something we can all relate to in our own personal ways. As children have some fantastic abilities in the imagination department, it was interesting to see that many of the small sermons I read focused on talking about what storms and being in a boat were like. These sermon writers were keen to help children understand the feelings that the disciples may have been experiencing.

Spending almost equal parts of my life living on the West Coast and living in Saskatchewan, I have experienced turbulent waters and heart pounding storms raging on overhead. I have stood on a ship in the Straight of Georgia, staring as sky then sea then sky then sea fill the window views in front of me. I can remember the loud thunderclaps that shook the house, woke me up, and scared me into the basement with blankets, pillows, brother, and dog in tow. I can also remember sitting backwards on the couch staring out the large picture window as the heavens opened and water and hail poured down while lightening moved across the grey sky. I weighed both fascination and fear, held together in a child’s body and mind, until one of them won out. To this day, storms fascinate me. A trip to Peggy’s Cove during a spring storm had me practically giddy and on tiptoes with excitement as I stood mesmerized watching wave upon wave crash against the black rocks. On Friday, I stood in the kitchen staring out the window, fascinated by the power of a sudden thunderstorm, and afraid for my car as the hail began to fall. To this day, storms disturb and stir up feelings of fear within me.

My memories might be enough to evoke remembrance for you, but let’s try to imagine as we often ask children to do. We have entered into the time of year when many people enjoy getting into their boats and going out onto the lakes, rivers, and streams. The boating season is also the season for thunderstorms. It is simply smart to check the weather report before going out in a boat, but sometimes, despite all the precautions we take the weather can change very quickly. A storm can come up suddenly and you may need to get safely to shore. Let’s take a moment and pretend that we are all on a big lake together and the wind is blowing around and moving the water. That wind is blowing you in the face and on your arms, but pretty soon the waves are filling up the boat with water. If you have a bucket, you can try to bail out some of the water before the boat sinks, but you will have to bail very fast because now the waves are getting bigger and bigger and the boat is being filled with more and more water. You wish the wind would stop, but have you ever tried to stop the wind?

We know we can’t push back at the wind. We know we can’t yell at the wind and make it stop. We know that even if we gathered a whole bunch of friends together and worked really hard we just couldn’t stop the wind: the wind just keeps blowing and moving and getting bigger and bigger. Once in a while it turns another way, but then it comes back and now seems stronger than ever. Just imagine being in a boat on a big lake and having a wind blow like that. It’s kind of scary, isn’t it? It certainly scares me.

On that day, Jesus and the disciples were in a boat. They had left the crowds and took their boat out onto the Galilean sea in the evening. Jesus had fallen asleep in the stern of the boat, and as the storm got stronger and stronger, the disciples were so afraid that they woke Jesus up and asked him (in that way that is more like accusing): Do you not care? Do you not care that we are going to die? Do you not care that we are dying right now? And Jesus stopped the winds – dead calm. And he asked them: Why are you afraid?

David Lose asks a very good question of today’s reading: Are the disciples more afraid before or after the calming of the storm?[1] I like this question because Jesus says: Why are you afraid? Not, why were you afraid. It’s as though there is an acknowledgement that there is fear in the awe, or fascination, if you will. The fear didn’t evaporate or still itself as creation did when Jesus spoke. Human emotion is a little less like the waters of the Galilee at this point. The fear that the disciples experience with the storm might rightly continue on as the realization of what Jesus has done starts to settle around them in the dead calm of the evening water. Their teacher and friend, Jesus, spoke at the wind and it stopped. That event so rattles these men that they exclaim: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:31) They really don’t know who he is, but their fear has transformed to a fear borne of faith. The fear that they have now is the God-fear of the heroes of the Old Testament, and fear that promotes a deep faith and connection with a God who loves the world.

We know who Jesus is, and we know that Jesus can still calm storms today. Because Jesus is God. We also know that sometimes the storms in our lives aren’t simply weather phenomena. We are surrounded by storms, prolonged or sudden, throughout our lives. These storms captivate us and hold us attentive to the immediate surroundings. It could be a family problem, the death of a loved one, the process and decision making that a community needs to make together, the news of a terrible, and all too close to home, event that shows us a particular and repeated reality of our human capacity for hatred. We are help captive in fascination and in fear as the metaphorical storms rage and build and start to fill our boats with water and toss us about such that we begin to fear for our lives and worry about our death in the midst of the chaos, destruction, and turbulence caused by the events in and around our lives.

During these times, we know who Jesus is. And we cry out, as the disciples did: Do you not care about us? Do you not care that we are going to die? Do you not care that we are dying right now? The amazing thing is that Jesus does care and can calm the storms of fear in our life. God is present in the midst of the storm with the people who are experiencing it.

God certainly doesn’t take away all of the problems, but there are moments of dead calm as Jesus speaks peace into the ear of a dying person and those who grieve, where Jesus speaks peace into the midst of a family argument, where Jesus speaks peace into a community making a hard decision, where Jesus speaks peace into the very being of humanity as people stop, if only for a moment, to reflect on ways to put that peace into action from one person to the next. And God is present in those moments too. We know who Jesus is. If we will trust in our faith, in God, we will discover the peace given to us in our hearts even in the middle of a storm that happens upon us suddenly. The peace spoken doesn’t chase away all of the fear, human emotions seem to be a little more difficult to calm than Galilean waters, but God transforms it to a fear borne of faith – a faith that knows that God loves and a faith that knows there is life after death. The faith that remembers that God has not abandoned us to drown in the chaos of the storms of life, and reminds us that we are called to greater faith that God has called us God’s own.

Perhaps it’s not as simple as being afraid or not afraid. Perhaps, like a little child, we live our lives held in balance of faith and fear, and God asks us to place ourselves not on the side of fear, but on the side of faith, again and again. We are not called to be fearless, rather to know what we are afraid of and to trust and rely on the someone greater than all fears. God is with us.

Let us pray:

Gracious One, we thank you for those times when you calm the storms that come up in our daily lives. We also thank you for those times when you give us peace even though we are in the middle of a storm, real or metaphoric. We ask you that you continue to watch over the whole of creation, continue to keep us safe, and teach us to ask you what it is that we can do in the midst of the storms that continue to surround us. Give us ears to listen and the faith to trust always in you, the one greater than all fears. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Special thanks to all those who work to create Sunday resources for children’s time and sermons.

[1] David Lose. “Pentecost 4B: On Miracles and Change,” Dear Partner, June 15. http://www.davidlose.net/2015/06/pentecost-4-b-on-miracles-and-change/

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