Monday, June 24, 2024

Storms and the God who stills them. . .

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7B, preached on Sunday, June 23, 2024.

This may be one of our favorite texts of comfort but it is not a text without a challenge to the people of God.  In fact, there are hard words hidden in this sweet story.  The first one is the setting itself.  The simplest of tasks is fraught with danger and fear.  Life is not easy.  The world blows against us with ill winds and then we find ourselves in the midst of a storm.  Even though Jesus stills the storm, He still rebukes the disciples along with the wind and the wave.  “O ye of little faith!”  They accept the rebuke primarily because they were saved – as long as God rescues you, you can tolerate such hard language, I guess.  But there is more.

The promise that faith guarantees and easy life is a false one.  All those who put words into the mouth of God as if He were here to make our lives easier and better must eat their words.  The storms come.  In fact, the storms can be caused by faith.  If we were not of God’s kingdom and went along with the ways of the world, many of the storms in our souls and in our lives would disappear.  We have a life of struggle precisely because we hearken to the voice of God and not the voice of the world.  Storms come with faith and they are often because of faith.

The disciples in the boat might have thought like you and me that following Jesus would count for something.  At least they would be spared some of the storms of life and their lives preserved because of the work they were called to do.  That is the great temptation for church workers.  “Geez, God, we give You our lives – the least You can do is cut us a little slack.”  That is your great temptation, too.  But in that boat are disciples who will all suffer and all but John will die because of Jesus.  The ten will die a martyrs’ death at the hands of Jesus’ enemies and Judas will die a death of despair because he betrayed Jesus – only John will die a natural death.  We look for a storm-less life but God promises to be right there with us in the storm and to carry the faithful through those storms to perfect peace.

Then there is Jesus asleep in the back of the boat.  Like the disciples we presume this to mean God either is not paying attention to the storms in our lives or He does not care about them.  Both would be false conclusions.  The panic of the disciples is not caused by God.  Jesus’ rebuke insists their panic is because of their lack of faith.  Jesus sleeps not because He does not care or does not feel the threat.  He sleeps because He has absolute faith in the Father.  The disciples not only do not have faith in the Father, but they do not think Jesus is helping their cause either.

In that respect, the disciples did not even think to pray.  Unless you call their panicked words designed to rouse from sleep a God who seems to nap while the world goes to hell in a handbag prayer.  No, Jesus has it right; we don’t have much confidence in God and our prayers are less words of faith addressed to the Father than they are litanies of complaint about why we think this bad thing that happened to us is unfair.  To rest in Christ means to rest our hearts in Christ through prayer.  The storms will come but the prayer of the righteous accomplishes much.

The faith that we hold is not a method of avoiding troubles or trials.  We come together not to find a secret path around the mountains of fear, worry, pain, and suffering in our lives but to find a way through them.  Faith is not given to us so that we might escape the storms of life but so that we will not be overcome by them.  Now there is something to gnaw on.  God does not mean us to find a detour around trouble but to make us strong enough by the storms to weather trouble and overcome it.  Faith is a gift and a blessing not because if you have it that faith will never be tested but because in the time of test God is with us and He puts the full weight of all His resources to bear so that you will endure and be saved.

Another painful truth of this story is that we should not be afraid of pain, suffering, troubles, and trials.  Greater is He who is in YOU than he who is in the world.  In time of trouble, call upon the Lord.  Don’t panic or give in or run away but call on the Lord.  That is the promise of the Psalms.  Call upon the Lord in the day of trouble and He will deliver you.  The sin of the disciples is to panic for that panic leads to despair and the fear of it will cripple you and leave you even more vulnerable the next time it comes along.  Listen to our talk about the world and how bad things are.  Are we speaking honestly of the state of the world or are echoing the panic of the disciples?  Or, worse, have we given up hope?

Another painful truth of this story is that God uses storms for our good.  That is the lesson none of us wants to learn but all of us must learn.  The storms are big and powerful and threatening but God is at work in the storms as much as He is at work in the calm.  Whether cancer or loss of job or threat of imprisonment or the loss of friendships – the Lord is with us.  Whom shall we fear?  Living by faith alone is not a lesson you learn in a life without test or trouble.  The surest test of a ship is not how it looks in dry dock but how she handles the winds and the waves.  That is true of you and me.  You cannot depend upon the world’s ease and comfort without risking your faith being swamped by storms.  The storms strengthen faith.

That is how precious we are.  God will test us to preserve us and not to see what we look like when we break. Like Abraham ready to sacrifice his one and only son Isaac or Job who loses everything but God, the tests are not so that we will fail but so that we will succeed  Success looks like faith, living by faith, trusting in the Lord when eye cannot see nor emotions feel nor lives betray the hand of God at work.  Like Christ, we take the Lord at His Word.

The crosses you bear are crosses of faith.  How much do you trust the Lord to do what He has said and promised?  We fear that God keeps putting one more thing on our plate in order to see how much it will take to destroy us.  God already knows that.  We don’t.  So God tests us so that we may see He is reliable and trustworthy and so that we may learn that with Him all things are possible.  God has not come to condemn you nor has He saved you only to lose you to the enemies you have in this world or your own impatience or fear.  Look to Jesus and you will endure.  Listen to the voice of His Word.  Confess your sins.  Remember your baptism. Eat His body.  Drink His blood.  Pray.  Praise.  Give thanks in every circumstance.  He has called you by name.  When you pass through the waters, you will not drown.  For the Lord your God has become Your Savior.  The biggest storms Jesus must still are not out there somewhere but here, in our hearts, calming in us the storms of fear and panic and anxiety that would steal our faith.

Who is this who commands wind and wave?  It is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Moses and Joshua; the God of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the prophets; the God of the Psalms.  The God whose face is Jesus, whose heart is love, whose power is greater even than death, and whose life will raise us from the dead.  The disciples thought it was just Jesus napping on the pillow in the back of their boat.  Maybe you do also.  But Jesus is the Son of the Most High,, with authority over all things, and He uses that power to show mercy to the disciples tossed on a stormy sea and to you and me trying to keep our heads above water today.  My friends, for the Christian, success looks like faith and faith trusts in the faithfulness of the Lord.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

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