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The Faith to Ask

(a sermon for October 18, 2020, the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Mark 10:46-52)

The grade was a C minus!  And honestly, that was charitable; the only reason it wasn’t a D or worse was that the professor had given me partial credit for a couple of lame answers I’d desperately scribbled on the exam at the last minute!  So it could well have been worse, but since this particular exam counted for 40 percent of my grade, I was feeling like I was sinking fast!  Looking back on it now, I know it was just one test amongst many, but back then as a college freshman the whole thing sent me into a major panic.

So with both heart and exam in hand I dragged myself to the professor’s office to ask for help.  Understand, this was not something I wanted to do; this teacher had intimidated me from day one, and I knew he was going to lay into me about my shoddy work, if not berate me for having the gall to take his class in the first place!  Even as I knocked on his office door, I was convinced that this meeting could not possibly end well!

But as it turned out, the professor couldn’t have been nicer: warmly inviting me sit down and have a cup of coffee while he took a second look at my exam.  There were a couple of agonizing minutes as he went over my work: “Mmm hmm… OK… mmm hmm… Ohhhh… Uh-oh…” but when it was all over, he looked up with a smile and said, “Actually, you’re not too far off here; you’re just going about this the wrong way.  I think we can get your grade up.”   And to this, all I could say, in a voice that expressed a combination of fear, relief and utter amazement, was, “No way.”  To which he replied, “Oh, sure.  The only people who end up doing poorly in my class are the one who won’t come and ask for help.”

I ended up getting a B in that class – not too bad, considering – but I realize now this wasn’t because I was such a stellar student; mostly it was because I’d set aside my fear and my pride to ask for help.  It turned out to be a good lesson for what was to come in my college and seminary career; I’ve also come to realize over the years that it’s a pretty good life lesson as well!

The fact is that we all have times when we have to ask for help; moments of challenge and struggle in which if we are in any way to move forward, we need to turn to someone else – a family member, a friend or neighbor, maybe even a stranger – for our aid.  And if we’re being honest about it, that’s not always an easy thing to do; in fact, most of us have a laundry list of excuses for not asking for help: we don’t wish to be a bother or a burden; we don’t want to come off as appearing needy; we don’t want to be “beholden” to others; or maybe we’re like the stereotypical male who, on principle, refuses to ask for directions under any circumstance (which, as I and just every other man can tell you, is because we’re men and we don’t need no stinkin’ directions!).  But whatever it is, what it all amounts to is simply not wanting to ever admit we actually need help!

Bottom line; is all too often for us, this very basic human act of reaching out to others for help turns out to be just about one of the hardest things we ever have to do; and if that’s true on a personal level, on a spiritual level it can seem almost impossible!  Yes, again if we’re being honest, for many of us even asking for help from God seems to go against the grain of our independent, pull-ourselves-up-by-our-own-bootstraps, self-sufficient sensibilities; even in those horrible moments of life when it’s clear that all we have left is to cry out to God! 

And why is that?  Why is it so difficult for us to ask for help, particularly from God?  Well, for one thing, it’s humiliating; at least in the sense that it requires from us some humility.  In other words, it’s humbling to acknowledge our need, and in the process, our utter weakness. It’s hard for us to confess that no, we can’t do it all for ourselves, and then to put ourselves and our own brokenness out there on display in order to get the help we need.   To put this still another way, asking for help requires from us a change of heart; but the good news is that if we’ll just let that happen, not only do we get what we need, but we end up with much more than we were ever expecting. 

It’s a change of heart that leads to a change of life…

…and if you want another word for that, it’s FAITH.

Now, I know this runs headlong into this notion that so many of us cling to that faith means our having everything together and living with absolute certainty about… everything.  But that’s really not faith at all:  I actually love what the Rev. Susan Andrews says about this: “This is what faith looks like,” she writes.  “Faith is needy.  Faith is eager.  Faith is assertive.  Faith is hopeful.  Faith is impetuous and persistent and risky and raw.  Faith is personal and relational.  Faith ends something and faith begins something.  Faith is about God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and [in the end] faith is about us out of dumbstruck gratitude doing for God what only we can do.”   

We have a supreme example of all this in Mark’s story of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar crying out for all he’s worth for Jesus to help him.   Now here was a man who’d not only lived most of his life in darkness, but also in poverty and outside the periphery of society, having long since been reduced to begging to passersby for any loose coins and leftover food in order to survive.  So Bartimaeus had a need that was raw and profound and immediate, and frankly, most people in his situation would have given up long ago on ever having that need answered.

But not Bartimaeus; he’s not at all afraid to ask for what he needs!  In fact, he’s persistent about it to the point of becoming a bit obnoxious (!): we’re told in Mark that even though “many sternly ordered him to be quiet,” Bartimaeus wasn’t about to be quiet; when they shush him, he just shouts for Jesus all the more loudly, until finally, this heart of crazy bold eagerness gets a response and Jesus does answer.

And did you notice – that after they call Bartimaeus, and he throws off his cloak, fairly well leaping to where Jesus is – how Jesus answers?  It’s “what do you want me to do for you?”  What is it that you need? “My teacher, let me see again,” says Bartimaeus, and to this Jesus says simply, “Go; your faith has made you well.”  And immediately, because he had the faith to ask, Bartimaeus gets the help, the healing that he needs.  To quote Andrews once again, there’s nothing “proper or pious or proud” about this, just “uppity, persistent, honest need,  and,” listen to this: “in offering that need assertively and eagerly to Jesus, Bartimaeus finds purpose.  He finds faith.  He finds new life.”

Isn’t it interesting how often in the gospels, when someone asks for, and receives what they need from Jesus, their first response is to follow Jesus; it’s the changed heart that leads to a changed life!  And that does make sense; after all, just as I wouldn’t have gotten a B in that class had I not made use of the help I’d gotten from the teacher, Bartimaeus regaining his sight would ultimately have meant very little if he’d continued living in a way that was disconnected to the world and to God!  For Bartimaeus, his new sight led to change in his vision for living.  And that’s the thing, you see; you not only gave to have the faith to ask, you also have to have the faith to follow.

I remember a piece I read several years back about a group of young people who, though they’d been essentially blind since their birth, underwent an advanced type of laser eye surgery and were enabled to see for the first time in their lives!  Think about that for a moment; what it must have been like for them to actually see a flower, or a sunset, the fall foliage or the people they loved for the very first time? 

But in fact, for many of them, it was literally an overwhelming experience.  One young woman said she was so stunned by the incredible beauty of it all that all she could do in response was to immediately shut her eyes and refuse to open them again for two weeks.  Others spoke of how difficult it was for them to get around: before, they’d been able to maneuver in the dark, but now in the light, they’d bang into furniture, and reach out for things, only to misjudge where they were and knock them to the floor!  Another even felt like he was going mad, so much there was for him to absorb! Turned out that for a lot of them, it was much easier to remain in the darkness than to face having vision, because having vision meant a life so radically different than before.

There’s a parable there for us, I think; and it’s that if you’re going to ask for sight, then you had best prepare for a change in your vision.  Because if you have the faith to ask God will give you what you need, but getting what you need will often lead you down a different pathway than the one you were on before, and you’ll need the faith to follow.  The story of Bartimaeus is a reminder to us that where Jesus is concerned, the miracle is just the beginning; and what follows is most certainly the glory of the journey ahead!

Beloved, let me share with you this morning a truth of faith that I’m learning and relearning every day of my life, most especially over the past six months or so:  that the good news of the gospel is that there is no situation in life and living so bad, so convoluted and without hope that we cannot go to God in Jesus Christ, ask for help, and not receive the help that we need.  Now, understand that how we’re answered and what we receive might not always be in the manner that we expect; but make no mistake, what we are given will be healing and transformative and life-changing.  This is what new, abundant life is all about, and it is what we’re promised: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you…”  (Matthew 7:7) that we might get the help we need and be set free; free to follow him where he leads. 

Even now, his voice is asking: “What do you want me to do for you?”  How can I help you?  What help do you need?

His help is there before us, and beloved, we must never be afraid to ask for it.  What that professor wisely said to me so many years ago, offers equal wisdom to you and me as we walk through this journey of life and faith… that ultimately, the ones who do poorly are the ones who won’t ask for help.

May we have the the faith to ask and the faith to follow, dear friends; and may our thanks be unto God.

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2020 in Faith, Jesus, Life, Sermon

 

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As Bread for the Broken

(a sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost and World Communion Sunday, based on  Exodus 16:2-15)

I suppose that it was inevitable.

After all, it was now about six weeks out from their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and their subsequent journey across the parted Red Sea into the Sinai wilderness: just long enough for food supplies to run out, patience to wear thin and the harsh reality of their situation to settle in.  And moreover, to be fair, there was a certain vagueness to this whole enterprise.  There’d been a whole lot of talk about freedom, a better life and “a land flowing with milk and honey,” (Exodus 3:8) which was all very good, but so far no specific indications as to how that was all going to work out; nor had they had any real say in the process.  All they knew is that this pilgrimage through the wilderness had now become a battle for survival; bad to the point where they’d even begun to reminiscence that even in the worst of times back in Egypt, they “sat by the fleshpots” and ate their fill of bread!  So it was kind of understandable that what they did in response was exactly what any of us might have done under the circumstances:  they complained. 

Now, in other translations of scripture, the word used is grumble, but actually for my money the best translation comes from the old King James Version where it says that “whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured” against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.  The idea that out amidst the dry sand and blistering winds these people were murmuring their discontent, for me says it all: no rioting, no attempted coup or petitions for asylum; just this growing crescendo of fear and uncertainty, an overwhelming feeling of helplessness that builds into hopelessness, and then to anger and desperation.

And that we can understand, right?  Because after all, we are a people who want, need and expect some measure of control in our lives!  M. Craig Barnes says this very well: “Vague is one of our least favorite adjectives.  If you give a report or presentation at work, the last thing you want to hear is that you were vague… when your daughter announces she is getting married and you ask about their plans for the future, you don’t want to hear they plan to live on love.  Vague frightens us.  We are a people who prefer plans, strategies, numbers, and lots of details.”

The trouble with all this, however, is that oftentimes life is far out of our control; and just like Israel, we find ourselves wandering aimlessly in the desert.  Things are going along just fine, and then you lose a job; there’s a health scare; a cherished relationship comes to an abrupt end; a world-wide global pandemic (!) leads to months of quarantine… and suddenly that pathway you’ve been walking along every day of your life takes a sharp turn into unfamiliar territory. You’re totally disoriented, scared to death and wanting like anything to go back to the way things were, where at least it was safe. 

That’s the desert experience, friends; that’s what the Israelites were facing out there in the wilderness; and that’s what you and I very often have to deal with in the utter uncertainty of our own lives! In the face of that, murmuring just seems like the proper response!

But here’s the other thing about the desert experience:  while it is most definitely the place where we have to give up control, it is also the place “where we learn to receive the mysterious future God has for us.”  To quote Craig Barnes again: “The desert journey is hard because it is so threatening.  Resources and assurances are few; questions and anxiety are plentiful.  In the desert you discover you have no choice but to trust God, which is why it is a place where souls are shaped.

In today’s reading from the book of Exodus we discover that the Israelites’ problem is ultimately not with Moses and Aaron, but with God.  Even Moses can see this: it’s not he or his brother that the people can’t trust, it’s Yahweh; and that’s because they don’t know or understand that this same God who enacted their deliverance also plans to be with them in the wilderness.  They don’t “get” that while their plight is very real, God in his providence will sustain them for the journey ahead.  Once you’ve started crossing the desert, you see, there is no going back; the future and its promise lay ahead and Israel had not yet come to embrace the truth that only the God of mystery could get them there.

So what does God do in the midst of the murmuring?  How will God respond to a people who won’t trust him to lead?  Well, the answer comes in one of the most evocative images we have in the Old Testament:  God tells Moses that “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you.”  It’s manna, “a fine, flaky substance” appearing each new day with the morning dew, “as fine as the frost on the ground,” as Exodus describes it; in fact, we’re told later on in this chapter that “the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.” (16:31)  It’s a true gift of God, but it’s a gift that comes with instructions:  first, every family has to gather their own; you can’t hoard it because by the middle of the day it will have been spoiled by the worms; and only one day’s ration was allowed, except on the sixth day of the week, when you could have an extra portion for the Sabbath.  So, manna in the morning, followed by the arrival of quail in the evening for meat: not too much food, to be sure; but enough, just enough sustenance to keep them going on the journey.

Interestingly enough, while Moses is very reassuring in bringing this news to the people – “in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining,” he says to them – God, on the other hand, is more than up front as to how this is, in fact, a test of Israel’s trust and faith; a determination as to whether or not this measure of food will lead them in trusting that God will continue to provide for them along the way… or not!  If you read through the entirety of this 16th chapter of Exodus, at first it sounds kind of vindictive, the very vision of the judgmental God of the Old Testament.  But looking at it a little more closely, it makes perfect sense that God would see this as a test of faith; in fact, it actually kind of completes the gift!

You see, just as God understood that the Israelites would most certainly not be wholly satisfied with what they were being given; God also knows that there will never be enough sustenance in this world, at least, to rid you and me of every concern and anxiety we carry; because the true nature of life, friends, is that life is predictably unpredictable!  In other words, just about the time we figure out what we need to survive whatever it is we’re facing today, here comes another challenge that needs facing tomorrow!  On some level or another we will always be hungry, we will always be thirsty, there will always be yet another unexpected twist and turn along the pathways we follow: like it or not, that is simply what life is, and if you and I are going to live that life with any sort of confidence or integrity or purpose, friends, we are going to have to walk those pathways trusting God, knowing that there will be more manna and quail when we need it.

Granted, we all do the best we can along the way: we put away money for the future, we build up our pension accounts, we get serious about losing weight and exercising more, we wear our masks and make every effort to stay socially distanced from one another.  But at the end of the day, that kind of effort only takes us so far, and the time will inevitably come when in the midst of our challenges, our “murmuring” and even our brokenness, we’ll have to give the rest over to God… this God who provides for us one meal, one day, one blessing at a time; truly giving us “this day our daily bread.”

Today, of course, is World Communion Sunday and in a few moments, we’ll be gathering – however remotely in 2020 (!) – at the Lord’s Table with believers the world over so that we might know his presence in the broken bread and shared cup.  It’s also, I think, a time to reflect on the true meaning of this sacrament as regards our Christian faith and moreover, a chance for each of us to remember and give thanks for how this deceptively simple meal has nourished our own spiritual growth. 

For me, this day is filled with the memories of moments when in either receiving or serving communion I was made newly and palpably aware of the Lord’s presence in the bread and cup, as well as the powerful movement of God’s Holy Spirit in and through my life and the life of the church of which I was a part.  But of all those memories, perhaps the one that stands out the most happened right here in this very sanctuary; shortly after I’d arrived here at East Church as your pastor. 

As most of you know, before we came here, I was at a place I like to refer to as “in-between callings.”  Lisa, the children and I had left Ohio and had come back to Maine, where I was going to focus all my attention on the search and call process and finding a new church.  And we did so knowing that in the United Church of Christ, this is a process that can take some time; but hey, it was summer, we had the camp and it was going to be fine!  But… as August turned into September and the days of autumn crept toward a long Maine winter with still nothing concrete about a pastoral position, I’ll be honest with you; I had begun to do more than just a little “murmuring” of my own! Now, in retrospect, I don’t know if I ever doubted God through all of that but I certainly doubted myself and day by day I was feeling increasingly mired and broken there in the middle of my own personal desert wilderness. 

But you all know what happened:  our wonderfully amazing graceful God managed to bring us together as pastor and parish here at East Church.  And now, about a month in, it was the first Sunday of the month, we were in worship and I was leading us in communion; something that as a pastor I’d done literally hundreds of times over the years… but this time it was different.

And I can tell you exactly the moment I realized it:  it’s when I said, as I almost always do during communion, “In the broken bread we participate in the broken body of Christ… in the cup of blessing, we celebrate the new life that Christ brings.”  I tore the bread, and the reality of it hit me like a ton of bricks:  I’d been broken!  All the challenges and struggles of the past few months, all of the uncertainties, all of the doubt, all of the lingering feelings of regret and fear and anger and… brokenness in my life: I was suddenly and profoundly and deeply aware that Jesus’ body was broken for my sake so that I might know redemption and hope and life, not to mention forgiveness and the ability to forgive; all of this even when I’d been too mired in my own feelings of being lost and broken to fully know and trust in it.  But now I realized that I was, in fact, “participating in the broken body of Christ,” a recipient of love infinite and unending… and able, at last, to truly and wholly celebrate the new life Christ brings.  As bread was given for the broken in the form of manna, at that very moment of celebration in our worship I was given the sustenance I needed.

And I’m telling you about this today because if right now you’re feeling broken – maybe seven months of pandemic has finally gotten to you… perhaps the onslaught of negativity and divisiveness in this election year has left you exhausted, angry and bitter… or maybe you’ve come to the sad conclusion that this roller coaster ride that is 2020 is much more than you can handle and now you’re just broken as a result – if that’s you, beloved, then know that this Holy Meal we’re about to share is for you.  As the song goes, “there’s life to be shared in the bread and the wine,” and whereas this act of worship might not change the ever-spinning nature of the world in these times, it will give you and me the sustenance we need for this desert journey…

…so let us come to the table so that we might be fed, and that we might know the presence, the power and the Glory of God in Jesus Christ in the process.

And may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 

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Singing in the Strain

(An online sermon for August 30, 2020, based on Mark 4:35-41)

I think you’ll agree with me when I say that oftentimes in life, the reality of a particular experience is far removed from our perception of how it ought to have been!

As I’m sure many of you know, for many years our family served a church nestled along the coast of Maine; and consequently, every summer our family had the blessed opportunity to spend a fair amount of time on the beach, digging in the sand and playing on the waves of the ocean.  Well, there was this one particular summer when the surf happened to be quite high and rather intense; the result, as I recall, of a series of tropical storms that had been churning in the Caribbean.  And in the midst of all this, I had gotten the bright idea in my head that I needed to go surfing; specifically, I wanted to experience what it was to be “riding the waves,” and to have one of those waves curl over the top of me.  Never mind the fact that I’d never, ever surfed before, and that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing (all I can say is that I’d been listening to way too many Beach Boy songs!); undaunted, I grabbed the kids’ little “boogie board” and off I headed to the ocean, figuring that the worst that could happen here is that I’d get wet.

I was wrong. 

What I wasn’t expecting was the sheer force with which that wave slammed against my body, or how it literally picked me up and threw me across the water! Let me tell you something, friends; it hurt!  It completely knocked the wind out of me and just about every muscle in body felt the effect of it (and, by the way, the music in my head immediately shifted from “Surfin’ Safari” to “Wipeout!” complete with the maniacal laughter!).  And as I was overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of that wave of… water hitting me full force, I remember thinking, how can anybody do this? I mean, if it’s this hard on Scarborough Beach in Maine, think how it must be out in California or Hawaii? It’s a wonder anyone survives! 

Suffice to say, these days I am now content to spend my days floating calmly and serenely out on our lake!

Like I say, oftentimes the reality of the experience is far removed from our perception of how it ought to be; and therein lies a good parable for all of life!  For whereas most of us would never assume that life as we know it should be utterly carefree and without turbulence of any kind, nonetheless many of us are surprised to find ourselves in the midst of times and situations where we feel battered, beaten and thoroughly overwhelmed by all the stormy turbulence that this life has to offer. 

Actually, I’ve been thinking a lot about this all throughout this strange and uncertain summer of pandemic, and I’m guessing you have, too.  I mean, it’s bad enough that we’ve all been having to cope with Covid-19 fears, to say nothing of all the challenges of masks and social distancing and the ever shifting theories regarding remote versus in-person learning at school and elsewhere; but then, when you layer on top of  that all the rest of life’s concerns, problems and stresses, it’s a wonder that we don’t break under the strain!  To put it another way, it’s one thing for the currents of our lives to become a little bit rough; that’s just part of the natural course of things, and I dare say that most of us feel equipped to handle that kind of turbulence.  But what about when the real storms hit us? What about when the waves of life’s own chaos, its injustice and tragedy start to come at us with such overwhelming intensity that it would knock us down; emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes literally?

You see, the reality is that our lives will not always be lived on seas that are ever calm; storms do come in this life, they will often rage with great intensity, and often at the times we least expect.  And they will test our courage and our faith: as a wonderful preacher named Kirbyjohn Caldwell has said, “Storms don’t define you, but storms will bring whatever is in you out of you.”  Storms are inevitable; so the question becomes, then, how do we react?  What is it inside of us that will come out as the storm is raging; will it be crying out in anguish, or when that time comes, will we be found “singing in the strain?”

That’s the question that’s posed in our gospel reading for this morning, in which Mark tells of a great windstorm on the Sea of Galilee while the disciples, with Jesus aboard, are crossing from one side to the other in their tiny fishing boat.  To put this in a geographical context, sudden storms are common on the Sea of Galilee; although it’s a fairly small body of water (it’s actually, in terms of square miles, slightly smaller than Lake Winnipesauke!), it’s surrounded by a series of hills, valleys and ravines which lend themselves to abrupt changes in the weather and severe storms that seem to come out of nowhere; so severe, in fact, that it was not uncommon in Jesus’ day for fisherman to lose their lives in the midst of such storms.

And so it was with this storm; quite literally, one moment the disciples are lazily drifting across the water seeking a place to put ashore for the evening, and the next wind is howling, waves are breaking over the bow, the boat’s taking on water, and now these disciples are in real danger of losing their very lives.  Understand that these men, most of whom were fishermen, were not ignorant as to the ways of proper seamanship, and usually they knew how to handle themselves on the water; but they weren’t prepared for this!  And so now here they were, cowering in fear in a nearly swamped boat on the middle of a raging sea!

I don’t know about you, but that’s an image I can relate to! 

It’s what we’ve been talking about here: one day things are going along smoothly and by most accounts, we’re in a good place.  But then the storm hits:  suddenly we’re facing a difficult change in our lives, and we’re not sure how to handle it.  We’re waiting on news that could make or break us; the verdict on a medical test or the word on being laid off from work.  Or maybe it’s nothing that monumental; just the cumulative effect of every little concern and stress and “thing” we have to deal with, and it’s all coming at us all at once.  Whatever it is, one moment we’re on calm seas, the next we’re in the midst of a “perfect storm” that threatens to undo us; and all we feel like we can do is to cry out with every bit of strength we have left. 

That’s what happened with the disciples.  I love what Julie Pennington-Russell says about this.  She writes that the Bible has this way of being relentlessly honest about us, and “how it feels to live a real human life.”  For instance, the disciples are terrified at the storm around them, it looks like the boat might be sinking (and them along with it), and as they’re literally screaming for their lives, they discover that Jesus is back in the stern of the boat, his head upon a pillow and sound asleep!  Now, you’d think that having Jesus in the boat might count for something, but no, he’s back there taking a nap!  And so the disciples do what we might do under the circumstances: they lash out. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  In other words, hey, we’re dying here… don’t you even care?

And we also know about that, don’t we?  Pennington-Russell goes on to say that “sometimes in the middle of our fear we feel like those disciples did, that maybe Jesus just doesn’t’ care enough… [that] when the hard weather comes you’d think you could count on feeling him work on your behalf, fighting for you, working the oars, bailing the water, but …during parts of some storms,” in our most desperate moments of life, “it may seem for all the world to us as though Jesus is sound asleep.”  So we react much like the disciples did: Where are you, Lord?  Where’s the help?  What about that “green pastures and still waters” thing we keep hearing about?  I’m still waiting here, and, Lord, the water is rising fast!

Of course, that’s not the end of the story, not at all.  Mark goes on to tell us that Jesus gets up from his slumber, literally reprimands the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”  And just as suddenly as it had begun, the wind dies down, the sea is dead calm, and the storm is over.  And there’s this silence on the Galilean Sea that had to have been deafening; what the Bible refers to elsewhere as a “crushing silence.”

 Actually I have to imagine that what followed was a long moment of realization for these disciples, hearts still beating wildly, water dripping off their hair and skin, their robes soaked with rain, their hands still desperately clutching to whatever they could hang on to in this boat; realizing now that they weren’t dead, that the storm was over, and that Jesus… Jesus (!) was the one who’d stopped it!  And here’s when Jesus says, both to the disciples and by extension, to you and me, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”

So often we read this story and jump to the conclusion that Jesus offering up a second reprimand – the first directed at the storm, the second at the disciples – but it seems to me that it’s actually more of a teachable moment than it is a rebuke.  It’s a reminder to them and to us that life is indeed full of storms, both from within and without; but even though the storms we face would threaten to overwhelm us by their destructive power we need not be afraid, for whatever else is raging all around us, we have the presence and power of the Lord to sustain us, and that will be more than enough…

…the power of the Lord  that keeps us calm and focused when everything else in this life is seemingly spinning out of control; the power of the Lord who helps us find avenues of change and reconciliation when that is possible, and patience and forgiveness when it is not; the power of the Lord who instills within us the kind of strength and unending hope we need to understand that storms never last and that soon enough we will be led to the place of quiet and calm and restoration; but also the power of the Lord that in the meantime leads us from crying out in utter anguish and pain to truly “singing in the strain” even as the storm is still raging.

Jesus had already shown the disciples that all of this was true; and that’s why he says, quite specifically, “Have you still no faith?”  Because you were already in the worst that the storms of life can dish out, but now it’s still: and peace – my peace – has prevailed.  Once they realized this, you see, the only response the disciples could possibly have is one of awe:  “Who then is this,” they ask aloud, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Beloved, there are times in each of our lives when the difficult realities of our lives seem far removed from what we believe it ought to be; times when the storms we’re facing just seem too much to bear. But by the same token, the reality of our Lord’s presence and power far exceeds the terror of the storms we encounter. And that, writes Barbara Brown Taylor, is why “we need Jesus.  It’s why we wouldn’t be caught dead on the water without him… we need a Savior.”  Our doubts and fears amidst the stormy seas serve to “remind us of who and whose we are and whom we need in our lives to save us.”  

 To affirm that presence as our storms of life keep on raging; to embrace that power to give us the strength, the patience, the hope to hold on… friends, that is faith. 

And it’s what keeps us singing, no matter what the strain!

For the many ways that our Lord Jesus calms the sea of our lives now and for all eternity, thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry. All Rights Reserved.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2020 in Current Events, Faith, Jesus, Life, Sermon

 

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