6/21/2015 Fourth Sunday after Pentecost Text is Mark 4:35-41.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It was a hot muggy summer day in Ohio – just the type of day you like sitting on the beach somewhere or catching a cool breeze under the shade of a tree. It was a hot summer day, and I went to Ron, a fellow seminarian, and asked him if he wanted to go hiking at Hawking Hills with me. As the topography of Columbus is typical of the flat Midwestern states, Hawking Hills was the only place semi-close to Columbus with hills and trees enough to remind me of New England.
The sky was hazy when we set out on this summer’s day journey. The air dripped with moisture as we arrived in the area to park the car. We looked at the posted hiking trail which wound around a ridge and started on our way. As luck would have it, at the halfway point, the sky became ominously dark and we could hear thunder in the distance. We quickened our pace. (To be out in a thunderstorm in Ohio is not a wonderful thing. Storms in that part of the country tend to be much more violent than what we are used to seeing in New England.)
Soon, the thunder grew louder and we still had a long way to go to get back to the car. Our hearts began to sink as the first drops of rain began to fall. We knew we weren’t going to make it. All we could do was try to find some shelter. So, we crawled under a overhanging rock as the wind picked up. The rain began to fail with such fury that we could barely see 3 feet in front of us. We struggled to stand as the dirt under our feet was being washed away in the torrential downpour. We knew we were in danger because the drop below was steep and rocky. If we lost our foothold, we would surely fall.
Then, just as quickly as the storm came, it passed over us. The trail, now slick and eroded in spots, was once again visible. We carefully left our shelter and at a snail’s pace worked our way back to our starting point. When we got to the parking lot, it was flooded, and we had to wade to the car which, by some chance of luck, was sitting on a little knoll.
Storms can come up that quickly. They can take us by surprise. And they can be fierce and threatening, endangering our lives. Whether the storms are threats of weather, like the storm faced by the disciples on the boat, or whether the storms are the unexpected threats to safety and security which can come out of the blue, fear creeps in as we recognize the danger.
The people attending the Bible study this week at a South Carolina church had no idea of the threat that they would be facing as a young man decided to open fire on them and to kill all but one. But luckily a grandmother and a child also survived. I can’t imagine the fear the child and grandmother felt as they feigned death in order to escape it. It seems as if no place is safe these days. No place is sacred. Between Isis’ terrorists who target Christians, drunk drivers plowing into houses, and drive by shootings, it doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing, threats can come out of the blue and end up in your lap. And, yet, we go on. We go on for we will not be overcome by fear. We will not let the unjust win or those who are brainwashed or insane have the last word. The last word belongs to our God and it is a word of peace.
How do I know that? All I have to do is look at today’s gospel. In today’s gospel, the disciples faced a real threat, a real danger, in their small and somewhat overcrowded boat when a storm of great intensity arose. Their boat was being tossed by waves and swamped with water. Unlike what happened this week, no one needed to tell them they were in danger. They knew it all too well.
It is as they are filled with fear that they call upon Jesus. It seems incredible that Jesus was asleep, finding peace, in the midst of the raging storm. Maybe it was because he knew that there was nothing to fear. He was able to rest because he was certain that this storm, that no storm, no matter how powerful, could ultimately endanger those with him.
“Why do you fear?” he asked the men who were struggling to keep the boat afloat. “Have you no faith?”
But what does faith have to do with it? Does faith bail out the water? Does faith quell a storm? Does faith change the realities of what happened in a Bible study in a South Carolina church? Of course not! However, because of faith, Jesus’ disciples had enough sense to turn to Jesus in the face of the threatening storm. Somehow, in spite of their limited faith and questionable understanding of the power that Jesus possessed, they turned to him when they were in trouble.
Again and again the Bible gives us a clear and upbeat message: “Do not fear.” “Do not fear for I am with you.” “Do not be afraid, for I am your God.” (Is. 4:10) “Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Duet 31:8) “The Lord is my light and salvation, whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom then shall I be afraid? (Ps 27) The answer is no one or nothing. And yet, we lock our doors. We don’t let our children go anywhere alone. We take a phone with us – just in case. We look at strangers with a wary eye. So, we live in fear whether we want to believe it or not.
Reuben Youngdahl, a Lutheran pastor from Minneapolis, shared the story of a young man who while visiting a friend in Dublin noticed a plaque his friend had on his desk in his study. It had two words – “But God.” The motto so impressed the young man that he made a plaque just like it for himself. Visitors to his office asked him, “What do you mean by those words, ‘But God’?”
He explained, in the hour of deepest need he would say, “But God will help.” In the moment of utter despair, he could say to himself, “But God will give me hope.” In the moment of loneliness, he would affirm, “But God is with me.” When he felt insignificant and unwanted, it would help to repeat, “But God loves me.” That always turned the scale from despair to hope, from defeat to victory, from sin to salvation…“But God – But God – But God.”
And, perhaps, that is what weathering the storms is all about – not the taking away of the instinctive fear and the adrenalin rush which causes us to take a fight or flight position. But, having faith enough to turn to a resting Lord, arousing him to action, knowing that he can indeed quell the fear and calm the soul.
Storms will come our way, whether we are ready for them or not. But, the real threat is not the storms themselves, but the lack of faith which causes us to take them on alone. The real danger is found not in the storms themselves, but in the assumption that the life endangering challenges we face in this world have power over the Son of God. The power of God is the hope of our salvation.
In this hope and in the power of Jesus to quell storms and restore peace, let us take a moment of silence to remember the victims who died attending a Bible study in South Carolina…… Let us also take a moment of silence to pray for survivors and for the unity we share as brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen
May our faith in Christ Jesus be enough to carry us through life’s storms, knowing that our ultimate safety is secured by the Lord whose word reigns supreme in this world and the next. And, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.