1 Corinthians 1: 18-31, Psalm 29, Luke 8: 22-25
After many years of marriage and a number of tense moments, our friends, Don and Kevin, had come to an agreement: Kevin would not interrupt Don’s concentration when he was in the middle of a project. On a number of occasions Kevin had interrupted Don when he was deeply involved in a task, much to his consternation. Finally, they agreed that when he wanted to ask him something, he would wait until he had finished what he was doing.
The arrangement had worked pretty well over the years, until a particular day. Don was working on a project in the garage. Kevin, well acquainted with their arrangement, walked out to the garage and stood silently by, waiting for the signal that he was ready to be interrupted. When he looked up, he calmly reported, “the house is on fire.”
Well, most of us when we hear news like that, ‘a house on fire’, really step into high gear, running to see what the problem is, reaching out for help, calling the fire department. Some who are fatalistic would just sit there and do nothing, watching the destruction take over until there is nothing left. Some might even call that an act of faith, trusting in an omnipotent God will determine our faith without our involvement.
In so many ways we live in times like these as young prophets like climate activists Greta Thunberg, or politicians like Elizabeth May or the Honourable Catherine McKenna, hundreds of scientists from around the world cry out to ears that would hear that the world is on fire, that we are quickly drowning, that that winds are sweeping away what we know, and that we need to wake up, own up to facing our responsibilities and making needed changes.
We have known these experiences more regularly now as we hear the fires crackling in the Amazon Rainforest, in our forests across Canada, as we continue to fix homes and cottages after this year’s flooding from the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers, as we witness the devastation caused by hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas and the Atlantic provinces. No doubt each one of you has been touched in someway from the rapidly changing effects of climate change as you notice how the world is changing.
Of course, there are always people who would respond to a situation of great fear in others ways, denying that there is anything to be afraid of, blaming others, choosing a wait and see attitude, killing the messenger (we know that story well as Christians), or at least trying to create fear in the lives of the messenger by attacking them and their children as we have recently heard from the Honourable Catherine McKenna.
Our story today in Luke’s gospel speaks into the fear that we carry in our hearts. It is a simple story which is shared in each of the synoptic gospels, Matthew 8, Mark 4 and in Luke 8, each with their own unique take. So we know that this story was strong in the oral tradition in the early church and that this event held strong spiritual wisdom for those who would venture to follow Jesus. The story is pared down to the essentials without including much embellishment except for the expression of raw fear and awe, allowing our own imaginations to fill in the other details.
The setting of this event is important for it comes when Jesus has been teaching the crowd parables such as the Sower scattering his seed, using your light to expose the truth. The twelve disciples have joined Jesus along with women who have been healed and they are all there to learn from his teachings about the spiritual way of life. We know that Jesus had the habit of withdrawing after his intense encounters with the crowd, either engaging with their minds through teaching or with their spirits through healing.
On this day they withdrew in the boat to travel to the other side of the lake, we assume at evening (only in Mark). But their time of solitude and quiet is disrupted when a storm with gale-force winds suddenly sweeps down the lake. Any of you who are avid boaters, canoeing or kayaking on our beautiful lakes and rivers knows how quickly that can happen, even with all our meteorological forecasting, and how terrifying it is when you realize that you are no match for the force of the gale. And in those moments of realization that you are really up against it, that it is indeed a matter of life and death, you may find yourself reacting in different ways -fear usually being the first, visceral response. Oh yes, it is important to add that the one who extended the invitation to join this journey of salvation in the first place, Jesus, is sound asleep at this point in the story.
It is only in Mark’s gospel, the first to be written down, that there are other details that place Jesus in the stern of the boat, sleeping on a pillow no less. Such an image of calmness and relaxation! I wonder why Matthew and Luke omitted that detail, as it pushes the idea that Jesus is in the place where the tiller would be, but instead have him resting quietly, oblivious to the raging seas around him. Remember too that the sea in the bible is often used as the symbol for chaos.
So the disciples find that their Lord and Savior, the one for whom they have left everything to follow and learn from, in their time of crises, seems to be asleep at the wheel, oblivious to what is going on. And so out of their fear they cry out in order to waken him:
- “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” (Matthew 8:25)
- “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” (Luke 8:24)
- “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38)
No doubt more words than these would have been spoken in the height of their fear, but these are the words pared down to express the essence of their fear, understood differently by each of the writers. Matthew seems to record a cry for help. Luke seems to give us a statement of doom. Mark expresses their fear of abandonment.
Their cry is the ultimate cry of fear, of doubt and abandonment, repeated often in the stories of God’s people, as for example in the psalms. Where is God in the midst of my distress? Has God abandoned his people? It is a cry repeated in so many ways in the midst of the terrors and distresses of our world today. If God is so great and powerful a creator, if God really cares about this world, then why do events in the world and in my life go so badly. The ready response: either God has no power, or God does not care for us or the creation.
But what fills them with even more awe and wonder is when Jesus does wake up, stands and orders the wind and the violent waves to be calm. It is as though Jesus resides somehow in the still, calm centre that is found in the eye of the storm and is able to bring that peace and calm into every situation that he encounters, even as he stands within nature.
I don’t know about you folks, but I would love to know that depth of confidence and peacefulness that could strengthen me when facing into the storms of life, especially when we sense that our fear responses are taking hold of us. The practice of mindfulness I believe helps us to notice what kind of reactions we are having in the midst of stressful situations, but it is the gift of faith that helps us connect with the deeper peace and love that is at the heart of God, that Jesus helps us discover deep within our own hearts and spirits.
At the height of this crisis Jesus rises to his fullest power and calls upon his disciples to look within themselves asking them “where is your faith?” Mark seems to add a tone of anger or disappointment in Jesus’ words when has asks them, “why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?” He has been teaching them so much, showing the power of God’s love as he heals countless people but they do not get it yet. Matthew says to them, “Why are you afraid, you people of weak faith?”
What a time we live in as the church when we are called upon to discover for the first time or to rediscover our faith in God, to claim confidence and peace in the midst of the most terrible storms, believing that no matter how difficult it gets, that God, our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, is there in the midst of these swirling chaotic times. Paul reminds us that this relationship with Christ strengthens our faith:
2:8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast.
1:17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”
In Paul’s address to the people of Corinth who loved to debate and explore all kinds of different philosophies, he teaches them about the wisdom and the power of the cross of Jesus Christ and how through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the very power of God can live within them through believing in Christ- “It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus. He became the wisdom from God for us. This means that he made us righteous and holy, and he delivered us.” (vs 30)
The calming of the storm in Luke’s gospel is the first of three other miracles stories in this chapter, that show the power of God that Jesus’ embodies. The second miracle shows Jesus casting out the demons from a possessed man from the city who had lived among the tombs, naked and homeless. His name was “Legion”. It is a very short leap indeed to imagine what many of city streets are becoming here in Ottawa and across North America as so many dispossessed people wander our streets now, literally sleeping in our bushes and sidewalks into the church, numbing pain through drugs, sex and alcohol, seemingly lost and discarded by families and by society. In this miracle, Jesus was able to cast out those demons so the man became fully sane.
In the third miracle Jesus heals two women, the woman with the flow of blood who is healed as she reaches out and touches the hem of Jesus’ clothes and the young girl who has died but who is then raised to life again through his touch: “Taking her hand, Jesus called out, “child, get up.” Her life returned and she got up at once.” (Lk 8: 54)
Right after these miracles are shared, Jesus called the Twelve together and he gave them power and authority over all demons and to heal sicknesses. He sent them out to proclaim God’s kingdom and to heal the sick. (Lk 9: 1,2)
This is still the invitation to those who want to follow Jesus and be his disciples. In many ways this call to have faith can be quite scary, to believe in Jesus Christ, in your own gift of faith and to be able to stand up to the forces of chaos of our day, to those that would deny the realities of climate change and urge us to do nothing, to be a channel of hope and love that is so powerful it heals people in the face of so much suffering that is right in our own neighbourhood or even in our own families and circle of friends and our own hearts. The world is crying out and we are called to respond in faith. So as you hear this call and seek that place of deepest peace in the eye of the storm I leave you with these words of promise from Jesus:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
Great God of storms, help us to feel your presence in all the different storms we experience. May we be rain, to wash and nourish the Earth, bringing hope and comfort to your hurting people. May we be wind, to clean and refresh the Earth, to blow the power of your justice into the cracks and corners of our world. May we be fire, to renew and energize the weak places all around us. May we be upheaval in places of injustice, calling to account those who wreak havoc on others and who damage the Earth without a care in the world. Great God of storms, help us to be your storms in our world. Amen