Pastor Michael Frye:
Last Sunday’s Gospel lesson found Jesus speaking in parables about the Kingdom of God.
For weeks Jesus had been healing and teaching among the Jews.
Now his eyes were turned toward the other side of the lake where he would minister to the Gentiles; strangers whose religion was not his own, but to whom he felt called to minister.
His disciples, still not sure of who he was, were compelled to accompany Jesus across the lake.
He had the gift of healing, and his teaching held them spell-bound.
They had to know more about him and what he had in store for them.
It was evening when Jesus got into the boat with four experienced fishermen.
The Sea of Galilee was actually a lake of decent size that was surrounded by mountains and hills.
It would take a couple hours to cross, as long as the waters remained calm.
A number of Jesus’ followers got into other boats to follow them across.
It wasn’t unusual for storms to come up on the lake, and the waters would get pretty choppy from the winds bounding down the surrounding hills into the water.
But this was different.
This storm was something like the disciples had never experienced before (in Greek, a megale – a storm of great size and power).
Its intensity and great waves began to fill the boat with water so that it might even swamp the boat.
Looking to Jesus to save them, the frightened disciples found him peacefully sleeping on a cushion in the stern of the boat (I guess you could say that instead of calm before the storm, Jesus was calm amidst the storm).
They were beside themselves and totally befuddled by Jesus’ calm demeanor.
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Without reacting to the disciples’ outcries, Jesus stood up and rebuked the wind and the sea:
“Peace! Be Still!”
These were the same words Jesus used against a demon in Mark 1:25.
Most people in that day believed that storms on the seas represented evil and chaos, and that only God could thwart them.
Jesus revealed that divine power by immediately calming the storm by speaking to it (just as he had healed and performed other miracles).
That Jesus was able to do that meant that God’s power was at work in and through him, and the disciples didn’t know what to do with that.
They went from fearing the storm to being filled with awe over Jesus’ actions.
You can imagine how their lack of understanding must have felt to Jesus, as he said:
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
And still, it didn’t sink into their befuddled brains as they said among themselves:
“Who, then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
You would think that out of this magnificent display of divine power they would have been confident in their knowledge that this was, indeed, the Son of God.
Now, let’s carry that forward some two thousand years to a church that has inherited these Gospel stories.
Like the disciples, when our own storms rage around and within us – storms of injustice and subterfuge; distrust, self-doubt, broken relationships – are we also tempted to cry out to God:
“Do you not care?”
That would seem like an honest human response.
Of course, God cares; Jesus cares.
Jesus calmed the storm then, and he can calm the storms of life now.
He went to the cross for us in order to break the cycle of sin, fear, and violence that threaten our world’s existence.
He walks with us through every storm, strong wind, and gale that threatens and buffets us about.
It is faith in our Lord which helps us to persist through those storms and come out whole on the other side. Do you recall the words in Martin Luther’s great hymn that we sang just a week ago?
Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage!
His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgement must prevail!
One little word subdues him.
“Peace! Be Still!”
Our faith in Jesus, the Son of God, helps us to overcome our doubts and our fears, even when the toughest challenges confront and confound us.
Beverly-Zink Sawyer tells about seeing a photograph taken shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005.
The photo is of a cemetery in the historic district of the city.
Trees are toppled, tombstones and vaults smashed into pieces.
But in the middle of all that devastation, untouched by the storm, stands a statue of the Risen Christ, arms widely extended offering a benediction of calm amid the chaos.
Is that very image not on the front of this church building offering assurance to us and to the entire community of Charlotte?
It is as though our Lord is beckoning:
“Come unto me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
With his words Christ makes no distinctions regarding nationality religion, social status, or any qualifiers other than our willingness to accept his invitation.
One thing we can be certain about as children of God is that even though there are real things that threaten and confound us in our lives, they need not paralyze us; they need not overwhelm us; they need not own us; because, we are not alone on this boat.
If you need a not-so-subtle reminder, look at the ceiling of this nave.
It resembles the hull of a boat.
Do you remember the words from today’s Gospel lesson, “Other boats were with him?”
We are in the other boats; we are traveling together with our Lord through this sea of life, and our calling is to bring others on board so they, too, may know the peaceful calm that only God can bring.
In II Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote:
“Now is the acceptable time; See, now is the day of salvation.
“We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way.”
Paul’s words are written, not from a place of comfort, but from the experiences of hardship and diversity.
The day of salvation is not when we encounter smooth sailing, rather at the very moments when the storm threatens to overcome us.
That is when we need our Lord the most.
John Mcfadden speaks about St. Paul’s words in this way:
“Paul seeks to make of the Corinthian church a community defined by mutual charity… the tools of which are ‘patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.’ ”
He goes on to say that a Christian community that is fully reconciled with God and with one another loves that community unconditionally (with no restrictions in our affections) and with a love that will risk speaking the unpopular truth that the community needs to hear.
We witnessed what can happen when thousands of people and concerned religious, community, and political leaders spoke loudly against the merciless tearing apart of children from the arms of their parents along our southern border.
That problem is not yet solved, but our Christian understanding of the love of God and neighbor tells us that we should not be silent at such a time so that a righteous and just solution may be found.
Let us remember the words of the prophet Micah in chapter 6, verse 8:
“He has told you, O mortal what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
We should never be afraid of God’s truth or of our sharing that truth to the world.
After all, we know that the Lord of peace who stills the storms of life is right here with us, supporting us, encouraging us, guiding us, even admonishing us (like he did the disciples in our Gospel lesson today) if we need for him to do so.
Efrain Agosto reminds us that Jesus poses a question to all who choose to follow him:
“Will you exercise faith or fear?”
How we answer that question determines the degree to which we commit ourselves to Christ’s mission on this earth.
Remember, you are not alone in that quest.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.