Monday, July 9, 2012

Together in the Storm

Together in the Storm from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Mark 4:35-41
35Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” 36They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along.
37Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. 38But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”
39He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. 40Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?”
41Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.
It’s strange to talk about storms when it’s sunny outside. I can reach back to when I was in youth group and picture a day on the boat out on Lake James, near where I grew up. Picturing myself on a boat is no problem. Dave and Morgan can show you pictures of what the sea of Galilee looks like, so I can imagine being there, but it’s strange to think about a sky darkening, violent winds, torrents of rain and flashes of lightning when we look outside our windows at see birds singing, a lazy haze over the parking lot, and great helping of sunshine.
It’s strange to talk about storms when it’s sunny outside.
We’ve all certainly sat through the kind of great thunderstorm of which Mark speaks in this text, they’re a humbling display of the powers of nature, a place where one sees the hand of God in the majesty of creation.
But outside, it’s a bright sunny day with a high of 93 degrees, and man is it humid. But it doesn’t even really look like rain...
On a day like today it’s easy to keep this story of boats and storms out at arms length, to put it in a particular place in history and let it stay there, I have no doubt that Jesus and his followers sailed into some severe weather that evening on the sea of Galilee. But it’s strange to talk about storms when it’s sunny outside.
We can join Jesus in his Sunday afternoon nap, this story takes place after he’s preached a series of parables, and many preachers will tell you that the Sunday afternoon nap is one of the greatest gifts God has given us in this world, and on this lazy sunny day, we can curl up on a pillow for a great nap, but this storm business just doesn’t fit when it’s sunny outside.
Unless you’re dealing with another kind of storm in your own life. Not the kind of storm they tell you about on the news, where a nice suit and a smiling face report facts and describe computer models, but rather the kind of storm we put on our motivational posters, where it’s just a symbol for all the problems we’ve internalized. The storm has become a cliche, unless you’re in the middle of it.
I wonder if the disciples would have told this story to the people they met after Jesus’s earthly ministry ended. I wonder if they would tell it to the head of household who’s finances have dried up and he isn’t sure how he can provide for his family anymore. I wonder if they would tell this story to the mother holding her sick child. I wonder if they would tell it to the student who felt overwhelmed by all his responsibilities. I wonder if they would tell this story to the teenager who was sure she had disappointed her parents, and wasn’t sure if they would still accept her. I wonder if they told this story to the community in crisis, trying to decide how it would maintain its identity in the face of a world that is changing so quickly, or not quickly enough. I wonder what problems we would lift up that would inspire them to tell this story once again...I wonder...
Because when that’s the kind of storm you’re dealing with, then it’s the sunny day that doesn’t fit anymore, and it’s strange to be out in the sun when your storms are so great that your boat is swamped. When you’re in the storm, it doesn’t matter what the weather is like, you don’t want to have that Sunday afternoon nap on the pillow next to Jesus, you want this man to get up and help keep the boat from sinking.
We can echo the disciples voices: “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?” Teacher, we know that you’re still present, we know you’re right here in the boat with us. The wisdom of your parables is still ringing in our ears, even though we don’t yet fully understand. You speak and we struggle to hear it over the sounds of the thunder. We want to stand beside you, but the waves are crashing over the sides of the boat and our feet will not stay under us. Why do you choose now to be silent, sleeping in the midst of a storm that is more than we can bear. We need your instruction now, tell us what to do! You’ve told us how to handle our faith, now how do we handle this boat in the midst of a storm?
There’s a saying, “We’re all in the same boat.” It’s meant to convey that we all struggle through things together, but it also removes the particularity of the things with which we are struggling. I don’t know that I buy that the single mother working two jobs has the same struggle as the young man who is targeted by online bullying. The grandfather who struggles to find a place in a world where he and his closest friends are seeing the decline of their minds and bodies is going through something different than the young woman wondering if perhaps she does not love in the same way her friends do.
Perhaps we are not in the same boat. A congregation as diverse as this one and a church as diverse as the PC(USA) is full of people who see the world differently and interpret what they see based on different values. It’s tempting to think that we’re the only ones who are having to deal with all this mess, that somehow no one else can feel the same as we are feeling. No one else will have to face the problems we have. Especially in a world where the expectation is that one must have all the answers, one must have a handle on all of one’s problems, one must not show any kind of weakness or dependence on others. It’s as though it’s alright to ask for help if and only if you don’t need it.
It’s tempting to feel like we are alone out there in our own little boat, facing an impossible storm, especially when it’s sunny outside, and we feel like nothing can bring us back from our self-imposed separation from those we want to love, whom we want to love us. Perhaps we are not in the same boat. But we’re not brought together by some wooden fishing vessel. Our diverse particular little boats are united by Christ, whom we have followed out onto this sea, and into this storm.
And when our particular boats get swamped, Like the disciples in our scripture lesson, we only know that our master seems to be asleep in the back, either unaware or uncaring that this storm into which we’ve sailed is about to end us, and it’s tempting to think that our boats are either in the worst shape or are in the worst part of the storm, and we’ve got to somehow get by on our own.
But when we left the crowd and took God in the boat just as he was, other boats followed along. They heard the same teaching, they’ve seen the same wonders, and though their boats are different, we know that they’re out there, struggling across the stormy sea of Galilee as well, even though they cannot see our boat or be a part of our crew, we can know that no matter what the storm looks like to them, they are crying out to God just as we are: “Lord, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”
I’ve always pictured Jesus, hearing this question in his own boat, groggily getting up, calming the storm, somewhat grumpily saying to his disciples, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?” And immediately going back to his pillow and resuming his great nap.
But Jesus was only riding in one of the boats, the other boats wouldn’t have seen everything that happened. As the wind settled down and a great calm came over the lake, they would have looked at one another, then to the other boats, perhaps just in time to catch a glimpse of Jesus turning toward his disciples, maybe they were close enough to hear what he said to them, maybe they were far enough away to recognize who it had to be, that even the wind and the sea obey him. We don’t get that part of the story.
But we can infer that once they crossed the lake they all reached the same shore, and they mingled with the other crews, and each told their own part of the story, each shared their particular experience, and each saw Jesus through the eyes of those around them.
Although we’re in different boats, we’re all in the same storm. It looks different to each of us, and we experience and understand it differently, but more important than that diverse commonality is that we all see Christ’s hands calming that storm, and bringing us safely to the other side, irrespective of our own fears and faiths, our Lord goes through the great storm with us, and through the great calm after it. We see this Jesus differently, just as we saw the storm differently.
This week begins our three week series of exploring what the Bible says about Love, Marriage, and Sex. We will undoubtably find ourselves in different places on a number of issues these weeks, but we will come together all the same, listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit to surprise us in the midst of our disagreement. We cannot stop listening just because we disagree with one another, because that would refute the power of Christ to bring our little boats together, and to hold them safely as we find different ways of navigating across this sea.
We may not be in the same boat, but we are united in Christ, and our comfort in the storm is that we are not alone even while we are drowning. It’s strange talk about storms when it’s sunny outside, but it’s not the weather than unites us. It’s strange to talk about how sunny it is outside in the midst our internalized turmoil, but the storm cannot pull us apart. We know that our timid faith, such as it is, is in the Christ who holds us all together, no matter what boat we’ve put ourselves in, and no storm can shake our inmost calm while to that great rock we are clinging.
Prayer: Great God, we are in a time when it is easy to put ourselves into categories of for and against, of right and wrong. We live in a world that teaches us to order ourselves according to those with whom we agree, but you taught us that in Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free. Our boats are different, but your unifying love for us remains constant. Give us the strength to remember that we are your people, and though we’d rather all of this would settle down, living in the storms is where we can see that even the wind and the sea obey you. Help us to remember that your voice speaks amid the chaos, and that we will reach the shore together, not as identical people, but as a people united in your relentlessly transformative love. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.