SERMON 6/24/12 Pentecost 4B
Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
The rough seas of life, the storms in which we find ourselves, seem so overwhelming, so all encompassing, and we may feel we are so alone. Take for instance the normal challenges of life, those little squalls of aches and pains as we age, medical procedures, prescriptions, and doctor’s visits. Then we have the real crisis, that real crisis of life, those category 4 hurricanes: the devastating phone call from the doctor’s office with the test results, the phone call from a child or grandchild who is struggling with their own issues, the death of a loved one, and then we have the personal pain of our own suffering. Life comes at us with its tempestuous seas, with huge waves that batter us, sometimes drenching us with its unrelenting vigor. Have you ever been in that place? Have you ever been in that boat of life when all seems lost, when the next step may be catastrophe, where you live in great fear and loathing? Have you ever said to God, “Why are you letting this happen to me?” “Don’t you care?” “I have been faithful and this is how I have to live?” This is the story of those disciples in the boat with the Master, sailing on that tempestuous sea 2000 years ago. Death, despair, fear, faithlessness was all around them, and God was asleep at the bow of the ship.
“Teacher don’t you care that we are perishing?” “Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cry for help! Listen hard! Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy.” (Psalm 130 The Message) The Psalms are filled with the lamentations of the faithful who in their despair, in their vulnerability, in their plight, they cry out to God. When my daughter was small, it was not unusual for her to scrape a knee, acquire a splinter, lose a tooth, or come up against some challenge that she would soon realized, she could not handle herself. She realized that she was dependent on someone beyond herself, and when she cried out in need, I guarantee that I came running. Why? Because she is precious to me. She is my child and I love her. She cries and I respond. She needed her Dad, and I showed up. There were times though when the circumstances were not such that my fixing them were either possible or in her best interest. There were times when as a Dad, the best I could do was to be there in her pain, in her despair, in her uncertainty and it was those times, that a deeper healing for her took place.
When we find ourselves in the storms of life, when that doctor’s office calls, the loved one calls with their own storms, when all around us seems lost, do we cry out? Do we say, “God do you even care, are you asleep in all this,” or do we resolutely proclaim, “I can handle this, I got this, I can deal with this alone.” When we are in despair, God’s heart is drawn to us. When we cry, God hears us. When we suffer, God suffers with with us in the midst of those moments. God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, is not the God of Divine Indifference. When we suffer, God suffers. When we celebrate, God celebrates. God is the God of Incarnated presence in times of joy, peace, and even in those times of tempestuous storms. The Master of the Universe is not the Master of Divine Indifference.
In the boat 2000 years ago, the disciples were wrestling with the specific events of their perilous circumstances: a rocking boat, the blowing wind, the crashing waves, and darkening skies of a storm. They were also wrestling with another storm, one that was even more perilous, more volatile, more pivotal for their lives. They were in the middle of a spiritual storm of fear, despair, and faithlessness. Yes, the actual storm was in itself something overwhelming, but it was that storm was stirring up in them, that was the greater threat.
On NBC news yesterday, I watched a segment about a young man named, Spencer West who lost his legs at the age of five, and recently it was reported that he scaled the tallest peak in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro with only the power of his arms and in so doing, raised $500,000 for an international charity. Can you imagine the physical storm he faced when he learned that he would lose his limbs? Can you imagine the spiritual storm of fear, uncertainty, defeat and pain he faced when receiving that news? Yet, his spirit was not defeated, he did find peace in his circumstances, and the storm in his spirit was calmed. God’s presence calms the spiritual storm, even when the reality of the weather around us is ominous and threatening.
“Peace, be still,” was Jesus proclamation to the disciples crying in their storm. Yes, Jesus calmed the waves, the rain, the threat to life, but the greater miracle was the calming of the spiritual storm in the disciples spirits. In the midst of life’s circumstances, there are great storms within us. We wrestle with our own unrest, our demons, our fears, our desire to control our circumstances or the circumstances of others. We want everything to be at peace on the outside, but we forget that there is a peace beyond our understanding that can be found within our Spirit, when we recognize that Jesus is present with us in the boat. “Peace, be still.” Even when life’s circumstances all around us is falling apart, God is with us in the boat calling us to be still and know that He is God.
God is not a God “out there,” but Present, available, compassionate and powerful. God can calm the storms of our spirit. Astrophysicist Adam Frank recently wrote an article for NPR news in which, he shared a life-changing experience he had at a conference that focused on the work of the scientists working with the Kepler telescope. Frank began the article speaking about the mundane things of life, the problems we all face each day, the looming bills, the relationship issues. The article appeared to be another science commentary until suddenly, Frank caught my eye with this statement, “The days come and they go. You do your best. You try not to hurt anyone, try to be helpful. But sometimes — just sometimes — the fog of real and imagined urgencies parts. Staring across the abyss of your own brief time on this world, you wonder, “Does any of this matter?” * I nearly fell out of my chair. The scientist, where he realized it or not, was asking a deep theological question about the storms of life, and how those storms relate to God the creator of all we survey, and is presence with us in those storms. He caught my attention and I read on.
Frank went on to say that in the universe, in a small patch of sky no bigger than the palm of his hand, the Kepler telescope has found “more than 72 new worlds . . . with a few thousand more considered candidates. But most important of all, a few of Kepler worlds are the size of Earth. They are, most likely, rocky worlds like our own.” * In that moment of discovery, his paradigm shifted and the significance of the telescopes images reminded him that there was something beyond him upon which he could depend. He wrote, “It felt as if the floor of all my routine concerns dropped out from under me: the bills I forgot to pay before I left; the car brakes that need fixing when I get back; my relationship with my cousins; my concerns about the election; my concerns about the cough that is taking too long to go away; all of it just deflated against one single and inescapable fact.” * Now we could easily hear this and say, that maybe his bills, car brakes, relationship issues, and cough are not important, are insignificant when compared to such a vast and expansive universe, but Frank went on to say, “Thus, for me, anytime I can be lifted from the crushing sense that this is all there is, it’s a good thing. Anytime I can be reminded that there is more, so much more, than this mortal coil, it feels like a good thing.”*
I believe that Frank may in some unknown way, realized what is outside the mortal coil, is the spirit within us; the same spirit that communes with God’s Spirit. That even in the mundane circumstances of life, even in the veracity of the storms we face, we can find a peace that “lifts us from the crushing sense that this is all there is.” Jesus says, “Peace be still.” Notice, Our Lord does not declare that from afar off, in some distant space out there, beyond the galaxies and planets, but he offers us this peace as one of us, in the boat with us. Imagine, the Creator of a universe who in the space no bigger than the palm of our hand, created multiple possibilities of life beyond us, is also so awesome, so great, so compassionate, and so loving, that he hears my cry? I am awestruck that there is something much bigger than we, beyond our imagination and yet, God loves us, God cares about our circumstances, and God is with us in all of it. The writer of today’s gospel records, “And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (NRSV)
God the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer invites us to cry out in our storms, not to activate or wake God up, but to wake up inside of us the knowledge of his presence with us. We can in the spirit come to know the peace beyond understanding, when we can accept that the source of the galaxies, planets, systems, that are beyond our comprehension, is with us. Even when the storms rage, the seas toss us relentlessly, the rain pours down, and all seems lost, Jesus comes beside us and says, “Peace, be still.”
*EXCERPTS FROM “Stars, Planets, and Meaningless Life” by Adam Frank; NPR Website: http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2012/06/19/155344057/stars-planets-and-the-meaningless-life