Sunday, June 21, 2015

Surrounded by Storms

21 June 2015
Proper 7B
Heavenly Father, in whom darkness is light and the storms of life calm, help us to remember your presence in our daily lives, give us the peace that comes from knowing you are at work, and show us how we may shine with your grace, through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen. 
We've all been through scary situations in life. Met with some scary people. Faced the unknown in ways we would rather not have done at all. Fisherman, in particular, seem to be a group that take risks. It might just be their large tails/tales, which always seem to get bigger after the fact. I am reminded of that movie, the Perfect Storm. Or even the Titanic. Being out on the sea is putting yourself into the unknown. We do not control the wind, the water, the waves, the sea, and all its power. 
This last week, we had a little taste of this with the tropical storm that passed through. In some places it was worse than expected. In some places it was much better. We cannot ever know.  There is a reason that the sea is the metaphor for chaos in much of the Bible. The waters of chaos is what the spirit hovers over in the beginning of creation. God recreates the world through a massive storm in the story of Noah. The people of Israel pass through water on their way out of Egypt. These are just a few of the stories from the Bible where death and new life happens through water. 
Storms have a tendency to come up unexpectedly, they turn things upside down, they change the way life moves. I will never know how long any of the disciples were fisherman before Jesus called them to follow him, but I assume most of them had been through a few good storms on the windy Galilee before joining up with Jesus. How many storms had been weathered by these men in their lifetimes? I tried to put myself in the disciple's shoes as I was reflecting on this passage. I got out my pictures of the Sea of Galilee and the first century boats that fished the sea. Thought about the storms I have been through with the lightning and thunder and waves and I thought about the position the disciples were in. I don't know if this was a particularly bad storm, however, these seasoned fisherman all of a sudden don't know how to respond to the storm. It's almost as if because Jesus is now with them, they weren't expecting any storms.
And yet, there they are. Stuck between a storm, all around them, and God, in the guise of a human being, asleep on their boat floor. They are in a scary position. 
I had to wonder. What is scarier: a storm or God? The story implies that the disciples were afraid of the storm, but which is really scarier? A storm or God?
I know what a storm can do. I remember walking around my grandmother's Jersey shore hometown a couple weeks after Hurricane Sandy a few years ago. Fishing boats up in the air stuck between houses. I remember doing Hurricane Katrina clean up in Mississippi and what struck me most was the empty foundations along the shore. No need for clean up there, everything was already gone. Many of you have stories of hurricanes. Of the winds and rain and flooding, broken trees, no electricity, lack of clean water. Storms can be disastrously messy. 
But I don't know the full extent of what God can do. God can do, well... pretty much anything. The bible is full of wild stories about the power of God. 
That is downright scary.
Jesus asks them when they wake him up: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Why are you afraid? We don't have an answer from them in the story. The story continues with the disciples in awe of Jesus. I think that might be the moment they start to realize that God might be more scary than a storm. 
Mark writes his gospel for a community that was being persecuted. A community that was probably scared to death of the overwhelming forces of the surrounding society. They felt the waves of discrimination, the wind of nasty comments, the fear of what might happen as they venture out, the longing to get back to dry safe land. This is a story to instill faith and trust and awe. But, this story isn't comforting in the normal sense at all. Jesus takes control and changes all our understandings of order and security. We can feel the fear and awe of the disciples as they realize what Jesus can do and wonder about his identity. They are opening themselves to God in the midst of their lives, and they are losing control. When we open our hearts to Jesus, we lose control of where we might go or what we might do. The disciples had one idea of what they were doing by following Jesus. And for some of them, they kept that idea with them for a long time. But for some of them, Jesus may have calmed the storm, calmed the wind and waves, but I think he just rocked their boats. 
Jesus asks them, why are they afraid. Jesus is with them in the midst of that, and every, storm. Asking the question in some ways is the same as saying, do not be afraid. As human beings, we may be more comforted by the phrase, "do not be afraid," but sometimes we don't listen to comforting phrases. Sometimes it takes what seems to be a snappy question to really get through all our anxiety. 
Why are you afraid? Well... 
The question forces the disciples, and us, to examine our assumptions. To examine what is really in control in our lives. To examine what the big picture really is. Are we going along being rocked by the storms in our lives, or are we following the true light of Christ? The question helps us realize that we do not need to be afraid of the storms. 
This is one of the reoccurring messages of the gospel. "Do not be afraid" is basically the first and last phrase of the gospel message. Jesus' life on earth starts with the angel coming to Mary and saying, "Do not be afraid." The disciples are met at the empty tomb by the angels saying, "Do not be afraid."
Some Christians seem to think that because we have Jesus in our lives, in our boats, we will never face storms. Yet, that is not true. We will face storms. Having Jesus in our lives gives us the courage and the love to face those storms, knowing that we are not alone. 
No matter what the storm is in our lives. Be it physical, emotional, spiritual. Be it brokenness, loss, grief, struggle. Our storms are not met alone. Jesus stands with us. Sometimes calming the storm. Sometimes calming us. Why are you afraid? There is nothing of which to be afraid. God is with us.