Lent IV: When the Tempest Roars

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Matthew 8:23-27

Really, all it takes is ONE really big storm and experiencing the terror that comes with it – the sense that our lives are entirely beyond our control.  JUST ONE – and it changes how we view life – that life is less something that we control, and more of a gift.

Storms of Life. It isn’t really possible to read this story about the boat tossed in the wind and waves without drawing parallels to the storms in our own lives. We all experience storms.  We all understand this story at that level.

In this story, the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat. Jesus is in the boat, but sleeping.  A sudden storm comes up and it is whipping them around and they are terrified.  A seismos=earthquake, a great shaking. Jesus is sleeping through the whole thing and their lives seem at risk.  So they wake him up to complain.  After all, if you are travelling with Jesus, you should ask for help when you need it, right?  And remember that the church of Matthew’s day – roughly 80-90 AD — was experiencing persecution, alienation from family, and poverty.  This cry to be saved from the storms of life was real.

Life storms can be circumstances beyond our control – losing a job, a health crisis, a sudden death – and they throw all of our plans up for grabs. These storms may cause us to question God’s goodness – or even God‘s existence. If God really cared, then surely God would stop these things from happening! We pray for healing, for relief, for an end to the storm.  In some of these storms, even our very survival seems at risk. These are real, individual storms in our lives.  We name them and pray about them – but Jesus seems to be sleeping..

But there are storms threatening us too beyond our individual lives. Our nation is in jeopardy. The world seems to teeter on the brink of a whole variety of disasters. The profits from war have made the waging of war a political demand.  All over the world, wars rage, people are displaced, children are left orphaned and nations experience political and economic collapse right along with the falling building and bombed infrastructure. There are so many refugees worldwide that there are not enough places to put them.  The war in their own countries drives them out but there is no place to go.  And Jesus seems to be sleeping.

Our schools are invaded with increasing regularity by assailants – home-grown terrorists with assault rifles shooting at our children.  Our teens are crying out for someone to care that they live in fear, that their lives are threatened for no reason.  Our politicians have a hard time hearing them over those campaign contributions from the gun lobby KA-CHING– and Jesus seems to be sleeping.

We want to cry out like the disciples in the boat, “Don’t you care if we drown?”

— Don’t you care that the rich keep getting richer and the middle class is struggling to hold on to their homes?  Don’t you care that folks making $20,000 pay higher rates of property tax than those with incomes over $100,000?

— Don’t you care that we had to turn away a record 29 people from our PADS shelter this week on a cold night when it dropped to 24 degrees?  When there are empty buildings and large houses, why can’t we find places to house folks who need shelter?

— Don’t you care that we waste literally tons of food each year while many of our children are going to sleep at night while their tummies are growling with hunger pains?

— Don’t you care that our water is contaminated and giving our children life-changing issues from memory loss to eye-hand coordination, while public safety regulations are loosened or eliminated to put higher profits in corporate pockets and there is little accountability for those people who knowingly caused such tragedy?[i]

Jesus, don’t you care about us?  Friends, there is a bad storm breaking over us.  Can somebody please wake up Jesus?

It’s just one of those things about Jesus – he rarely behaves the way that we expect or want. Jesus tried to offer them a few words of warning before they got in the boat. A big “STORM WARNING AHEAD” moment. 

In this story, the disciples wake him up – and straight off he rebukes them for having just a little bit of faith.  THEN he calms the storm.

But First, he rebukes them for only having a little faith —  why would this matter?  After all, the storm is still raging – tossing that boat like a salad.  Crying out for help seems like the sensible thing to do – we wonder why Jesus takes issue with that. I guess that means that Jesus would rebuke us too for crying out in the midst of our storms – perhaps our calling out means that our faith is also too small.

The disciples seem to have real ground to be a bit ticked off here.  After all, Jesus told them to get in the boat in the first place. They were doing EXACTLY what Jesus said to do.  You would think there would be rewards for obedience – instead of dangerous waters ahead.

Part of what the writer of Matthew is trying to tell us is that following Jesus means stormy seas ahead. IF we follow Jesus – THEN there will be storms – scary big ones.  The earlier verses in this chapter put the storm in context:  the first Son of Man saying where Jesus talks about his rejection by those he came to serve.  THEN we meet someone who wants to follow Jesus, but wants to bury his father first – a duty expected by the religious community, the culture and pretty much everybody.  But Jesus says, “Follow me and leave the dead to bury the dead.”  That’s one of the things all scholars agree Jesus must actually have said because no one would attribute something that harsh to Jesus unless he actually HAD said it! Following Jesus means turning one’s back on family sometimes – this is not the easy road. “Come follow me and I will show you trouble, rejection, and alienation from your family, friends and community. — And oh yeah, some scary wild storms.”  This storm does NOT, after all, represent the “storms of life,” – it represents the stormy experience of Jesus followers. The Christian community is not only NOT immune from storms – they live in the middle of scary BIG ones!

So perhaps their faith wasn’t as strong as it needed to be to face those storms.  Big storms require BIG faith. Greek=  seismos – earthquake. Jesus is trying to give us a clue – there are BIG storms ahead if we choose to be a part of the Jesus followers or the church.  We will need BIG faith.  Somehow, we are left with the sense that Jesus thought that the disciples SHOULD HAVE KNOWN that they would be in scary situations, SHOULD NOT have awakened him, and should not have been afraid of the storm, even though it was swamping their boat. Having BIG faith might mean not being anxious even when their lives appear to be threatened. Hard to do. VERY hard to do. For the Matthean church – they heard that yes, they were “in the same boat” as the disciples who followed Jesus in his lifetime.  It’s just one of those things about Jesus – he rarely behaves the way that we expect or want.  And he expects a LOT of his followers.

So when life is scary, how do we find the life-giving water?  When we are in the middle of a storm and getting out of it alive seems doubtful, where is there life-giving water?  If the storm is not the point –

Jesus calming the storm after all doesn’t help us a whole lot – although it does offer a few clues.  The disciples apparently weren’t thinking of the implications of having Jesus in the boat with them. NO – it didn’t make the storm any less.  But they weren’t alone. Jesus was in the boat with them.

Rembrandt’s picture, “Storm on the Sea of Galilee” is useful to us as we try to figure this out.  You can almost feel the wind and the sea spray looking at the picture.  It draws us in with the disciples fighting to control the boat and afraid for their lives.  And Jesus is sleeping.  Apparently for Jesus, the storms didn’t matter because of the peace he felt in his trust of God.  It is out of this peace that he asks, “Why are you so afraid?”  This is the same thing that St Paul meant when he said in Romans 14:8  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. WHETHER we live or die is irrelevant – we belong to the Lord and can trust in that relationship.  Jesus is with us.

If we can set aside our worries about surviving the storm, we can focus on who is in the boat with us. Jesus is with us.  Yes, Jesus has power over the storms that toss us around, even threatening our lives – but that isn’t the point. Jesus didn’t come to earth to calm the storms. He came to help us find God. AND Jesus is WITH us.  Maybe the disciples faith was meager because they didn’t really understand who was in the boat with them. BUT we do.

Stacey. When Louisiana flooded, one of the members of Irving Park UMC loaded up her Subaru with laundry detergent, bleach, bottled water and cleaning supplies donated by the congregation and friends, and went to help.  She had a sister there and was determined to go.  For the time that she was gone – several weeks – she posted updates on Facebook with what was needed and how to get it there.  She met the UMCOR crews working in the area and saw our relief dollars in action.  Her sister’s house had water damage halfway up the second floor.  The kitchen was completely destroyed.  She tore out plaster and hauled appliances…and found Jesus.  The neighbors went door to door each day checking on each other, making sure that everyone had eaten that day, and that there was water to drink. When folks working on their own house got back to bare framing, and needed to wait a week for the wood to dry –  they worked on someone else’s house.  She said that the UMCOR folks came through in Jeeps with cases of water and food, hygiene kits and cleaning supplies on a daily route. They also carried a medic for treating on-the-job injuries.  It was hard work – but they knew that Jesus was on the team.  They didn’t lose hope because they helped each other and Jesus was on the team.

Life-giving water, is really Jesus. Jesus is the water of life.  Jesus is with us in the boat, in the storms, in the floods, cleaning up the messes of our lives. That’s the life. That’s the hope.

Yes, there are storms in our lives. There will be more. On a personal level, on a global level – there will be storms. As the church, we are guaranteed storms. Even in times when it seems like Jesus is sleeping, let us remember that Jesus is in the boat with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.

[i] https://www.cnn.com/2017/01/31/health/iyw-flint-water-crisis-two-years-later/index.html

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