Sunday, June 21st, 2015 – The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scriptures: Psalm 9:9-20, Mark 4:35-41
Hymns: “God of Grace and God of Glory”, “Be Thou My Vision”, “Better Is One Day”, “Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult”, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”, “All Who Are Thirsty”, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”
Peace… Be Still.
A few days ago, I was driving through Yellowstone National Park, with Caitie riding shotgun, and my sister Elisabeth and her fiancée riding in the back seat, when an unbelievable hailstorm descended upon us. Dime-size chunks of ice poured from the sky in a torrent, quickly blanketing the road and sending drivers unused to this kind of weather scattering toward the shoulders – almost. Many of them left their tails sticking out in traffic, forcing those of us brave souls who had the confidence and ability to continue driving on the now icy, hail-covered road to drive a sort of vehicular slalom as we navigated the southern half of Yellowstone’s Grand Loop Road.
And then, seemingly as suddenly as the storm began, it ended again. We rounded a bend, the sun came out, and a few minutes later, we found ourselves stopped once more – not due to hail this time, but due to people bringing their cars to a halt in the middle of the road to capture photo evidence of a bison chasing a black bear up the side of a hill right next to the highway. The downpour of hail of just a few minutes earlier had been forgotten, that storm swept from memory in favor of this new and more entertaining storm, brought to them by Mother Nature.
The twelve guys who followed Jesus around all the time were an interesting bunch. They weren’t exactly the cream of society’s crop before He told them to follow Him. Mostly fishermen, there was also Matthew the tax collector, Simon the Zealot (who Rome would’ve called a terrorist), and Judas Iscariot the accountant. The fishermen had certainly been out on the Sea of Galilee during some serious rain and windstorms. Given the kind of rough-and-tumble people that they were, they had probably had some rather serious personal storms in their lives as well. In short, these were folks who were not unaccustomed to seeing a nasty storm or two roll through their lives, whether they were accompanied by wind and rain or by shouts and punches.
It must be, then, a testament to the power of the storm that came upon them in today’s Gospel reading, that they were all terrified to the point of being sure that they were going to die. In fact, they were so sure that they went below-decks and woke Jesus up, accusing Him of not caring about them and imploring Him to do
something about the storm. And that was the point at which we had the first of many times when Jesus asked His disciples where exactly their faith was. Their lack of faith, as far as He was concerned, was exactly what had made them susceptible to their fears of this particular storm, and being afraid of the new storm left them open to other storms sneaking up on them.
It seems, at times, as though our lives are predicated upon one storm after another. Whether it’s the literal storms that have swept through Gower and the surrounding areas in the last few weeks, or the storms of teenage drama that inevitably surround a CYF mission trip, or the storms of fear that the world has impressed upon our being, we charge headlong through one storm after another. Sometimes we cry out to Jesus, sometimes not. But in all circumstances, we need to stop and consider one brief, yet very important phrase: peace, be still.
You see, when we don’t take a moment to stop and be still, be at peace, the storms of our lives can create yet more storms. Like a hurricane spawning thunderstorms and tornadoes, when we allow our storms to overtake our lives, more storms charge forth to create an even greater maelstrom. Before we know it, we are so distracted by these new storms of chaos that we don’t even notice that the original storms that gave birth to everything are charging up behind us, ready to strike when we least expect.
Take, for example, the churches around the United States that have put so much focus the last few years into security. We fear the descent of a great storm upon us, a storm we call terrorism. We fear that some terrorist from a religion or a people or a nation that hates Christians, specifically American Christians, will walk into a sanctuary and start firing. So thoroughly has this storm distracted us from reality that we managed to lose sight of another storm, an old storm, a storm that we thought had been gone for decades, even generations. But that storm appeared out of nowhere to take us all by surprise on Wednesday evening when Dylann Roof walked into Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, announced that he was there to kill black people, and proceeded to murder the pastor and eight churchgoers who had been there for Bible study.
We have become so focused on the fear of potential terror coming from abroad that we have completely forgotten about the terror that came from within our own national borders with alarming frequency some fifty to sixty years ago. It was a time when churchgoers in predominantly black congregations in the South would be regularly terrorized, even to the point of having their churches firebombed and their children killed, all for the sin of supporting Martin Luther King, Jr.’s efforts to END the chaotic storm in which they existed. In the decades since then, though, we’ve allowed that to pass from our national consciousness, instead allowing ourselves to be swallowed by other storms.
Oh ye of little faith? Oh WE of little faith.
After the disciples awakened Jesus and He had chastised them regarding their lack of faith, He spoke to the storm: “Peace! Be still!” The storm ended, and the disciples were amazed. Who was this Jesus, they wondered, even though they should have by that point had a pretty good idea. They had seen Him work miracles, they had heard His teachings. They lacked belief and faith alike, and such lack had led them to fear that they would die, even though God’s protection was most certainly upon them.
Over the years of His ministry that followed this incident on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus would challenge their faith time and time again. Each time, their worries about the cares of the world would lead the disciples to a failure of their faith. They would allow themselves to get swept up in the storms of the world around them. They would fall away from their faith and Jesus would have to correct them yet again. This led them to abandoning Him on the night when He was betrayed, their faith failing them one last time as they gave in to the storm that had come up around them.
The disciples’ failures of faith were a result not so much of the fact that they didn’t believe in the divine power of Christ as they were a result of the fact that they didn’t heed His three very simple words that calmed the storm: “Peace, be still.” He didn’t just speak the words to the storm to calm it, He spoke them to His disciples as well. Be still, he said to them. Be in peace.
These are words that we need to heed today as well: peace, be still. So often do we focus on the storms of life that surround us that we don’t take a moment to allow that peace and stillness into our lives. We get so wrapped up on everything that comes along that, just like the disciples, we forget about our past. We forget about the promises that were made to us before. We forget about what we know, we forget about what we believe, and suddenly, oh ye of little faith becomes oh we of little faith once again.
I’m not saying that we need to focus on the past, on every little thing that has happened before. Such myopia leads to not being able to look to today or to the future. But when we forget about the past entirely, when we don’t learn our lessons, that is what allows us to become susceptible to the storms that come forth and rise up in our lives today.
Jesus has commanded us to keep peace, to be still, and to maintain our faith. Those commands are simple to follow, but so often we forget them. We instead look for the nearest storm and set sail into it, then demanding that Jesus save us when the storm becomes overwhelming.
So when storms rise up in your lives, remember these simple instructions of Christ. There are far too many storms that already exist in our lives and threaten our faith. Don’t let the focus on one storm allow another to take its toll on your lives. With the guidance of our God, you can weather all storms that may come your way. No storm is greater than the power of our belief in Jesus Christ, especially when we mind the words that He spoke to the storm and to us: peace, be still.
And when we are still and at peace, perhaps we will see an end not only of the storms that lie before us, but of the old storms that yet rage behind us.