Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Anchored in faith

Image result for jesus in boat during storm
Peace Be Still by He, Qi
Pentecost 4B, June 21, 2015
Mark 4:35-41
35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

In today’s gospel, a great storm arises. Some of the disciples grew up on and around boats, so for them to be afraid enough to think that they’re going to die, it must have been quite the storm. Of course, even with all their experience, they were simply fishermen on a simple boat: no life jackets, no radios, far from land. This storm pushed them beyond their comfort zones, right into fear and panic.
Storms have a tendency to do that- to push us to our limits and overwhelm us as we marvel at the power of wind and weather. As 17th century English poet George Herbert wrote,
 “He that would learn to pray, let him go to sea.” 

 But the storms of life don’t always come out on the water, and there are storms of other kinds beyond rough weather.
The Storm at Sea by C. Malcolm Powers
Think of most days of your life- going along in the normal way, then out of nowhere, you find yourself in unexpectedly deep waters, with circumstances beyond your control, and you’re unable to continue in your usual course. At this point, there are some common reactions: panic, fear, blame. With the disciples, we cry out in some version of their question to Jesus, “We are perishing, don’t you care?” We may wonder, “Where is God? Why doesn’t God save me?”
Jesus responded, “Have you still no faith?”  Maybe Jesus thought that he and the disciples had gotten past that question, that they were farther than that in their learning.
But to give the disciples credit, they own up to their lack of faith, as if to say in answer to Jesus’ question, “Have you still no faith?” they say, “yep, that’s the one. This is where we are. We can’t pretend. We lack faith. The boat is sinking. Help!”
Santosa Hari's Jesus Stilling the Tempest
This is where many of us get fouled up, tangled. We pretend that things are better than they are, even when we know they are bad, even when they are beyond our capacity to fix, change, or even wade through. We insist on keeping up appearances. And for what? Sooner or later, a sinking boat is obvious, and by then, appearances don’t matter in the least.
So how do we get out of the stuck places of our lives, when we’re filled with panic and tangled up in blame? Like the disciples, we can get honest with our selves, with our God, and with each other, that the situation is unmanageable, that we need help. Pride has to go so that faith can be born.
That word, faith, by the way, it’s one of those words that people toss around a lot as if everyone knows what it is or how to get it. Martin Luther wrote in his explanation of the Apostles Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Faith then, is not about blindly believing things we cannot see, but is rather a gift from God, a relationship that begins with God. It's God, reaching a hand out to us, and God's always reaching toward us. So faith is not something we can make or do or perfect or even lose because it’s a relationship given to us, and it’s always there, even if we can’t see it or feel it.

So when we’re in storms of our own, God is right there with us and will never turn away from us in our need. That means that we can be bold in confessing our weaknesses and fears to God. We can admit that we don’t have it all together.

Last week, I read a short interview by the photographer of Humans of New York. The guy he interviewed told this story:  “Seven years ago, I was sitting on the ledge of a thirteenth floor window. I’d tried to quit drinking so many times but I couldn’t do it, and I’d finally given up. My mind was racing through all the shameful things I’d done, and I kept hearing this voice saying: ‘Jump you piece of [garbage]. Jump you piece of [garbage].’ So I put my hands over my ears and started rocking back and forth on the window ledge. Suddenly I heard this small, still voice: ‘Say a prayer,’ it said. And I didn’t want to hear it. It was kind of like your mother knocking on the door while you’re watching porn. But then I heard it again: ‘Say a prayer.’ So I started praying, and I totally surrendered, and I felt an evil presence leave me. And I just kept saying: ‘I can’t believe you still love me. I can’t believe you still love me.’ Then I cleaned up my room, threw away my baggies of coke, took a shower, and went to work.”

Your moment of crisis may not be as dramatic, but moments of change happen all the time. You know them by the edge of discomfort they bring. This last week, I felt them as I was practicing docking my sailboat. I saw it in my son as he practiced swimming. Think of the last time you felt that edge of discomfort, when you weren’t competent at doing what you had to do. Maybe you were getting in the driver’s seat for the first time or trying out a new sport. Or maybe you were in new territory in a relationship, opening up and sharing deeply for the first time. Those experiences are often uncomfortable, but they are exactly where growth happens. That growth happens best when we can be honest about where we are about how uncomfortable it is and then be encouraged by an accepting teacher.

Image result for in the boat together
The exact opposite of what it means to be community
As a community, we come together, not because we are perfect or have it all together, but because we support one another in our lives of faith. We are all in this boat together, learning to trust God more and more. Being in community with each other means that we have people with whom we can be honest. None of us is perfect and we are all committed to supporting one another in growing in relationship with God.
As we encounter difficult times in life, we affirm together that God is with us, that God Immanuel stands with us in our fears and calms the raging storms.

A better image of the church, but missing almost all the women
As the Body of Christ, we say to one another, “Peace be with you.” As the Body of Christ, we say to you, “Jesus loves you.” As the Body of Christ, we remind one another that God does not give up on you, that you are accepted, loved, and forgiven. We commit to this way of life as a community when we say those words, “yes, with the help of God.”

Confident in the loving acceptance of our God, let weather storms together, encouraging one another, speaking boldly the truth that is on our hearts, and growing a grace-filled community. 

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