ST. PAUL’S CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
Mark 4: 35 - 41, June 27, 2021 – Proper 7B
Avoiding the Storms
Rev. Cynthia F. Reynolds
There’s not much that I enjoy more than some time at the water, just watching and listening to it, the tide coming in, the tide going out – the rhythm soothes me and goes a long way to restoring my perspective. It’s been much too long since I’ve experienced that – the storms have been raging for too long – I’m needing to recharge and I imagine some of you are feeling the same way!
It’s been a tough 15 months: beginning with the onset of the pandemic, all the changes in our routines brought because of COVID, the illness and death of people we know and love from this terrifying disease, being home-bound for so long in quarantine – we had no idea how long this would last, did we.
And realizing that this pandemic has opened every crack there is in our society – from the inequity in health care resources, in educational opportunities, economic viability for businesses and families, rapidly growing food insecurity – food banks overwhelmed - the list goes on. And the violence – both in words and actions – a terribly rancorous election season – the death of George Floyd and too many others resulting in the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement which has challenged us in ways we never imagined and continues to do so, increases in gun violence everywhere, the insurrection in Washington in January and the fallout from that which continues.
For me, as well as for many of you, it’s also been a time of great personal challenges – it’s been a long year indeed. I do want to take a moment to say I’m so grateful that you all of this community have walked with me for the past 8 months as my life has changed drastically at the death of my brother and continues to change as I deal with recovery from surgery and radiation treatments – and as I deal with the possibility of more treatment in the near future.
Times of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger have often been compared to stormy seas. They come upon us whether we like it or not. Life is like that, isn’t it – sometimes, life places us in a boat and the storms begin to rage – the storms of pain and loss – the storms of rejection and failure – the storms of illness and death – the storms of pandemic and polar vortex – storms brought on by racial and political unrest. Whenever or however they arise, storms are about changing conditions. Life becomes overwhelming and out of control. The waves crash, the boat fills up, and we’re struggling to stay afloat.
The storm of pandemic and the many other crises we’re experiencing have indeed taken us to uncharted waters. We aren’t sure of where we will end up or when or how we will get there. The water is deep, and the new shore is a distant horizon. Like the disciples in our passage, we may well cry out in fear, “God, where are you? Do you not care that we are suffering?”
When the wind ceased and the waves became calm, Jesus questioned the disciples’ fear and lack of faith. Note that Jesus never said, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” We often confuse the two statements, but saying, “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” is very different from saying, “Do not be afraid.” The truth is that things that cause fear are very real. Isolation, pain, viruses, the loss of one’s job, or loss of a relationship, illness, and death are real and that fear shouldn’t be minimized – and Jesus didn’t minimize it.
So, like the disciples, we’re also challenged to rediscover our faith in God’s word when we find ourselves in the midst of storms.
As we grow in faith, the good news is that we come to understand that the things that cause us despair do not have the last word. Faith does not eliminate, change, or take us around the storms of our lives. Instead, faith takes us through the storms, reminding us that Jesus is there with us. We are reminded that the power of God is mightier than any wind that beats against us – that the love of God is deeper than any wave that threatens to drown us. Jesus invites us to stay with him in the boat saying, “Let us go across to the other side, I won’t leave your side, I’ll journey with you.”
And, let’s not forget that Jesus was not addressing only one disciple when he invited them on their boat trip. He addressed all twelve, and Mark tells us that other boats were with him. They were in community.
If the past year has taught us anything, it is the importance of community. If there is any good that has come from this most difficult time, it is that people have worked hard to stay connected to their communities, even while apart. Churches have adapted to find ways to hold their community together through remote worship; food banks have had unprecedented contributions of supplies and money to distribute to their rapidly growing numbers of clients; churches also establishing “helping hands” networks to help with transportation, shopping – whatever the need is, these networks are ready. And they will continue long after the pandemic and the associated crises are over – a new ministry has been born!
Neighborhoods have become extended family to so many – people ask each other, how can I help you? And families have gotten to know each other in new ways as they’ve been quarantined – even talking and listening to each other more, playing board games, finding ways to connect online with extended family – staying in touch!
I wonder if these learnings, these gifts, from the hard time of the past year are a bit akin to Jesus’ going to the back of the boat in the midst of the storm.
Let’s look to Jesus as a model: he was able to go to the back of the boat easily and regularly because he knew that as much as he was a healer, a preacher, a teacher, he was something else – something much deeper: he was a child of God. And as a child of God he needed time for soul nurturing. He needed time to listen to his heart and to join his heart with God’s heart. He needed time to receive as well as to give. He needed time to relish being for being’s sake.
And so do we. The back of the boat is a sacred place – it’s where we go to remember who we are but whose we are – children of God. Children of God loved unconditionally for who we are – not for what we do.
It’s at the back of the boat where our being can be replenished for life and for service. The back of the boat is where we can take the time to savor the feeling of being held in the palm of God’s hands, where we can feel God’s fingers gently holding us while the storms of life rage all around us. The back of the boat is where we can re-establish our relationship with God – ground ourselves and receive all that we need to go on with our daily lives, to deal with the overwhelming events of the day. That’s sabbath, friends – not just vacation where we may well schedule ourselves just as strictly as we do during the rest of the year and come back to “work for a rest.”
We’re called to go to the back of the boat too. We have to carve out time for ourselves to regenerate, to rest, to replenish our own spirits. Going to the back of the boat isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity! Going to the back of the boat – taking the “off time” is what makes the “on time” possible.
Before God calls us to do, God calls us to be.
I wonder if this story has implications for our community life too – we as a congregation need time at the back of the boat to center ourselves too. How can we do that as a community? Let’s think about that – because we need to see each other as children of God in new ways – not just as members on a particular committee, or doing a particular job here – we need to see each other as “beings” not only “doings.” What a great way this is to transform us into a new community. A community called to be, not just to do.
The storms of life won’t ever go away – we know that. But Jesus shows us the way to manage our response to those storms when he goes to the back of the boat and rests in the fingers of God’s hands. Can we do any less if we see ourselves as disciples?
A minister tells of his days as a Navy submariner in the Pacific during World War II. “We would often come under depth charge attack by Japanese destroyers. The other sailors would be trembling with fear, while I just leaned back and read a comic book. One of them asked how I could be so calm. I explained to him that in my childhood I had very little supervision from my parents, so I spent many hours each day at the New Jersey shore. Sometimes a huge breaking wave would catch me by surprise and thrust me under the water, rolling me in the sand. But I learned when I would just relax, thousands of air bubbles like the fingers of God would catch me up and lift me to the surface. Now, whenever I find myself in trouble, I just relax and wait for the fingers of God to reach under me and lift me up.”
May each of us make the space to feel God’s fingers reaching under us and lifting us up through whatever storms we face. May each of us go to the back of the boat not just this summer but regularly to emerge refreshed, renewed, and sure of God’s love and care for each of us. Amen.