First Evangelical Lutheran Church
June 21, 2015
WEATHERING THE STORMS
Before I moved to Kansas in early 2003, I lived inside the 610 Loop for 18½ years, and moved to Clear Lake in January, 2013. In all that time, I have yet to experience a hurricane. I was here during Tropical Storm Allison, which turned Interstate 10 into a river. My kids and I lived 2 miles north of that. When the storm abated we drove down to look at it. Most of the 18-wheelers were covered with the roiling waters. Most of the neighborhoods between my house and the Interstate had been flooded. People were already piling waterlogged carpeting and ruined furniture on the curbside. The stench was horrendous, even through our rolled up windows.
I have told you before that I do not believe in coincidences, but in the serendipitous workings of the Holy Spirit. I did not choose the Gospel today. It is from the Lectionary. Even though Tropical Storm Bill was far less damaging that Allison or Hurricane Ike, or the other storms you have experienced here in Galveston, I have been thinking a lot about storms and the damage they can do to us, both physically and psychologically. Sometimes they take us by utter surprise.
Sometimes they cause us to make poor decisions, something I did during my first tropical storm. We were renting a small house in Northwest Houston and the flood waters came half way up our driveway. I picked up the baby in one arm and held the hand of my 4 year old in the other and waded out into the water. I know now what a stupid thing that was to do. Sometimes people do dangerous things, like surfing in the storm. Sometimes we just lose our perspective, and sometimes we become paralyzed and don’t do anything, hoping the storm will just pass us by.
The disciples in the boat with Jesus became paralyzed with fear, which is interesting, given that so many of them were fisher folks who must surely have known about storms on the Sea of Galilee. Yet, they were sure they were perishing, and they woke Jesus up in a panic accusing him of not caring about them. But he does care. He cares passionately. He quiets the storm, then he quiets their fears. And he uses it as a teaching moment. Jesus asks, Why are you afraid, O you of little faith? Why do you doubt?
Preachers have a tendency to use this passage as an allegory about human life. You have no doubt heard such sermons, and I have preached them. You know how they go, You are in a storm and Jesus is asleep. Where is he? He is not asleep, he is on the boat with you. None of this is necessarily bad. It is just that the boat becomes a metaphor for all kinds of things rather than simply what it is, a traveling vessel. Boats are a means for getting from one place to another. Maybe the point is that Jesus is just trying to get us to the other side.
Left to our own devices, we would rather stay where we are. That is human nature. But it makes it hard for us to hear Jesus’ invitation to cross to the other side. It is so easy to stay in our comfort zones, with what is known. We would rather ignore the desperate need for change than make the change happen. So we sit. And we wait. For what? The right time? For someone else to make the first move? Maybe this is why Jesus doesn’t give the disciples any time to think about the trip. They had spent the day on the lakeshore as Jesus taught parables of the Kingdom of God. When the day was coming to an end, Jesus did not say, let us go back home or into town to find an inn. Mark tells us that on that day Jesus invited them to cross the sea with him. He did not invite a discussion first, or time to think about it. He said, let’s go, and they went.
But here is the deal with Jesus. He seems rather dissatisfied with letting us live on one side of the lake for too long. He knows that staying in one place for too long invites complacency. He takes the disciples to the other side, knowing it will not be an easy trip. People generally do not want to do anything that is not easy. We come up with all kinds of reasons for not getting into the boat. But then we miss the obvious. The boat trip is a means to get from one place to another.. Boat trips can be uncomfortable or even perilous, yet, getting to the other side requires getting into the boat. And getting into the boat with Jesus is always going to be an adventure, sometimes thrilling and sometimes frightening, but always full of blessings.
If the disciples had said to Jesus, What if there is a storm?, they would have never gotten into the boat because they know that storms happen on the Sea of Galilee. If the disciples had said to Jesus, First tell us what’s on the other side, they would have never gotten into the boat because they would not have liked his answer. Jesus was taking them into the country of the Gerasenes where they were going to encounter a demon-possessed guy living in a cemetery. We don’t want to go there, Jesus. That guy is dangerous and we are not equipped to handle him. It would be better to call in the experts, those who know how to deal with such people.
The hardest thing is getting into the boat. You just have to get into the darn boat, because the Gerasene demoniac cannot be healed from across the water. His healing necessitates a relocation. Jesus calls us to have enough faith to relocate to minister to the needs of his precious people. And this relocation is not just a geographical change of place but a change of heart. Such change will put us in the rather uncomfortable presence of the possessed, the homeless, the homeless possessed. We do not feel equipped to deal with such people. Please, Jesus, take someone else to minister to them. To that, Jesus says, Why are you afraid, O you of little faith? Why do you doubt? Change is hard, and yes it is often terrifying. But if we do not go, we become hard, assuming that all people are dirty and irresponsible and suffering because they are lazy and will not work.
That hardens our hearts against the very people for whom Jesus has compassion. Jesus will cross the lake to minister to such people, and he calls us to go with him because he knows that we cannot love them from afar. He calls us to go with him because he knows that getting to know such people will awaken compassion for them.
Notice that Jesus does not say, You go over to the other side, but Let us go over to the other side. The promise of this text is that there is something on the other side that Jesus knows needs our presence. He promises to go with us on the journey, to shepherd us along the way, because we are also among those whom Jesus loves. The reality is that the other side is not always an easy place to be. It means living into a new reality, which can be more frightening that weathering a hurricane. Because when our location changes, we change as well. Growth is painful. Change is painful. But faith is not just trusting that Jesus will still the storm. Faith is getting into the boat. Faith is believing that another side is not only possible, it is essential.
To God be the glory. Amen.