Fourth Sunday After Pentecost—Year B—June 24, 2012
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham, Framingham, MA (Call Sermon)
Let the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Now, you have to understand, the Sea of Galilee is not that big, it is more of a glorified lake, and not even a Great Lake. At almost every spot, you can see from one shore to the other. It is in the northern part of Israel, almost completely surrounded by mountains. And I can tell you from personal experience, it is an absolutely beautiful region.
About two and a half years ago I took my first trip to Israel/Palestine. And one of our side trips from Jerusalem was to the Galilee. In addition to visiting all the sites connected to Jesus around the sea, our group took a boat ride across the lake on our way to get lunch, which consisted of fresh caught St. Peter’s fish.
So after seeing the remains of a first-century fishing boat in a museum on the western shore, our group of about 50 people crowded onto a boat. The sun was shining and the water was absolutely calm, the surface of the water was like glass; it was a beautiful day for a sail. However, it didn’t stay that way for long. When we were about half way across, storm clouds popped up over the mountains. The sun dimmed, the wind picked up, and the waves started crashing. It passed fairly quickly, and everyone was fine, but the trip did end up containing a little extra excitement that no one had been counting on.
After that experience, I read today’s Gospel story in a whole new way. Before I have to admit, I had always thought of the disciples as a little wimpy in this story; they are mostly former fishermen, shouldn’t they know how to deal with a little rough water? Aren’t they capable of getting safely to one of the two shores they can see without a miracle from Jesus?
But what I didn’t understand until that boat ride was (a) how tiny the fishing boat they were in probably was. My boat was four times as big as theirs, and mine was rocking and rolling and getting wet inside. (b) the waters of the Sea of Galilee are usually incredibly calm, which means the boats are made mainly for calmer waters, and (c) storms are pretty uncommon, but when they happen, they pop up over the mountains with no warning. All of these circumstances put together make me understand a bit better why the disciples would have been so afraid.
But whether I think the disciples are justified in their fear or just being big wimps, the story tells us that they were afraid for their lives. The story also tells us how they responded to that fear. They freaked out! They went to the sleeping Jesus in the back of the boat, and instead of asking for help, they yelled at him for not caring about their well-being. They are setting Jesus up to be the scapegoat in case it all goes bad. This is what the theologian, David Lose, calls a “fear induced accusation.” They were so scared, they couldn’t think clearly, so they blame God. Sound familiar?
It is clear from this fear reaction that the disciples do not yet understand (or at least have temporarily forgotten) who Jesus is, the Son of God. With three little words, “peace, be still,” Jesus demonstrates his power over creation, the wind and the waves, and reminds us that he is one with God the creator. Of course Jesus cares that the disciples’ lives were in danger. God created each and every one of them and cares deeply about them every moment of their lives. And the same is true about each of you.
But this reminder leads us back to the question: if God is the almighty creator, why do bad things happen? Unfortunately, I do not have a complete answer for you. I do know that God gave humanity free will, and sometimes people choose to do bad things to one another. There is sin at work in the world because of our brokenness. But, I can also tell you for sure that God does not cause suffering in the world just for entertainment or even to settle the score for our sins. Jesus already took care of that scorecard.
Although there is suffering in the world, you can be assured that you are God’s and God cares what happens to you. God is good! God is the one and only creator. We are redeemed by Jesus’ death and resurrection. And the Holy Spirit sustains us throughout our lives. God is always with us, even in the midst of our suffering, even when we shake our fists at the sky and blame God, even when we lean over Jesus, asleep in the back of the boat, and accuse him of not caring if we live or die.
This does not always take the form of Jesus rebuking the wind and waves that swirl around us until they go completely away, but God is still with you. God calms the storm in ways you might not even realize at the time.
Even though you or someone you love receives a bad diagnosis, even if it cannot be treated or cured, know that God loves you and sends God’s people to comfort you with prayers and potluck casseroles and handmade quilts.
When money is tight and you are constantly worrying about putting food on the table and making ends meet, God calms the storm a bit through programs that distribute Thanksgiving Baskets and Angel Tree Gifts.
Even when we head into a scary new part of life full of uncertainties, know that God is present in all of the people who help you settle into your future, saying like the angels always say “do not be afraid.”
As a child of God, you are loved and can rest assured that Jesus does care when you are in danger. The “peace, be still” might not always look like what you are expecting, but there are people all over the world doing God’s work with their hands, calming the storms, caring for one another in the midst of the wind and waves.
It is like one of my favorite prayers in the ELW says:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.