Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 24, 2012
Storms teach us we are not in control of life.
Last year we experienced two completely unexpected major weather events in the North East: a severe tropical storm at the end of August and a freak wild snowstorm in October. By the day before each, store shelves were near empty. There were few bottles of water to be found and absolutely no “D” size batteries, not to mention flashlights or lanterns.
While some of us in the immediate area of the church lost power for only a day, many people in Norwalk and surrounding communities were without heat and electricity for as long as two weeks. In my lifetime, I don’t ever recall such a horrible disruption of people’s lives and routines.
Isn’t it amazing how quickly we lose control of things in a storm? Before such a storm arrives and after it has long passed and the lights are back on, we feel as if we are in control and that gives us a sense of security. All it takes is one good, powerful, nor’easter to show us how short-lived and transient our usual safe haven can be. Storms teach us we are not in control of life.
Up until this point in their life with Jesus, the disciples have had fairly smooth sailing. Very little demand had been placed on them and they, no doubt, felt pretty much in control of their lives and of their boat. All of this was about to change as the Gospel account today confirms.
When Jesus and the disciples set out on the Sea of Galilee, which is not exactly a “sea” but a fresh-water lake thirteen miles long and eight miles wide, the weather was probably quire fair. That evening, crowds had gathered to hear him teach and receive healing. Life seemed good by days end and all was well. Mark gives no reason for their taking the boat out at night but we can guess that they just wanted to get away from the crowds and have some down time and rest. Exhausted from the work of his ministry, Jesus falls asleep.
Then all holy hell breaks loose and the chaos of waters churned by a storm slams down on them. With almost cyclone force, a squall funnels through the mountains surrounding Galilee and turns what was a placid jaunt across the lake into a cauldron of impending disaster. We have here in this gospel story, a graphic description of that fierce storm and the disciples’ terror in the face of it. “Do you not care that we are perishing,” they cry out. Storms teach us we are not in control of life.
We can, of course, identify with this story our shared experience of fear in the face of weather events like those of last August and October or any other potentially catastrophic incidents. Perhaps we, too, have our own “on the sea” event to tell. And we can prepare for the nor’easters by storing up on food and water and toilet paper and batteries and hope for the best. That’s our human instinct for survival at work.
But the storm and the havoc it wreaked for the disciples is really a metaphor for the other forces of chaos and fear in the world and in our lives.
What are those forces with which you may be dealing right now? What are the waters around you that have begun to get a bit too choppy for your sense of security? What may be brewing on the sidelines of your life that you fear may be about to rock your boat—maybe even your world? Or what are the storms that have passed and that you have survived and through which your trust in God’s care for you has been strengthened—maybe even given you a renewed feeling of faith?
One ancient symbol for the church is a boat or ship and that is why this large space is which we gather is called the “nave,” from the Latin navis for “ship.” Sometimes when we are sitting in this boat on a Sunday we may feel perfectly safe and secure and are happy to just let Jesus sleep away on his cushion and then sometimes we may be laden with anxiety and worry and feeling like we want to scream “Jesus, wake up! Please calm the storm!”
I think Mark includes this great story to tell us a very important truth: God is here. God is involved in our lives but—we need to give up our sense of control and move from that precarious, unreliable place to a place of trust—for the only real way to control life is to trust the only One who can control it.
You and I have been and will continue to be overwhelmed by the squalls and storms and disruptions that confront us. We hear this story in Mark’s Gospel today and we may think it is unbelievable, implausible. But is it—really? With God in the picture—or in the boat? Haven’t we seen the result of God’s redemptive action in the face of our fear?
Clyde Kilby, early anthologizer of the works of C.S. Lewis wrote: “Even if I turn out to be wrong. I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand, with joy, as a stroke made by the architect who is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”