Storms – June 26, 2016
“Your way was in the sea and your paths in the great waters, yet your footsteps were not seen.”
Having spent the first two weeks of June in a house right on the water, these words of Psalm 77 caught my attention. I have a peculiar relationship with the sea. I can’t swim and so I go no further into the ocean than my ankles and, having once experienced the effects of a Nor’easter while on a cruise, I am reluctant to repeat that ordeal.
Hurricanes, tropical storms, typhoons—all these demonstrations of the power of the great waters frighten me. Yet I love sitting and watching the calm sea, the sun or moonlight reflecting on its placid waves, enjoying the sensation of tranquility of the soft swishing sounds that can lull one to sleep at night. It is for me an icon of creation at its best and a place of wonderful respite.
Yet every morning as I walked the beach front neighborhood, I saw reminders of the damage that those same delightful waters can inflict as I passed by a number of boarded up houses, empty lots, and homes in the process of being rebuilt –all the result of the ravages of hurricane Sandy.
Storms. They have long been a metaphor for life as we hear in the psalm today. “When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled.” And these same waters can calm us or make us tremble as well.
We experience all kinds of storms, not all related to the weather. Some storms approach slowly; we know they are coming. Others are abrupt, surprising. With a crash of thunder and bolt of lightning they are here. There are storms that shake us to the core like the devastation of lives wrought by a tsunami in Japan, the unimaginable killing of people in a church in Charleston last June and the massacre in Orlando two weeks ago today. On Friday we awoke to the news of a major economic tornado after the UK voted to leave the European Union. World markets have been shaken. People’s retirement funds severely compromised.
We encounter these global disturbances even as we try to navigate the waters of our own personal, often very private squalls, those painful, crushing, even life threatening circumstances that have us weeping in the depth of our soul, all the time perhaps trying to mask our burden and distress under the guise of a strained happy face. To add to our sad predicament, God does not always seem discernable in those stormy times. The psalmist tells us, “Your footsteps were unseen.” Who is there to comfort us?
We find Jesus walking towards his own storm in the Gospel today. He is on his way to Jerusalem—his ultimate destination where he will suffer humiliation, violent abuse, and death. The disciples and he stop at a Samaritan village where they were denied hospitality and for Jesus who taught and lived radical hospitality must have been very discouraging and hurtful.
As they continue on the journey, he invites people along the way to join him in his ministry and they all think it’s a great idea but offer excuses why they can’t do it immediately. And although the excuses offered by the people Jesus encounters seem to be very sound, rational justifications for not following right then and there, his seemingly unsympathetic reaction to these folks indicates the level of his own disappointment in his strong sense of urgency about building the Kingdom of God in the world.
No doubt he felt very alone approaching the tempest he faced in Jerusalem. I wonder if he prayed psalm 77: “Your way was in the sea and your paths in the great waters, yet your footsteps were not seen.”
I think Jesus knew the fear and anxiety we feel in our storms. I think he knew what isolation and fear we experience when the waves of our lives threaten to overcome us. God may seem absent and we may think we are all on our own. It may look like there is no refuge in sight.
What we do know is that sooner or later storms pass or lessen. Eventually, we come out on the other side of the downpours. We may not emerge without a good soaking; we may not surface unhurt, but we do emerge. We may even see the footprints of God in the aftermath.
What we also know is that we are not alone. I suspect that there is no one in this room today who does not bear the scars of some tempest in your life—maybe even multiple wounds. It is our common struggle, our shared pain, our corporate storm-like familiarities that cement our humanity to each other and to Jesus.
As I pondered the stormy waters we’ve navigated over the past few weeks, reflected on my own personal ones over the years, and wondered what might be the next wave of turbulence for our world, I let my mind’s eye return to those calm, soothing waters that I enjoyed during my vacation, knowing that at any time they may erupt—both at beachside and in our lives.
Like Jesus, when we go out into the world today, some of us may be facing “Jerusalem” – whatever that may be for you— an unwanted and difficult situation. I pray that your storms and mine will be fleeting and their damage slight; that God support us even in the worst of times and bring us to the place of the rainbow of hope and peace.
Mystic Thomas Merton once wrote: My God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end…though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.