June 24, 2018 – Pentecost 5B
35When evening had come, [Jesus said to the disciples,] “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
There are not a lot of things that each and every person can agree on or hold in common. For as many experiences and situations and people as we have, you can find at least that many opinions and viewpoints about it. Take that through the realm of history and time and cultural shifts, it seems that the only constant thing in our life is change and mystery. Yet, there are a few things that I’m fairly confident we can hold in common. One is the truth that, if you live long enough, you will eventually run into a storm which will terrify you. Martin Luther is supposed to have changed his entire life’s journey, leaving law school to become a monk and priest. In a big storm, Noah and his family retreat to a boat. Civilizations across history have seen storms as a sign of God’s wrath. There is a power and a force in a storm that will, eventually, at least once, make us feel powerless and hopeless.
For me, it happened when I was on a run a few years ago. It was an overcast day, but the weather man said it was a low chance of rain, so I laced up my shoes and headed out the door. I ran out a few miles and, as I turned around, I began to hear the ominous roll of thunder. In a few moments, I was soaked to the bone and miles away from where I’d started. I had no shelter, so I kept plodding along, one wet, squishing shoe in front of the other. It was annoying, but I was fine. But then, out of my eye, I saw a flash and I watched a streak of lightening jump from one cloud to the next directly above me. I felt that clap of thunder deep in my chest. And I can tell you that I’ve never felt so small in my entire life. Even telling the story now gives me goosebumps.
That feeling of helplessness, that feeling of hopelessness against what we can’t control or overcome, is not a pleasant feeling, as you probably know or can imagine. This brings us to another common issue humanity across time and culture can hold in common – suffering. Our readings today are full of it. Job has suffered the loss of everything he has ever loved and held dear. Paul has experienced more suffering as an apostle than he had ever felt before. Jesus’ disciples are suffering and hopeless in their storm. Even the Psalm today describes the sailor’s “souls melting away in peril.”
Perhaps you can think of a time in your life where you’ve felt that, a time when you’ve suffered loss, heartache, terror, or despair. In the midst of that experience, we tend ask God the same questions the disciples ask Jesus: “don’t you care that we are perishing?” We look for God and it seems, like Jesus, that God is asleep in the back of the boat, unaffected and uninterested in our suffering. So we ask, “Don’t you care that we are suffering?” Jesus rouses from sleep and rebukes the wind, which is a miracle that demonstrates his lordship over creation. But while that certainly seemed to address the suffering, and it amazed the disciples to see it, Jesus never really answers their question. Job experienced the same thing; in all of his wondering and questioning if God really cares about his suffering, God’s response doesn’t answer the question. Instead, both of them demonstrate God’s power.
But where do we go to know God’s care? Where do we turn to answer our question? Does God care? Perhaps we find that answer in the fact that Jesus is on the boat with the disciples. Maybe the fact that God spoke to Job at all is evidence of the fact that God loves him. We can take solace in this, I hope, that God is both the master of creation and yet is in the boat with us. In the questions we ask, in our experience of suffering, we can begin to find joy knowing that Jesus is experiencing our life with us.
We don’t worship a God who is somehow detached from creation, humanity, and history. Rather, we see in Jesus a Creator who is completely and totally invested in the life of its creation. We see a Redeemer who is intimately aware and connected with the people and world which are being redeemed. You are not on the boat alone.
Jesus’ question is an interesting one. After the storm has settled, and I imagine the disciples settled too, he asks them something. He asks them, “Have you still no faith?” This is tricky for us, because when we think of faith, we often will equate faith with overcoming something. “Have a little faith.” “With faith, you can move mountains.” “Nothing is impossible with faith.” But the fact is that faith cannot stop the storms from coming. Faith does not mean that you, like Jesus, can simply stand up to the storm and say, “Peace! Be still!” Instead, what faith does is trust that, even when he’s asleep in the back, Jesus is in the boat with you. Even when you don’t have the faith to understand or believe it, you can find God in the boat with you.
Faith, then, is not simply the ability to magically control everything that happens, but to trust in the God who is present with us and has overcome anything that we can face. It does not mean you won’t suffer. It does not mean that storms you face will mysteriously lose their power. What it does do is find a resting place with the one whom neither death nor life nor things present nor things past nor things to come can separate you.
You find God in the boat with you. A life of faith, then, is not one without storms, fear, or hardships, but rather a life marked by love and service to others in their storms. Because, just as much as God in your boat, God is the boat of all who suffer, grieve, fear, or question. It’s easy to only notice our own storms when we’re in the midst of them, but if Jesus teaches us anything, it’s that the boat is big enough for all of humanity. For those suffering from mental illness and addiction, God is in the boat. For those separated from friends and family, God is in the boat. For those fleeing oppression and war, God is in the boat. For those who are sick and hopeless, God is in the boat.
And, in your life of faith, you become the hands and feet of the God who is in the boat. Maybe you can’t say, “Peace! Be still!” and watch the winds and rain subside. But you can offer a hand to someone who needs help. You can feed someone who is hungry. You can be the voice which reminds people who they are – beloved, valued, created in the image of God. You can be the one who reminds someone that God is in the boat!
Ultimately, the questions we ask in the storm are answered not by God’s action, but by God’s presence. God’s presence in the waters of baptism, the bread and wine of communion, the spoken, sung, and written Word, and in the gathering of community are a sign that God is not separated from the here and now. The grave is empty. Death is overcome, and Christ’s victory of the grave is your victory. You won’t find God there in the grave. You’ll find God in the boat. Amen.