The following sermon was preached at 8am and 10am on Sunday June 21, 2015, at All Saints by-the-Sea, in Southport, Maine. This is a summer chapel, and I was there for two weeks serving as supply while enjoying some vacation time on the coast.
Collect: O Lord, we beseech thee, make us to have a perpetual fear and love of thy holy Name, for thou never failest to help and govern those whom thou hast set upon the sure foundation of thy loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Readings: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
“A great windstorm arose and the waves beat into the boat so that the boat was already being swamped. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.” In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen:
Good morning again, it really is wonderful to be with you. I was saying to Aims yesterday: I’m just in the process of moving, from Providence Rhode Island to St. Louis Missouri, where I’ve just started in a new post. It’s a wonderful place and I’m very glad to be there, but moving is such a chaotic process: to decide you’re going in the first place, and then to say your goodbyes, not to mention packing everything in boxes and entrusting someone to load it on a truck and drive it across country — and then to unpack and get settled in a new place. It always takes longer than it seems, and even though I’ve moved a few dozen times in my life, it is always an experience of great displacement.
If you’ve moved recently you’ll know what I mean; and even if you haven’t, displacement is something that seems to going around. The news is full of one scandal after another, and election season is already bringing promises of “change for the better,” of one sort or another. Wars around the world and economic troubles have made the globe a less recognizable place than it once was. Even in church, we are inundated with statistics and forecasts describing how religious life is changing in this country and predicting how it will change further before it’s all over.
In a climate like this it’s very easy to feel areal sense of displacement. We know where we came from, and while we’re not there anymore, it’s hard to say where exactly it is we are. And it’s even more difficult to say where it is we’re going. As with all moments of uncertainty, there is a vague threat of danger: what if we don’t like the result? What if I regret the move? What if the displacement becomes so severe that all sense of home gets lost?
Today’s Gospel presents an extreme case of exactly this scenario. The disciples are mostly fishermen. They grew up near the Sea of Galilee, they are used to the water, they’ve been in and around boats their whole lives. Jesus has finished teaching — he’s been in a boat teaching from the sea to allow more room for people on the beach — and it’s time to cross to the other side of the water for tomorrow’s work. Now the Sea of Galilee is not large: about 8 miles wide at its widest point, and 13 miles long. At all points on its surface, you can see the other side. Your port of origin is visible for the whole journey to your port of destination, which has also been visible the whole time. The point is, the Sea of Galilee is not a threatening body of water, especially for experienced fishermen. It’s even fresh water, not salty!
And yet a storm arose there which seemed to shake the disciples to their core. Conditions were suddenly, unpredictably extreme: a strong wind, waves beating against the boat, and water swamping over the sides. Why were the disciples unable to cope? We don’t know. Maybe the boat was smaller than they were used to. Maybe with twelve people plus Jesus they were too heavy for the conditions. Maybe they were just taken by surprise. In any case, it’s an understatement to say that they were no longer at home in that boat in that storm. Everything familiar about the sea had gone, and their own expertise was no more use. In its place was a violent, raging tempest that threatened to destroy them.
And what about Jesus? Jesus was not a fisherman. He grew up in Nazareth, a town in Galilee, but a full day’s walk from the sea. He was a carpenter’s son, and now he worked as a rabbi. There was no reason he should have been comfortable in a boat to begin with, let alone in a raging storm. But where was he? In the back, asleep on a cushion. The disciples were panicking, fearing for their lives. But Jesus, their landlubber teacher, was so comfortable, so at home in this storm, that he was fast asleep.
I think the disciples were as surprised at this as you and I, and their surprise probably added to their panic as well as to the note of anger in their question to him when they wake him up: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” I don’t think they say this because they want him to do something. What use would a carpenter-turned-rabbi be on a ship in a storm anyway? They simply cannot understand why he is so calm, why he is so at home.
We know the rest of the story. Jesus rebukes the wind, and tells the sea to be still. Calm returns, and they all get on with their voyage. The point I’m trying to emphasize here though is not that Jesus calmed the storm, but that he was so at home in the middle of it to begin with.
Jesus is at home in storms. It sounds counterintuitive for the prince of peace to be so comfortable in stormy weather. But Jesus’ peace, unlike our own so much of the time, is not dependent on outside conditions. Jesus’ peace results rather from who he is: the Son of God, by whom all things were made, and for whom all things exist.
Too often we think of our stormy lives as threats to peace, threats to whatever fragile serenity we’ve managed to acquire for ourselves. But today’s Gospel shows us that nothing on earth can threaten God’s peace in Jesus, who is at home even in a terrible storm. And Jesus’ whole desire is to share his own peace with each of us.
When we are in trouble, or confused, or “all at sea” with the changes and chances of life, all we have to do is bring our trouble to Jesus. “Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?” He might stand up and calm the storm for us, or he might call us out of the boat to walk across the waves to where he is walking by. But in any case he will certainly grant us his own peace, and call us closer to where he is,at home and perfectly at rest in whatever storms arise. In this way, our own personal storms and difficulties are transformed: from occasions of fear and dread to moments of grace, and special signs of God’s presence and care for us.
One of the ways St. Paul talks about being a Christian is by saying that Christians live “in Jesus” or “in Christ.” To live in Christ is to have our permanent home exactly where Jesus is. He is at home everywhere: not just in peace and happiness, but in storms and troubles too; for three days he made his home even in death. By his resurrection and ascension He made his home in heaven, and by his gift of the Holy Spirit He makes his home now in your heart and in mine. To be in Christ is for his peace to be our own. It is for us to know that deep down we really are at home in him, no matter how terrible the storms outside.
Whatever troubles may assail us, let us bring our cares to him. He will not disappoint: our anchor will hold “within the veil,” where he dwells eternally in heaven, and our hearts will find peace there forever.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.