Sunday, August 10, 2014

9 Pentecost

August 10, 2014
1 King 19.9-18; Matthew 14.22-33
+ Being a poet sometimes is even weirder than being a priest. As you know, my book, Fargo, 1957—the book about the tornado that struck Fargo in June, 1957—has done fairly well for a book of poems. I am amazed sometimes when I go somewhere and people say, “Hey! You wrote that book about the tornado. I read it. It’s the only book of poetry I’ve ever read.”

But the weird aspect of this is when people think, because I wrote a book about a tornado, that I’m some sort of meteorologist. People think I know a lot about the weather. I know a little bit about the weather.  But not as much as what some people expect of me because I wrote this book.  

Occasionally, though, I will get someone who will say something like this to me: “You know, when I read your book, I realized that I think there’s more to that tornado than just a tornado. I think that tornado symbolizes something.” Now, I like it when someone says something like that. They really understood my book.

Well, today, in our reading from 1 Kings and from our Gospel reading, we get storms. I know maybe a little bit about these storms.  We find, in our reading from First Kings, that the prophet Elijah is being confronted with several natural disasters actually.  First there is a storm, then an earthquake and then a fire.  And in each of them, he finds that, despite their magnificence, despite the fact that they are more powerful than Elijah himself, God is not in any of them.  He does not hear the Word of God coming to him out of these instances.  But rather, God speaks to him in the “sheer silence” after the storm.

Our Gospel reading is similar in many ways.  There too is a storm.  And this one is just as frightening.  The disciples in the boat are buffeting, they are trying to make their way back to shore and cannot because the storm’s wind is against them, and they are clearly afraid.

A word we keep experiencing in our gospel reading for today is “fear.”  The disciples see Jesus, think he’s a ghost and they cry out in fear.  And Jesus says to them,

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter, audacious as he is, then gets out of the boat and starts walking to Jesus.  But when he notices the storm raging around him, he becomes frightened and begins to sink.  And Jesus reaches out his hands and lifts him from the water and stills the storm.

Again, I think these storms actually have deeper meaning for us than we initially think. Sort of like the tornado in my book.  They seem to be also symbols for our own storms in our lives. In the storms of our own lives, we often find ourselves at a loss.  We too often do unpredictable things in those storms like Peter.  We do the equivalent of getting out of a boat and attempting to walk on water.  We find ourselves venturing into areas we maybe shouldn’t be venturing.  We find ourselves doing naively audacious things.  And while doing it, we sometimes lose heart, we become afraid, and we begin sinking.

This is what storms do to us.  They sap us our energy, of our joy, of our bravery and they leave us vulnerable to them. This is also what fear does to us.  It causes us to lose heart.  It causes us to lose our joy and our gladness and our happiness.  It saps our life and our energy from us.

And that is why, during those storms, during those moments of false courage, during those times of raging fear, we need to strain into the storm and we need to hear that calm voice speaking to us with familiar words:

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

In the storms of our lives, in the raging tempests of fear, these are the only words we can cling to.  You’ve heard say this a million times in my sermons but, the most often repeated commandment we hear throughout the entire Bible is “do not be afraid.”  

“Do not be afraid.”

Both in the Old Testament and in the New, this is one of the most repeated statements we find from God. And this commandment still holds true for us today. Fear is one of those things we all live with in one form or the other.  We live with a fear of the unstable world around us.  We live with a fear of all the terrible and bad things that life can throw in our way.  We live with a fear of the future, and all the uncertainties it holds.  And we all live with a fear of death—of all the uncertainty that awaits us when this life is done.

But God, again and again, says to us, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid of the things this world can throw at us.  Do not be afraid of things you cannot change.  Do not be afraid of the actual natural storms of this life, because we have faith in the God who is more powerful than any storm that can come upon us.  Do not be afraid of the storms of this life that come from within—the storms of anxiety and fear and uncertainty, because we have faith in the God who is in control of our lives as well.  Do not be afraid of even death, because God promises us that God is not a God of death, but of life and if we trust in God and have faith in God, God will give us life that will never end.

For those of us who live in faith, we have no reason to fear.  Faith means trust.  Faith means being able to look to God, in those storms of our lives, and know that although frightening things may rage about us, with God, we can find the calm center of our lives.  As we venture out on to the choppy waters of our lives and, there, we find ourselves sinking into the storm, as we are overwhelmed by the storms of our lives, as we despair over the storm, we need to look up and see Jesus standing there.

This reminds of the greatest part of the Gospel reading for today.  In the midst of that storm, as Peter sinks into the waters, Jesus doesn’t simply stay put and raise Peter miraculously from the waters from a distance.  Rather, Jesus actually comes to Peter where he is in that storm and lifts him out of those waters.  And that is the image we can take away with us as well. In the storms of our lives, as we sink deeply into the dark waters of anxiety and fear, when we call out to Jesus, he comes to us where we are and raises us up.  And he leads us back to a place of safety.

So, in those moments in which we find ourselves sinking, in the storms of our lives when you feel as though are lost and can never be found again, remember the importance of this Gospel reading.  Let us allow Jesus to come to us and let him lift us up from the waters.  And let us let him lead  us to a place of quietness and safety, where, in that silence, we too can hear the soothing, comforting words of God speaking to us.  In telling us not to fear, in taking our hand and raising us up from the darkness of our lives, he stills the storms of our live as well. He stills the storms of anxiety and depression and frustration and all the other emotions fear brings to us.

There is a wonderful prayer from the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church in New Zealand that I often pray with people I visit in the hospital or who are suffering from any anxiety or fear.  The prayer begins,

O God of the present,
O God, who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart,
bring hope and courage to those who trust in you.

 This should be our prayer as well.  We also should pray that the God, who in Jesus stills the storms of our lives and soothes our frantic hearts, truly does bring hope and courage to us, who trust in God.

 So, let allow Jesus to still the storms of our life and sooth our hearts when it becomes frantic.  Let us allow him to come to us where we are, out here in the midst of the storms of our lives,  to bring us to safety.  And when we do, we will find an abundance of hope and courage in our lives so that we can live our lives fully and completely—and without any fear—as God wants us to.

 O God of the present moment,
O God, who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart,
bring hope and courage to us—
us, who lives here, at times in fear in the midst of storm—
for we trust in you.




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